Why is it Called Pickleball and Who Named It That?
The new game of Pickleball burst onto the scene within the last several years. This sport’s popularity proves the value of simple sports that anyone can play. Because of its accessibility, pickleball is becoming one of the fastest-growing sports in America.
According to the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), more than 1.3 million pickleball players are considered "core players" or play more than eight times each year. More than half of those core players can be found living in retirement communities. No joke. The aging moms and dads you know love pickleball because it keeps them in the game long after their traditional racket sports days are over.
This easy-to-learn sport provides hours of fun for sports enthusiasts of all ages. We see this every day at the local high school tennis court, where people of all skill levels, from beginners learning how to play pickleball to tournament players working on their crosscourt dink shots.
Who Invented the Game of Pickleball
Pickleball was born during a slow and boring afternoon. Joel Pritchard invented pickleball as a sport everyone in the family could play to beat the summer doldrums. Pritchard’s friend Barney McCallum, as well as Bill Bell, were also involved in the game’s creation, establishing the first pickleball court and ambassadors to this new sport invented on Bainbridge Island in Washington State.
Pritchard served as a member of the Washington State Congress. He was first elected to the Washington House of Representatives in 1958. By 1966 Pritchard served in the Washington State Senate. He ascended to the United States House of Representatives in 1972 and served here until 1985. Pritchard’s political career ended as the Lieutenant Governor of Washington from 1988 to 1997.
Pickleball is paddle sport played on a badminton-sized court, or 20 feet by 44 feet. Like many racquet sports, the plastic ball must be served diagonally. Scoring can only occur for the serving team.
One bounce is required before pickleball players can strike the ball. A seven-foot zone marks each side of the net where players cannot play the ball. This non-volley zone prevents unfair spiking of the pickleball.
According to pickleball rules, a serve must all be completed underhand. Additionally, servers cannot bounce the ball before striking. The first team to reach 11 points, winning by at least two points, wins.
These are just a fraction of the official rules. To know the game better, you should really read up on the rule book to help you understand all of the terminology and actions that you can take when playing. For example, you’ll learn all about the two-bounce rule / double bounce rule, what side out means, what each side of the court does, etc.
When Was Pickleball Invented?
The history of Pickleball states that the game was born in 1965 on a fateful summer afternoon. Pritchard and McCallum relied on the rules of badminton, an old badminton court-sized area, and the equipment of table tennis to develop pickleball. A perforated wiffleball - the pickleball ball - is used in place of a ping pong ball or badminton shuttlecock.
By 1967 the first permanent pickleball court was built on Pritchard’s property. By 1972 an official corporation provided further structure and legitimacy for this new sport. Pickleball continued to grow in the 1970s, including the establishment of the first pickleball tournament and national magazine articles introducing pickleball to the world.
After starting with wooden table tennis paddles, the first official pickleball paddle hit the market in 1984. Designed by a Boeing engineer, this graphite paddle provided a lightweight tool to make pickleball come to life even more.
By the 1990s, pickleball players gathered in all 50 states of the United States. This explosion in Pickleball’s popularity from its humble beginnings in Pritchard’s backyard continues to this day.
The USAPA was organized in 2005 and became an established nonprofit. This organization serves as the hub for all pickleball news, information on places to play, and strategies to cultivate further growth of this racquet sport. In 2010, an international pickleball organization cultivated the sport around the world.
On the 50th anniversary of pickleball’s invention, the sport reached 10,000 active members. Three years later, that membership total will triple by 2018.
In 1997 Bill Pritchard, the inventor of pickleball passed away. Twenty-five years after his death, pickleball rose to the official sport of Washington State in 2022. While he did not get to see the tremendous influence of pickleball, his legacy makes it possible for people of all ages to never experience a dull summer day again.
How Did Pickleball Get Its Name?
Football, basketball, baseball – all of these sports hold very straightforward names. So when it comes to pickleball, how on Earth did this new sport get its name?
There are two conflicting theories on how pickleball got its name. Both stories center around the wife of pickleball inventor Joel Pritchard, Joan Pritchard. Today, both stories are accepted as the origins of the name of pickleball.
Pickle Boat Story
This theory of the pickleball name involves the Pritchard couple’s love story. Marietta College, an Ohio college where Joel and Joan met, produced a celebrated crew team. Crew is a popular university sport of racing specialized row boats.
Joel Pritchard's wife, Joan, an enthusiastic alumnus of Marietta College, always cheered on the successful Marietta crew team (oarsmen). When Joan and Joel moved to Washington State after college, the couple still attended rowing races in their new adopted home outside of Seattle. Sometimes Marietta College even competed in these races, providing Joan an outlet to cheer on her alma mater.
Crew races involve the best competitors vying for a collegiate championship. Many Ivy League schools support legendary crew teams, so it gets very intense. However, those rowers who did not make the elite tier varsity squad also got a chance to race. These non-competitive races were often called "pickle boat" races.
When it came time to name this new sport, the story goes that Joan immediately thought of these good-natured competitions she enjoys so much. To honor the athletes in pickle boat races, Joan gave this sport the name Pickleball.
Pickles the Dog Story
The other story involves the Pritchard family’s beloved mutt. After coming across a litter of sad puppies in need, the Pritchard’s daughter Jeannie simply brought one home. The Pritchards loved and cared for this surprise dog, who became a loved member of the family. The family named their new dog Pickles.
Joan, who gets credit for naming pickleball in both accepted stories, honored the Pritchards’ dog by naming their new backyard sport after him.
Pickleball lore states Joel Pritchard made up this story in the early 1970s. During an early interview, Pritchard came up with the Pickles the Dog story. His idea was a story focused around the family dog that would stick in people’s minds more as they learned about pickleball.
While this story is largely debunked, its value as being brief and cute proves to have staying power in the pickleball community. Barney McCallum, one of the original dads of pickleball, stayed true to the Pickles the Dog story until he died in 2019.
It is rare for a new sport to be invented. Pickleball is one of the most recent success stories for fresh American sports, outstripping games like spikeball, ultimate Frisbee, and mixed martial arts. The fever will pitch should the game ever make it's way into the Olympics.
Official pickleball equipment is available for purchase, like a pickleball net, paddles, balls, or bags on sites like Amazon. Or, honor the spontaneity and history of the game by using wiffleball, ping-pong paddles, and badminton nets you have lying around.
Check out pickleball clubs, local health clubs and YMCAs, and modified courts in your city to join the thriving pickleball community.