One rainy Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1965 on beautiful Bainbridge Island, a short ferry’s ride from Seattle, Washington, a group of kids complained they were “bored”. So a couple of the fathers gave them ping-pong paddles and a plastic baseball then lowered the badminton net and a game was born. U.S. Congressman Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, Jordan Steranka and Barney McCallum were the creators. From the spontaneous beginning, rules were refined from badminton, hitting the ball on the bounce were added, and Barney McCallum fashioned stronger paddlers from his bandsaw weeks later. Their intention is the new sport would be fun, challenging and that everyone (family, young, and old) could play. By 1967, their networks of friends and family were playing and Pritchard even built a more customized court, though any court with a hard surface (tennis/volleyball) was game.
The Pritchards had a cocker spaniel named Pickles who became interested in this new game. Whenever a ball would come his way, he would take the ball and run off with it. Pickle believed it was “Pickle’s ball” and that is how the game got its name.
Alternatively, Pritchard’s wife Joan is also credited with naming the sport because “the combination of the sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”
Evolution of the Sport
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 design of the paddle hasn’t changed much since. 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 US Amateur Pickleball Association started by the three gentlemen in the 1970’s became the governing body for the sport in 1984. That same year, Boeing Industrial Engineer Arlen Paranto made the first fiberglass/Nomex composite paddles and sold them commercially.
Early 1990’s the sport was being played in all 50 states and in 1997, Joel Pritchar, who had just finished his terms as the Lt. governor of WA passed away at age 72. And in 2000’s the sport became part of the Senior Olympics and Huntsman World Senior games. Subsequently USAPA re-branded itself as USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) and started websites, databases for members, and organized the first National Tournament in 2009.
With the number of players increasing every year, the history of pickleball is by no means over. It is now the fastest growing sport played in the U.S., Canada, and other countries worldwide. There are well over 8,500 locations with its popularity spreading within community centers, PE classes, YMCA facilities and retirement communities.