Pickleball, a blend of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong, has seen explosive growth in popularity in recent years. And now it is seen everywhere from celebrities’ homes to community centers, earning the nickname “the fastest-growing sport in America.” But where did it all begin? Why is it called Pickleball? Who made up these rules? And why? Let’s find out what the history of pickleball is!
The Birth and Beginnings of Pickleball
In 1965, three fathers on Bainbridge Island, Washington – Congressman Joel Pritchard, businessman Bill Bell, and neighbor Barney McCallum – were looking for a way to keep their children entertained during the summer. They would return back from golf and find their familes bored. So determined to create a fun activity for their children, they set up a badminton court. But they couldn’t find a shuttlecock, so they improvised with a Wiffle ball instead. Using ping-pong paddles and lowering the badminton net, they created a new game in their backyard that would become pickleball.
Who is Joel Pritchard?
- Joel Pritchard served as a U.S. Congressman representing Washington State. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973 to 1985.
- Before his tenure in the U.S. Congress, Pritchard served in the Washington House of Representatives from 1959 to 1967 and the Washington State Senate from 1967 to 1973.
- After leaving the U.S. Congress, he held the position of Lieutenant Governor of Washington from 1989 to 1997.
- In 1965, on Bainbridge Island, Washington, Joel Pritchard, along with friends Bill Bell and Barney McCallum, is credited with creating the game of pickleball. The trio developed the game as a family activity to alleviate boredom on a summer day.
Who is Bill Bell?
- A close friend of Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell was with Pritchard on that fateful summer day on Bainbridge Island when they decided to devise a new game to entertain their families.
- Bell, who had a background in tennis, played a significant role in refining the rules and gameplay mechanics of pickleball, drawing from his experiences with other racquet sports.
- Over the years, Bill Bell’s contributions to the sport have been recognized through various honors in the pickleball community.
Who is Barney McCallum?
- Barney McCallum became involved with pickleball shortly after its creation. When he visited Pritchard’s property on Bainbridge Island, he was introduced to the fledgling sport.
- McCallum was instrumental in the game’s initial promotion and development. He played a key role in formalizing the rules of the game and took the initiative to manufacture the first official pickleball paddles, which were made out of plywood.
- Over the years, McCallum remained actively involved in the pickleball community, ensuring that the game’s growth was nurtured and its standards maintained.
Where is Bainbridge Island?
Bainbridge Island is located in the Puget Sound, west of Seattle, Washington. It’s a city within Kitsap County and is accessible from Seattle via a 35-minute ferry ride. Known for its natural beauty, rich history, vibrant arts scene, and as the birthplace of pickleball. Its blend of rural charm and proximity to a major city like Seattle makes it a unique and desirable destination for both residents and visitors.
How Did Pickleball Get Its Name?
The name “pickleball” has a debated origin.
- The Pickles Theory: One popular belief is that the game was named after the Pritchards’ dog, “Pickles”. The story goes that Pickles would chase after the ball and run off with it during their games. This is supported by one of the creators, Barney McCallum.
- The Pickle Boat Theory: Another version, which is supported by Joan Pritchard (Joel Pritchard’s wife), suggests the name “pickleball” was derived from the term “pickle boat.” In crew racing, a “pickle boat” refers to the boat with the leftover, or mixed crew members – those not selected for the main boats. Given that pickleball is a mix of elements from tennis, badminton, and ping-pong, Joan thought the name was apt. Also Joel’s daughter, Peggy, confirmed the dog was not named until after the sport was created.
Rules and Regulations
The game’s initial framework was improvised, but by 1976, a more formal set of rules was established. The dimensions of the pickleball court, which is 20 x 44 feet, mirrors that of a doubles badminton court. The net height, at 36 inches on the edges and 34 inches in the middle, combined with the unique scoring system and serve rules, gives pickleball its distinct flavor.
Rise in Popularity
The 1970s and 80s saw pickleball’s steady spread across the United States. Schools began incorporating it into their physical education programs, and adults saw it as an attractive alternative to more strenuous racquet sports, given the smaller court size and lighter equipment.
In 1984, the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) was formed, which further organized and promoted the game. They established the official rules, offered player ratings, and sanctioned tournaments.
The 21st century witnessed a pickleball boom. With the establishment of dedicated pickleball venues, professional leagues, national and international championships, and a younger demographic embracing the game, its growth trajectory skyrocketed.
The Modern Era
Today, pickleball can be found in all 50 U.S. states and numerous countries worldwide. It’s particularly popular among retirees, thanks to communities in places like Florida and Arizona championing the sport. But it’s not just a game for seniors; pickleball’s simple rules and inclusive nature make it accessible for all ages.
And now it has professional leagues that celebrities and other sports stars have invested in. From Mark Cuban, Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and many others. These developments have helped elevate pickleball’s status to that of a serious competitive sport and further fuel its continued growth.
Recent years have also seen technological advancements in equipment, with companies producing specialized paddles made from composite materials, offering better control and power. And pickleball balls now come in different varieties, based on indoor or outdoor play along with court surfaces.
Pickleball’s humble beginnings as a backyard game have evolved into a worldwide phenomenon. From its improvised roots to becoming a professional sport, it has truly come a long way.
But what makes pickleball so appealing? It’s the perfect combination of fun, fitness, and friendship. Its simple rules make it accessible for all ages and skill levels, while the fast-paced nature of the game offers a great workout. And with its strong sense of community, pickleball has become more than just a sport, but a way to build lasting friendships.
So whether you’re a seasoned player or new to the game, grab your paddle and join in on the fun! With pickleball’s continued growth and evolution, who knows where this exciting game will take us NEXT!