The story starts one summer Saturday in 1965.
After playing golf, Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington State, and Bill Bell, a successful businessman, returned to Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island, WA. They found their families sitting around with nothing to do. The property had an old badminton court so Pritchard and Bell looked for some badminton equipment and could not find a full set of rackets. They improvised and started playing with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic “wiffle” ball. At first they placed the net at badminton height of 60 inches and volleyed the ball over the net.
As the weekend progressed, the players found that the ball bounced well on the asphalt surface. Soon they lowered the net to 36 inches.
The following weekend, Barney McCallum played the game for the first time at Pritchard’s home. Soon, the three men created rules, relying heavily on badminton. They kept in mind the original purpose, which was to provide a game that the whole family could play together.
By 1990, people played pickleball in all 50 states.
Indoors and outdoor courts emerged in high school gyms and senior centers. Leagues and tournaments evolved with official nets, balls and racquets. The official Pickleball Association, USAPA, was chartered as a Non-profit Corporation in 2005. Currently, the sport of pickleball is exploding in popularity with well over 2,000 locations on the USAPA’s Places to Play map and over 400,000 players.
Pickleball’s name is derived from the Pritchard family’s maritime pursuits. Frank Pritchard, one of Joel Pritchard’s children, said the name may have come from his mother, Joan, who was a competitive rower on Hilton Head island. She sometimes referred to the ‘pickle boat,’ as the slowest vessel in a race.
Article and photo: Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort