While on vacation in the summer of 1965 two friends from the Seattle Washington area Congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell came back home from a round of golf to find their families bored out of their tree. This sparked the two golf buddies to come up with a game the whole family could participate in to keep them active. The original idea was to play some badminton to occupy the bored family members. They soon realized they didn’t have all the right equipment for a true game of badminton. This is when they decided to work with what they had. At first, they set up the net at the regulation badminton height of 60 inches. Instead of normal badminton racquets they had to make do with table tennis paddles. With no birdie around they once again did something different and used a plastic wiffleball. As they began with the unconventional set up, they quickly realized the net was just too high to continually volley the plastic ball over the net. By lowering the net down to 36 inches high and letting the ball bounce off the pavement they found themselves enjoying a fun new activity which would eventually grow to become the sport of pickleball. The two friends were joined by friend Barney McCallum a week later and developed a set of rules for the new game they created. Barney McCallum would later go on to become the inventor of the first official pickleball paddle.
Fast forward a couple years in 1967 when the first official Pickleball court was built in Bob O’Brian’s back yard who was a friend and neighbor of Joel Pritchard. In 1976 pickleball was already an official incorporated sport and had its first tournament in Tukwila, Washington at the South Center Athletic Club. Legendary pickleball player Sid Williams began to run pickleball tournaments in Washington state through the early 1980’s as the sport was gaining popularity. Tennis publications were now beginning to recognize pickleball as the new racquet sport.
Pickleball finally had its first unofficial rulebook in 1984 as the sport saw even more growth through the years. The United States Amateur Pickleball Association named Sid Williams as their first ever executive director and president from 1984 to 1998.
Pickleball was becoming more and more popular and was being played in all 50 states by the early 1990’s. Different companies were cashing in on the new sport by manufacturing pickleball paddles and official balls specifically for pickleball.
The new millennial saw even more events and tournaments being organized. There are senior Olympics featuring pickleball as an event. Dedicated publications and websites like “Pickleball Stuff” were getting in the game by promoting and reporting on pickleball news and events.
The USA Pickleball Association was formed in 2005 and three years later created and published an official rulebook for pickleball. The popular TV show Good Morning America actually did a piece on pickleball giving the sport wide national recognition. Multiple senior athletic organizations like the Nation Senior Games Association were now playing pickleball. Most people playing pickleball are over 40 years old, but the sport is becoming more popular with the younger generation with some physical education classes including it in their curriculum.
How Is Pickleball Played?
Pickleball is very similar to tennis although the court is less than one third the size of a tennis court. The game can be played indoors or outdoors. Two seven-foot areas or “zones’ ‘ are on both sides of the net, these are non-volley zones. The ball is not allowed to hit a player’s paddle until it bounces once in these zones. The serving player or players are the only ones who can score points. The serving player continues to serve until a fault is committed. A fault would be hitting the ball outside the court lines or hitting the net. Serves are performed underhand. Depending on if the score of the game is odd or even dictates what side of the court the player will serve from. A serve is always sent in a diagonal direction across the court much like tennis. The rules vary somewhat during a doubles game but are generally the same. Games are usually played to eleven with the rule a team must win by two points. Some tournaments play until fifteen or twenty-one points. On average a good pickleball game tends to last somewhere between fifteen to twenty-five minutes with tightly contested games going longer in duration.
Where Did the Name Pickleball Come From?
Baseball uses a baseball; football uses a football but there are no pickles used in pickleball so how did the sport get its name then? There are two tales of the origin of the sport’s name. The first side is that Joan Pritchard, the wife of co-inventor Joel Pritchard noticed that pickleball drew from different elements of different sports that it made her think of how pickle boat crew members were the odd balls taken from different boat crews. The other story is from co-inventor Barney McCallum who claims the sport was named after Pritchard’s family dog pickles. There are however some who say that Pickles the dog wasn’t part of the family until a couple years after the game was actually invented back in the summer 1965.
Pickleball Is Gaining Popularity Across the Nation
With how far pickleball has come since its first backyard creation, there are now actually professional players making a living playing this little sport. Professional players can take home tournament prize money and pick up sponsorships if they are good enough. There are over 150 tournaments in the United States that players can practice for.
Pickleball is a fun family game that just about anyone can participate in. Whether played at the park or in an official tournament. More courts are showing up all over the U.S.A. and even provinces in Canada. The sport of pickleball has come a long way from its humble beginnings and it’s a part of our sports culture. As of 2022 pickleball is the official sport of the state of Washington. Although the origins of the name may not be quite clear, the fact pickleball is a true official competitive sport is very clear.
As the sport gains exposure and popularity, more and more pickleball courts are popping up across the country. From home pickleball courts to community pickleball courts, and even courts within bars and commercial facilities.