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Pro-pickleball posters pop up in Penrose Park

Pock, pock, pock. The local controversy over pickleball continues.

After strongly anti-pickleball flyers were distributed to residents who live around the Walter Reed Community Center, which is set to become a local hub for the noisy but increasingly popular sport, some tongue-in-cheek propaganda posters have started proliferating.

Over the last week, meme-y pickleball posters of presidents Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy talking about pickleball have taken over a signboard on the other side of Columbia Pike, in Penrose Park, as well as in other parks.

The posters have generated some bemusement on Twitter.

One person called the bulletin board “unhinged” and expressed admiration for the “old school insanity” in real life. Another said that, because it’s Arlington, she genuinely “isn’t sure whether this is pro- or anti-pickleball.”

The chief poster creator, tracked down by ARLnow, said it is in support of the ability to play pickleball.

“The entire ‘pickleball wars’ is ridiculous,” says the poster creator, known on Twitter by the handle @ARLINGTONAF. “I’ve never played, don’t plan to, but I’m pro-pickleball because I’m pro-public park.”

The enthusiastic embrace of pickleball during the pandemic led Arlington County to set aside some $2 million to add dedicated pickleball courts. The enthusiasm has soured slightly, with some neighbors complaining about the incessant “pock” sound made when the ball and paddle make contact.

But @ARLINGTONAF says it angers him to see people distributing over-the-top flyers — accusing pickleball supporters, among other things, of bullying children — or threatening to sue the county over the issue.

The volley of posters in Penrose Park, on Columbia Pike and in other parks with community sign boards feature Cold War-era U.S. presidents JFK and Reagan, as well as the anthropomorphic spokes-animals behind fire and crime prevention, Smokey the Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog.

Reagan is included in a number of posters. One quips “It’s true pickleball never killed anyone, but I figure, why take the chance?” in reference to a self-deprecating joke Reagan made about his work habits and the Iran-Contra affair.

One satirical poster utilized AI-generated art and a false history of pickleball’s supposedly Soviet origins. (It was actually invented in 1965 as a children’s backyard game in Washington state.)

“I think the prompt was ‘art nouveau Soviet pickleball players,'” @ARLINGTONAF said.

But the signboard has long been “unhinged,” part of a neighborhood tradition of putting up wacky posters.

“There’s been a culture of whimsy on the Penrose Park bulletin board for a while, with classics like ‘cats on a lake’ and ‘ladder lessons,'” Twitter user @Pulp&Politics tells ARLnow.

That’s in reference to a mid-aughts Baltimore meme for the “3rd Annual Cats on the Lake” event, in which people are told to bring their cats to the Inner Harbor and “say Bon Voyage to a friend!” @ARLINGTONAF says he first saw this idea on a flyer in a building in Baltimore some 15 years ago.

“I’ve been putting random posters on the community boards and the like for decades,” he says. “I’ve made them all, sans the classified ones — that’s somebody’s else,” he says.

The classifieds advertise for pet ventriloquy — “I will make your dog talk at a party, or cat or bird: a surprise your guests might actually want” — as well as rentable safes and yard work.

@ARLINGTONAF has been making posters and chalking sidewalks for “as long as I can remember,” and has even sold prints. One oil pastel painting won him a prize at the Arlington County Fair.

Arlington County Fair-winning artwork (courtesy of @ARLINGTONAF)

And, because no Arlington debate is complete without a reference to the Missing Middle housing proposal — up for a vote by the County Board next month — the following is what JFK might have to say about duplexes and triplexes.

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