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Despite not being as old as traditional tennis, badminton, and ping pong, the sport of pickleball has been amassing a lot of momentum in the US over the past few years.
But how old is pickleball, exactly? Who invented it? And where did it get its name from? In this pickleball history post, I address all of these questions and more. So, stick around for a bit to learn all there is to know about pickleball history.
History of Pickleball
Pickleball was invented in the summer of 1965, which is quite recent compared to traditional tennis and table tennis since they were invented in the 1870s and 1880s, respectively.
How was pickleball invented, though? The story goes that Joel Pritchard, Washington State congressman, and businessman Bill Bell went to Prichard’s home, where both of their families were gathered, after a game of golf to find their families unentertained.
The two men decided to take matters into their own hands and went to the property’s badminton court to look for a complete set of rackets so that they can play some badminton with their families.
They couldn’t find a full set of rackets, so they used table tennis paddles and a tiny plastic ball they found. That day, they played with the net set at 60 inches in height.
Days went by and they decided to play again. As they were playing, they discovered that the perforated plastic ball they found is quite bouncy when it hit the asphalt. This led them to lower the net a little bit so that they wouldn’t have to volley the ball every time. It was lowered to about 36 inches.
Prichard and Bell grew fond of the game and decided to introduce it to their friend Barney McCallum, who will, later on, create the first ever pickleball paddles manually out of plywood.
The trio then started to set ground rules from the game, drawing inspiration from the rules of badminton whilst keeping their new game family friendly.
The rules of pickleball, at the time, were different from the rules I know today. For example, volleying was allowed at any part of the pickleball court. Later on, the no-volley zone was implemented to limit the space from which players can volley the ball.
The Early Years
|Initiation of USA Picke Association||1984|
|First rule book and paddle||1984|
Pickleball transitioned from a backyard game to a legitimate sport with the dawn of the 1970s. In 1972, a corporation was founded to make sure the sport of pickleball saw the light of day.
The National Observer shed light on the sport by doing a dedicated piece about it in 1975. And in the following year, Tennis magazine called the sport “America’s newest racquet sport.”
The spring of 1976 saw the first ever pickleball tournament being held in Washington; Tukwila to be specific. The winners were David Lester in first place and Steve Paranto in second place.
The sport continued to amass popularity until the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) was initiated in 1984, which helped perpetuate the sport across the entire United States.
The first pickleball rule book was published in 1984 by the USAPA. This was spearheaded by Sid Williams, at the time, until Frank Candelario took over in 1998.
The first ever composite paddle was created by Arlen Paranto in 1984. The paddle combined fiberglass/honeycomb and graphite/honeycomb panels.
By the 1990s, pickleball became a popular activity in all 50 states, becoming a nationwide obsession. Sadly, however, in 1997, the originator of the sport of pickleball, Joe Pritchard, passed away.
The Later Years
Fast-forward to 2019, pickleball was being played by over three million people across the United States, according to the Sports Fitness Industry Association.
Further, more than 4,000 pickleball-specific locations were opened by then. By the end of 2019, the USA Pickleball Association had around 40,000 members.
Several pickleball players were inducted into the Pickleball Hall of Fame, including Enrique Ruiz, Dan Gabanek, Paranto, and Jennifer Lucore.
Sadly, one of the founders of the sport, Barney McCallum, passed away in 2019 at the age of 93.
Here are some frequently asked questions about pickleball history.
How Did Pickleball Get Its Name?
There are two competing stories about how pickleball received its name. The first is from Joel Pritchard’s wife, Joan Pritchard. She explained that she named the sport ‘pickleball’ because it reminded her of a ‘pickle boat,’ a term used to describe mismatched crew boat teams.
The second comes from Barney McCallum, who claims he named the game after Pritchard’s dog, “Pickles,” since the dog was continually chasing the ball and running away with it. It’s unclear whose account is correct. Some argue that both accounts are correct.
Where is Pickleball Most Popular?
Although pickleball is becoming increasingly popular, it is most popular in Naples, Florida. After all, this city is known as the World Pickleball Capital. This is why the first-ever US Open Pickleball Championship was held in Naples. It was also the first pickleball event to be broadcast nationwide on CBS Sports Network.
Is Pickleball Easier to Play than Tennis?
Pickleball is considered easier than tennis since it is played on a smaller court (referred to as a pickleball court). On top of that, it uses underhand serves, making it a different game for everyone.
Although traditional tennis and pickleball share many similarities, they also have many differences. The size of the court and the style of both the ball and paddle set is the most noticeable variations between the two games. Not to mention the variations in play, like the serving and volleying rules.
Pickleball History: Final Thoughts
From a completely made-up court activity to one of the most popular sports in the United States, the history of pickleball has definitely gone a long way in a very short time. I love that almost anyone can play this game, and truly believe that a day will come when pickleball is inducted as an Olympic sport.