You have probably heard of pickleball, one of the fastest-growing sports in the US ever since it was invented in 1965, well over 50 years ago. If you are thinking, "what is pickleball," imagine a cross between badminton and tennis with a few tweaks here and there. Pickleball is now regarded as a game that people of all ages can play, but where did this exciting game first originate from?
The Birth of Pickleball
We can trace back the origins of Pickleball to the summer of 1965 at Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride away from Seattle.
The game's formation is attributed to three men, namely Joel Pritchard, William Bell, and Barney McCallum. One day they returned to Joel Pritchard's home after a game of golf and found their kids bored with nothing to do in the summer heat. They took it upon themselves to create a new game to entertain their children.
They first attempted to set up a badminton game but lacked a shuttlecock. With some quick improvisation, they replaced their shuttlecock with a wiffle ball which their neighbor supplied. A wiffle ball is a sort of perforated plastic ball. The wiffle ball combined with some ping pong paddles were sufficient for the sport they were about to play. This very same sport is considered the original form of Pickleball before it evolved and incorporated more ground rules.
First, they placed the net at a badminton height of 60 inches and used their paddles to volley the ball over the net from each side. Over the next few days, they realized that the ball bounced quite well off the asphalt floor surface and so lowered the net to 36 inches. The ball was no longer volleyed over the net only; it was allowed to bounce over the asphalt before it was struck back.
Very soon, the game evolved and turned into something the whole family could enjoy together. Today, more than 4.8 million people in the US actively play Pickleball in their homes and on public Pickleball courts.
How Did The Sport Gain Popularity?
By 1967, the first-ever Pickleball court was created by Bob O' Brian, a friend, and neighbor of Joel Pritchards. According to some, the game was then introduced by Congressman Joel Pritchard to Governor Dan Evans and future US Senator Slade Gorton. Gorton, who lived in Olympia, then created a pickleball court at his own home, and this way, the sport spread over to the city. Very soon after, the sport gained popularity.
In 1976, the Tennis Magazine published a sports article where it called Pickleball "America's newest racquet sport." The same year, the first known Pickleball tournament was held at the South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington, and by 1990, the sport was being played in all 50 states.
Present Day Pickleball
In 2005, the official USA Pickleball Association was established as the national governing body that would promote the sport, maintain the official Pickleball rules, set player ratings, and sanction tournaments.
Pickleball has grown exponentially ever since, with players of all ages engaging in the sport. Many regard it as the fastest growing sport in the US having seen a two-year growth rate of nearly 39.3% by 2021. Its popularity lies in its affordability and accessibility; it’s simply a fun sport you can play with your friends and family!