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Thu, Nov. 21

Atherton: Is it pickleball or banger ball?
Paddle Up

Bob Atherton hits from behind the orange kitchen line.
Courtesy photo

Bob Atherton hits from behind the orange kitchen line.

I get a strange not all that familiar look when I refer to pickleball as banger ball sometimes. Actually before the name pickleball was created in the early days of the game banging, or volleying and semi volleying, the ball back and forth was the game. Banging the ball refers to what we now call high impact pickleball and the idea behind the word essentially means hitting the ball as hard as you could for a potential winning point.

More often than not all the time and for some players today is still the game they play.

Back in 1965, Joel Pritchard sent his kids down to his badminton court and told them to get inventive and create a game. They did and the seeds of a new sport began. The kids took whatever they could and just started banging the ball back and forth.

By the next day, the mothers of friends and the kids were yelling and laughing and Joel got curious and came down to watch what the kids had invented. Joel and his friend Barney McCullum got involved with others and the adults took over the game for the time being.

In order to bring the kids and wives back into the game with adults Joel and Barney had to neutralize the rules or equalize the game. For example, neutralizing in a game in golf means equalizing the ability of the tall strong and powerful to hit a smoking shot 275 yards.

But on a putting green it means neutralizing the game by putting the ball where the small less powerful can match strategy finesse and control to even out the match.

Joel on the one hand saw the hard powerful shots aka banger ball were fun but got boring. On the other hand, he saw for example that if everyone just putted in golf nobody would play the game. Barney recognized Joel’s dilemma. The game needed power in the game for the men to have fun but for the kids and wives to play they needed to neutralize the game and deal with the strong and powerful so all sides could have fun and have a chance to hit the ball and win too.

Part of that answer came from Barney by developing a zone seven feet back of the net on each side where players had to bounce the ball in that area to hit it. To play that part of the game, it took and still does, patience cunning control and finesse.

The strong and powerful were neutralized, sort of like putting on a golf green. It took sorts of tinkering around with ideas for equipment and rules. The rule about serving underhand took power out of the game. Use of a paddle not a racquet and early day Whiffle Ball emerged.

The idea of requiring the ball to bounce on both sides of the net before volleying the ball gave the kids a chance hit it. The idea of drinking the ball was dramatic. All of these things and others helped to neutralize the game.

In the game today there is the low impact, soft, side of the game and high impact hard banger side of game for all to have fun to play at the same time. Excuse my dust but they couldn’t call it volleying the ball or volleyball as that name was taken or didn’t call it banger ball at all back then. But instead called it a fun family game named after a dog or a boat named pickles or pickle boat. It was cute and seemed to fit. So came the name pickleball.

Bob Atherton is the Northern Arizona District ambassador for the United States Pickleball Association (USAPA) and coach and credentialed teacher. Contact Bob at or 928-499-2498.

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