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The Origins of Pickleball

Author: Andrew Gilman | July 11, 2023

With pickleball booming in popularity, on TV each and every week, courts being built on every corner and people talking about it all the time, it’s hard to imagine a time when pickleball wasn’t the talk of the town.

It’s kind of hard to imagine it was a game dreamed up in the Pacific Northwest, evolving out of boredom, especially because the game is so fun to play.

When Was Pickleball Invented and Where Did Originate?

It was a summer day in 1965 in Bainbridge Island, Wash., not far from Seattle and Washington Congressman Joel Pritchard had just returned after playing some golf. He was with his friend Bill Bell and the two were at Pritchard’s house and saw their families waiting on them. 

According to the USAPA website, which quotes a story from a 2021 issue of Pickleball Magazine, Pritchard’s son Frank, who was 13 at the time, was in a bad mood and bored.

“He said when they were kids, they’d make games up,” Frank said of his father. 

So Frank continued, “Oh, really? Then why don’t you go make up a game.”

He did. 

Pritchard’s house had a badminton court so, to stave off some summer boredom, Pritchard and Bell started looking around for some badminton equipment. Lucky for us pickleball players, the two weren’t able to find enough rackets. So they started tinkering a bit. The two found some ping-pong paddles and a whiffle ball and started volleying it over the badminton net, which was set to 60 inches high.

They played that way for a while, but over the course of the weekend, they found the wiffle ball bounced well on the asphalt surface. So they made the decision to lower the net to 36 inches and it was game-on.

The next week, Pritchard and Bell invited another friend, Barney McCallum over to try out this new game and the three started coming up with some rules. McCallum lived down the street and was known to be “handy.” McCallum was able to construct better-looking paddles and then found himself as a valuable member of the game’s formation.

Within two years, Pritchard had a permanent court built in his backyard. Within seven years of dreaming up the game, a corporation was formed to protect the creation of the new sport.

Why is it Called Pickleball?

And so it was born, a new sport with a silly name that came to be because Pritchard’s wife, Joan, called it pickleball because “the combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of the other boats.”

In crew, oftentimes after the main race, non-starters would participate in their own race. The leftover rowers competed just for fun in a “pickle boat” race. This new game, which was like a leftover from other sports made for the perfect analogy. 

But you may have heard the story about a dog named Pickles. Well, the dog and the name existed, but that’s not how the game came to be. Pickles, the dog, was brought to the house in 1968, three years after the game was invented and a year after the court was established. The name Pickles came to be because when the dog was brought home, the family was playing with it on the pickleball court. 

Pickleball has certainly evolved a lot since then. The sport, born out of ping-pong, badminton, and tennis, is the fastest-growing sport in the United States and there are opportunities everywhere for people to get involved.

Within 11 years of the sport’s invention, the first pickleball tournament was played and by 1984, the United States Amateur Pickleball Association was organized along with the first rulebook.

1984 was also the year the first composite paddle was made. It was designed by Arlen Paranto, a Boeing Industrial Engineer.

And in 2023, it’s pretty clear pickleball is still increasing in popularity. According to USA Pickleball, there are more than 8.9 million people playing the game and more than 70,000 USAPA members. 

Now that you know how the game got started, learn more on what is pickleball, and how to play pickleball.

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