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Pickleball has over 2.5 million active players in the US alone. The sport has gone global with over 4,000 locations in the US itself. International competitions are taking place all over the globe in countries such as Germany, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia. The perception towards the sport is changing from a mere hobby to a competitive tournament. In fact, ABC Australia refers to Pickleball as ‘The Biggest Sport You’ve Never Heard Of’.
While it’s true that many pickleball players start playing with the ambition of exercising and keeping themselves fit. There’s a vast majority of players who want to make it big in this sport on a professional level. And why not? The sport has exceeded all the expectations and boundaries in terms of achievement.
Mind you, this sport doesn’t have a century-old history. It was discovered just 50 years ago. A lot of players aren’t aware about the origin of the sport or how it got its name. So today, we’re going to take a walk down the memory lane and learn about the true origins of not just the name but the discovery of pickleball as a sport.
Invention of Pickleball
Pickleball was invented in the summer of 1965. Back when Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum and Bill Bell were working on killing their children’s boredom during a summer holiday. On their way back from a golf game, they found that their children were jaded on a Saturday afternoon as they didn’t have anything to do. That’s when Pritchard and Bell decided to set up a badminton court which was already present on the property but was never used.
Image Credit: PickleballGuide.Net
Though they were successful in setting up the court, they weren’t able to find the shuttlecock or wooden paddles. Thus, both Joel and Bill ended up using random equipment and started playing. Initially, they started the game with compromised rules which included ‘lowering down the net’ and ‘using wiffle ball instead of shuttlecock’. Since they didn’t have badminton, they settled for an old fashion plywood paddle. And here’s where Pickleball was born – On a sunny Saturday on Bainbridge Island in Washington.
The next weekend after the invention, Pritchard and Bell introduced pickleball to McCallum. And as time passed, all three founding members provided inputs and modified the rules along with the equipment. Their decisions were drawn after studying numerous games such as tennis, badminton and racquetball. That’s the reason why pickleball incorporates rules similar to all three sports.
As time passed, they kept modifying the rules and equipment to make the game consistent. After a while, they realized that the purpose of starting this game was so the entire family could play together. This led McCallum to create the first ever pickleball paddle made out of plywood.
The rules these three men had set back then were vastly different than we know today. They set the net at 60” and allowed volleying throughout the court. After trial and error, the height was lowered down to 36” and rules such as ‘No-Volley Zone’ were implemented. Now, this is the stage that we’re well-versed with as it reflects in today’s gameplay.
Contradictory Naming Origins
While the story behind how the game came into existence doesn’t contradict, the name ‘Pickleball’ has multiple origins. Each one is quite conflicting and opposite to the other. The first one is called the ‘Dog Story’, and the second one is known as the ‘Boat Story’.
As per this story, the sport is named after Joel Prichardt’s dog named pickles. This version comes from the McCallum family which suggests that Joel and his neighbor, Jim Brown had adopted a puppy. The puppy developed a habit of picking up the wiffle ball and playing with it. He would mostly run away with the ball.
Based upon the dog’s actions, both the families came up with the name ‘Pickleball’ inspired by their dog Pickle. However, this version has been invalidated mainly because it’s been clarified that the dog was adopted a couple of years after the invention of Pickleball.
This side of the story comes from Joel’s wife Joan and her daughter. Based on her account, as confirmed by USAPA, she was the one to come up with the name ‘Pickleball’ since it reminded her of pickle boats. Joan was a competitive rower back in the day and as per her story, she was a cornerstone in regards to the origin of the name.
Image Credit: TopSport
Now while none of us know which version of the story is true. The media and internet leans towards the ‘Dog Story’ because it draws more attention. While it’s easy to get lost in the debate, if we are to go by the journalists and newspaper outlet’s take, the dog story is present in several publications and has persisted over the years. Even today, you’ll find it across various forums and websites on the internet.
Pickleball – Name or Nightmare?
While the sport has continued to grow tremendously, it still lacks a credible origin story. Pickleball, by far, is amongst the fastest growing sports in the US. However, many pickleballers feel that this naming controversy is a dent in the sport’s 50-year old heritage. It kind of prevents the sport from getting more recognition as it sounds childish. Regardless of which story is true, as per many pickleballer’s account, the term pickleball doesn’t sound like a serious competitive sport.
While most of us might argue, there’s some truth to their allegations. While no one questions about the origins and validity of sports such as table tennis, badminton, tennis or other racquet sports, pickleball is often scrutinized. And even after all the scrutiny, it isn’t taken that seriously. Since it’s a hybrid of all those sports, pickleballers are often ridiculed for playing an unoriginal sport.
If you’re a huge pickleball fan, you’d remember Joel Pritchard’s interview with a reporter. He suggested that ‘Tenny Pong’ was in serious contention for the name of the sport. Now, based upon oral history, I’m not sure how much of what he said was true. But in my opinion, pickleball sounds way better and professional and ‘’Tenny Pong’’.
Regardless of which side of the story you believe, there’s no denying that pickleball as a sport is going to be huge in the upcoming decade. Whether you side with Pickles – the dog or Pickleboat, we all can be thankful to the family from Bainbridge for bestowing us with such a beautiful game. Looking back at those days, I’m sure many people would be smiling and looking forward, many of us are gearing towards making it big in the sport called Pickleball.