Four people playing pickleball on a court with a hill in the background.

The Fascinating History of Pickleball: From Backyard Game to Sensation

It all started with a few friends, a badminton court, and a perforated plastic ball. Little did they know, they were about to create a sport that would captivate millions. This is the story of pickleball, a game that rose from a backyard pastime to a nationwide sensation.

In the summer of 1965, Joel Pritchard and his pals found themselves with a conundrum: how to entertain their families without a complete set of badminton equipment. With a little ingenuity and a lot of improvisation, they cobbled together a new game using ping-pong paddles and a wiffle ball. And just like that, pickleball was born.

Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington by three dads - Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum. They were looking for a fun game to play with their families. So they grabbed some table tennis paddles, a wiffle ball, and headed to the badminton court. The net was lowered to 36 inches, and the game of pickleball was born. Joel Pritchard's son Frank was there that day and remembers his dad saying, "You know who we need? We need Barney." Barney McCallum lived nearby and was handy at making paddles. He quickly became an integral part of developing the game's equipment, rules, and overall formation. Joan Pritchard, Joel's wife, is credited with coming up with the name "pickleball" that summer. The sport has grown immensely since those early days on Bainbridge Island.

How Pickleball Got Its Name

There are a couple of competing stories about how pickleball got its unique name. According to Joan Pritchard, she started calling the game pickleball because it reminded her of the "pickle boat" in crew where leftover oarsmen were chosen. Joan was a big fan of crew racing, having attended Marietta College which had a strong crew team. She would often watch the "pickle boat" races that featured the leftover non-starters from the main races. She felt the hodgepodge of equipment used in their new game was similar to the makeshift "pickle boat" teams, and so the name "pickleball" was born.

The Dog Story

The other common story is that the game was named after the Pritchard family dog, Pickles. Apparently, Pickles would chase after the ball and run off with it while they were playing. However, the Pritchards have said Pickles the dog came a few years after the game was invented and named, and was named after the game - not the other way around. Some claim both accounts could be true - that the name was inspired by both the pickle boat races and Pickles the dog. The idea is that the game "came out of a pickle" since it used a mix of different sports equipment.

Other Names for Pickleball

Before settling on "pickleball", the founders also considered other options like "smash ball", "moon ball", and "flim flam". But pickleball is the name that ultimately stuck.

The Evolution of Pickleball Equipment

From those early days with repurposed ping-pong paddles and a wiffle ball, pickleball equipment has come a long way. Here's a look at how the gear has evolved: The first pickleball paddles were made of wood. In 1968, Barney McCallum started making paddles in his basement workshop that were a step up from the table tennis ones they started with. In the 1970s, a Boeing industrial engineer named Arlen Paranto created the first composite paddle, taking the sport to a new level. Today, paddles are made from all sorts of high-tech materials.

History of Pickleball Balls

At first, a simple wiffle ball was used. But players soon found the lightweight ball was hard to hit in the wind. Pritchard and friends started drilling more holes in plastic balls to make them more playable. The balls went through many iterations, with the number of holes increasing from around 32 to the 40 holes used today. There are now several different approved ball types, optimized for indoor or outdoor play. Pickleball started on a badminton court with a net that was 60 inches high. They quickly found that was too high, so they lowered it to 36 inches on the ends and 34 inches in the middle - which is still the regulation height today.

History of Pickleball Courts

The first permanent pickleball court was built in 1967 in the backyard of Joel Pritchard's neighbor Bob O'Brian. In 1972, the first public courts were constructed by a corporation in Tukwila, Washington. Today there are over 38,000 pickleball courts across the United States, with more being added every day to keep up with demand for this booming sport. From its humble beginnings, pickleball has exploded in popularity to become the fastest-growing sport in America. Here are some key milestones: In 1972, the first official pickleball association was formed on Bainbridge Island - the U.S. Amateur Pickleball Association. They published the first rulebook that year. By 1976, pickleball was being played in all 50 states. Tennis magazine called it "America's newest racquet sport" and "the racquet sport for all America". In 1984, the U.S.A.P.A. was renamed the U.S.A. Pickleball Association (U.S.A.P.A.).

In 2005 it became the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA). As of 2022, it's estimated there are over 4.8 million pickleball players in the U.S. - a number that continues to grow exponentially each year. Pickleball is now played in thousands of locations across the country, from community centers to high-end athletic clubs. Major sports broadcasters like CBS, Fox Sports, and the Tennis Channel now air professional pickleball events. The sport has come a long way from its origins, but it remains incredibly accessible, social, and fun - just as its inventors intended. With its meteoric rise showing no signs of slowing, pickleball appears poised to become a lasting fixture on the American recreational landscape.

Pickleball – A One-of-a-kind Game

From its humble origins on Bainbridge Island to its current status as one of America's fastest-growing sports, pickleball has come a long way. What started as a makeshift game among friends has evolved into a beloved pastime enjoyed by millions across the country.

Through the years, pickleball has seen its equipment, rules, and courts refined, but its core remains the same: a fun, accessible sport that brings people together. Whether you're a seasoned pro or a curious beginner, pickleball welcomes you with open arms.

Next time you're smacking the ball on a pickleball court, pause for a second and think about the quirky journey this awesome sport took to get here. Embrace the spirit of innovation and camaraderie that lies at the heart of pickleball's history, and most importantly, have a blast playing this one-of-a-kind game.

Looking to get yourself a USA Pickleball Approved paddle– shop Salted City Sports today!
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