How it All Began: a Brief History of Pickleball


Seriously, is pickleball a real sport? Yes, yes it is. Like any sport, it has rules, specific equipment, a court to play on, and players.

Granted, it is a new sport. And its gaining in popularity with an estimated 2.5 million players in the United States. From humble beginnings, the game now has an international federation, with member countries all over the world.

Here’s a brief account of its brief history that might motivate you to get off the sofa and join in the summer fun.

Homegrown Spontaneity

Pickleball is often best explained as a mix of tennis, ping-pong, and badminton. It began life one rainy afternoon in the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Seattle, WA.

The late former congressman Joel Pritchard, the late Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum were the ones to chance upon this spontaneous fun.

As the story goes, one Saturday, the kids were bored at their holiday home. Joel gave them a couple of ping-pong bats and a whiffle ball and told them to go and play outside.

The original net was a badminton net, later lowered to the ground to a height of 36 inches. They played the first game on the asphalt surface of an old badminton court in a neighbor’s yard.

Potted History of Pickleball

The adults checked up on the kids and soon joined in the fun of this new game with them. The following weekend, Barney McCallum came to the Pritchard’s with a few stronger paddles, which he had fashioned on his band saw at home.

The design of the paddle hasn’t changed much since. Arlen Paranto made the first fiberglass/Nomex® composite paddles in 1984 and sold them commercially.

The original three dads devised a few rules, based on badminton rules, for this fun family activity. Everyone invited to the Pritchard home enjoyed playing this game, regardless of age. By 1967, they had constructed the first permanent pickleball court in the backyard of Joel Pritchard’s friend and neighbor, Bob O’Brian.

Word spread, and informal games were catching on. In 1972 they formed a corporation called Pickle-ball Inc., to protect the creation of this new sport.

The National Observer published an article about pickleball in 1975. A year later, a Tennis magazine article described pickleball as “America’s newest racquet sport.” The first known pickleball tournament in the world took place in the spring of 1976 at South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington.

The sport took off in a big way with the formation of USAPA (USA Pickleball Association) in 1984. USAPA published the sport’s first rule book in March of that year. By 1990, pickleball was being played in all 50 States.  The International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) was formed in 2010 and adopted the USAPA rulebook, with its permission.

Pickles Was A Dog

With the number of players increasing every year, the history of pickleball is by no means over. It is now a popular competitive sport played in the U.S., Canada, and other countries worldwide.

Most people play at racquet clubs or community centers. The game is easy to learn and affordable. People of all ages play this sport. Although the sport involves a certain amount of skill, and there are plenty of tips and tricks to learn, even beginners have fun.

If you give it a try, we’re pretty confident that you’ll have at least as much fun as Joel Pritchard’s dog, for whom the sport is named.

Pickles used to chase after the ball when it went flying into the bushes in those early days. So, players of the original game called the ball “Pickles’s ball”, which soon changed to “pickleball” to refer to the game itself.  There is one other theory.  You can check that out for yourself.

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