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Why Is it Called Pickleball?

by J.M. Soden

The sport of pickleball is a hybrid version of badminton, ping pong and tennis. According to the United States of America Pickleball Association, it is the fastest growing sport in North America, and has absolutely nothing to do with pickles. In fact, pickleball was actually named after the family pet of the inventor, in what has now become a humorous bit of trivia.

History of the Game

Pickleball was invented in 1965 by Washington State congressman Joel Pritchard and his friend Bill Bell. The two were at Pritchard's home in Bainbridge Island, Washington when they came up with the idea. Originally planning to play badminton, the men could only find damaged equipment and a plastic ball. The perforated plastic ball was too heavy for the already damaged rackets, so the men created wooden paddles to use instead. For the most part, the game followed badminton rules, except that the net was lowered to the ground at a height of 36 inches.

History of the Name

Surprisingly, pickleball is a very literal name for the game. The plastic perforated ball used for the game was, in fact, a ball enjoyed by Pickles, Congressman Pritchard's cocker spaniel. As the family played the game, Pickles watched with great intensity. Whenever an errant shot was made, Pickles leaped at the opportunity to reclaim his possession, picking up the ball and running off with it.

Evolution

Pritchard and Bell introduced the game to their friend, Barney McCallum. Together, the three men developed an official set of rules for the game, which largely based on badminton. Pritchard enjoyed the game so much that in 1967 he constructed a permanent pickleball court. By 1972, a corporation was started to protect the new sport. In 1976, Washington State hosted the first pickleball tournament, attended primarily by tennis players who knew nothing of the game. By 1984, the United States Pickleball Association (USAPA) formed and published the first official pickleball rule book, which helped spread the sport across the entire United States. In 2009, Buckeye, Arizona hosted the first national pickleball tournament, which drew more than 400 players from the United States and Canada.

Where the Game is Played

Due to the lack of pickleball courts around the country, pickleball is mostly played in three settings: gym class, recreation centers and retirement communities. In particular, many retirement communities, especially those in Arizona and Florida, have installed permanent pickleball courts to meet the game's popularity. According to Dan Rabin of Masters Athlete, The Villages active-adult community in Florida boasts 150 outdoor pickleball courts, making it one of the top three places to live for pickleballers. The other two locations are Seattle, the home of pickleball, and Surprise, Arizona, where approximately 2,000 pickleball players reside in dozens of senior communities.

Popularity with Seniors

Though pickleball reqiures foot movement and hand-eye coordination, part of the game's popularity in retirement communities is because it is less taxing on the body than tennis and racquetball. Pickleball courts are smaller than tennis courts and require far less lateral movement. When playing doubles, players have to worry only about a small area of space to protect, rather than constantly running back and forth. The game is also easy on the wrists. The lightweight wiffle ball reacts strongly off the hard wooden paddle, meaning that only the slightest swing will hit the ball over the net, easing strain on the joints. According to Ted Robbins of National Public Radio, pickleball has generated enough interest in senior community that many players are petitioning the sport become sanctioned by the Senior Olympics.

About the Author

J.M. Soden has been a freelance writer since 2005. He primarily writes sports articles but also enjoys writing about travel destinations, legal matters and electronics troubleshooting. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Notre Dame in American studies.