Atherton: Pickleball celebrates 53rd year of existence this April
Column: Paddle Up
April is National Pickleball Month. This marks the 53rd year since it was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island a short ferry ride from Seattle by Joel Pritchard and his friends, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum, the latter I had the pleasure to meet several years ago.
According to Barney it was thought that the game was named after a racing boat called the pickle or the Pritchard’s dog named Pickles who loved chasing after the balls and hid them in the bushes. Barney sided with the dog, who was a beloved cocker spaniel. Pritchard’s wife sided with the boat as the dog was named after the boat.
Pritchard and his buddies had a problem. Their kids were bored with their usual summertime activities and a lot of the sports adults could play were too difficult for the children. So the three of them came up with the idea of how adults could play with children. They had to take power out of the game on a smaller court than tennis.
Pritchard had an old badminton court in his back yard. Instead of rackets they made paddles of wood and decided on a slower ball which looked a lot like a Wiffle Ball. They lowered the badminton net to 36 inches high on the sides and 24 inches at the middle. According to Barney, they used the badminton forward line 7-foot back of the net on each side as an area they called the kitchen. Then, made a rule the ball had to bounce there before you could hit it without a fault, which protected the kids hitting the ball across the net on a volley.
Then Barney said they came up with rules in the game to help the kids. Once the first server in the game lost his serve, the ball had to go over to the other side. The ball on a serve had to bounce once on each receiver’s side before it could be hit and bounce once more on the server’s side before it could be hit by the server. This gave the kids a chance to hit the ball at least once according to Barney.
The game took off.
By 2003 there was 39 known places to play in North America on the pickleball stuff website. By other estimates the game was played in 10 states, three Canadian Provinces and about 150 individual courts. By 2017, the USAPA.org listed five, 883 places to play in the U.S. alone. The sports and fitness industry in its 2017 survey indicated there were some 2.85 million players in the U.S.
In the Quad-City area in 2011 I estimate there were about 250 players. About 25 at the YMCA where the public could learn and play and the rest scattered about the area on private and HOA courts. Today I estimate there are about 2,500 players in the area on an annual basis.
The game can be played indoors such as the Y, and Willow Hills Baptist Church, or outdoors at Pioneer Park for public play. It is easy to learn in an hour, usually free but can develop into a fast -paced, competitive game for experienced players. The game has developed a passionate following due to its friendly, social nature where kids and adults ages 9 to 90 can play together and have a lot of fun. The USAPA says, “Where you hear the ping of the ball and all that laughter, it’s got to be pickleball.”
Bob Atherton is the Northern Arizona District Ambassador for the USAPA, a credentialed teacher and coach. He can be reached at 928-499-2498 or firstname.lastname@example.org.