The history of pickleball: how pickleball game was invented
As sporting events go, pickleball is a relative newcomer. The game was dreamed up in 1965 by Joel Pritchard, a man who would be elected to U.S. House of Representatives seven years later, and his friends, William Bell and Barney McCallum. However, their children, who were gathered at a social event at Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Wash., might have had a hand in it.
As one story goes, during the social gathering they decided to play badminton, but they couldn’t find the shuttlecock or rackets, so they cobbled together other items, including ping pong paddles and a wiffle ball, and played an unorthodox game on the badminton court.
Another version comes from one of the men at the gathering, William Bell, who said in a 2009 interview that the children were making a lot of noise and getting on the adults’ nerves, so Mr. Pritchard grabbed ping pong paddles and a ball and told them to run off and hit the ball. He said an hour went by and the kids hadn’t returned, so they went outside to find them having a blast on the badminton court hitting the ball. Mr. Bell said the badminton net was later lowered and the game evolved from there.
Why is it called “pickleball” and how did pickleball get its name?
When discussing why it is called pickleball, you are likely to hear a couple different versions from pickleball enthusiasts. One version is that Mr. Pritchard’s wife, Joan, chose the pickleball name because the melding of different games reminded her of a pickle boat crew chosen from the leftovers of other boats.
You might also hear the version that it got its name after the Pritchard’s family dog, a cocker spaniel named Pickles, who would get in on the game and often take the ball away as if it were playing a devious game of fetch.
If you’ve heard that the name comes after the dog, you might have also heard that it was originally called “Pickle’s game,” but later shortened to pickleball.
When did pickleball start to grow?
When pickleball was first developed in 1965, only the Pritchard, McCallum and Bell families were playing. Within a few short years, that had changed dramatically.
Knowing they were on to something, Pritchard and several friends decided in 1972 to form Pickle-Ball Inc., which was later renamed Pickleball Inc.
As the media took notice, particularly in a 1975 article in The National Observer and a 1976 article in Tennis magazine, more and more people were exposed to the game and the curiosity took off.
By 1984, interest had grown to such a level that the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) was established, and an official rulebook was developed.
2008 marked the first year pickleball was featured in the Senior Games, which are held throughout the United States. In 2009, the USAPA held the first National Pickleball Tournament with 400 registered to compete. By 2017, the number had grown to 1,300.
The evolution of the paddle
Pickleball equipment has come a long way since Pritchard’s ping pong paddles. Once they realized how fun the game was, they put the ping pong gear aside and created larger paddles out of wood using a jigsaw. They also reinforced the handle to make the paddles more comfortable and durable.
The more they played the game, the more effort they put into designing a better paddle, incorporating a honeycomb material design that made the paddles lighter and stronger. McCallum is credited for taking the lead on creating better paddles, using a bandsaw in his basement and coming up with different designs.
Others have joined in, McCallum recalled in an interview with Tennis.com, saying people were making paddles out of Plexiglas, drilling holes in them and adding weight in specific areas to augment the swing of the paddle.
By 1984, fiberglass and Nomex honeycomb panels were some of the more popular paddle materials in use. Today, paddles are still made from wood and honeycomb materials, but manufacturers are also using lightweight materials, including Polymer composite and graphite.
Competitive paddles today cost anywhere from $50 to $150. According to the USAPA, the organization had tested and approved 107 paddles as of 2017.
The evolution of other equipment
The first pickleball enthusiasts would simply lower their badminton nets and use wiffle balls that varied in size and weight.
Today’s nets are portable, durable, wind resistant and made specifically for pickleball. There are also rules regarding the height of the net, which are 34 inches at center and 36 inches at the sidelines. Nets are the length between the sidelines, which is 20 feet.
Balls used in the game have also been standardized; they must have a diameter between 2.784 and 2.972 inches and weight between .78 and .935 ounces. When dropped from 78 inches onto the court, the ball should bounce between 30 and 34 inches.
Pickleball game today
Today, all states and every province in Canada have pickleball venues. There are 5,883 known places to play pickleball location in the U.S. and an estimated 21,154 courts, according to the USAPA.
Pickleball is played all over the world, and it’s a regular event at YMCAs and other recreational facilities throughout the United States. By some estimates, the number of people playing the sport has increased by 10 percent each year over the last decade.
According to the USAPA’s 2018 factsheet, there are now 104 certified referees overseeing 11 regions where more than 8,500 certified players compete. CBS Sports offers coverage of Pickleball U.S. Open, including the mixed pro doubles, men’s pro doubles and women’s pro doubles, bringing much-deserved exposure to an American audience that continues to show interest in the sport.
It is estimated that more than 3 million people in America play pickleball.