Humans have always been great at improvising. In today’s world, improvisation can mostly be seen in the performing arts, such as music, dance, theater, and even comedy. But thanks to mankind’s ability to make the most out of every situation, we’ve even invented some of the world’s most popular sports. For example, the origins of soccer started when humans filled up pig bladders to kick around on small makeshift courts….all for the purpose of passing time. And for the history of pickleball, it all began thanks to humans’ innate desire for personal entertainment.
Like all great stories, pickleball came about on a sunny day with little to do. In 1965, two dads named Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell arrived at Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island, Washington, after a golf outing. They found that their families were bored with no way to pass the time. Looking to alleviate the boredom of his loved ones and close friends, Pritchard started to hatch a plan to bring an end to the group’s summer time woes.
Pritchard’s property had an old badminton court so they started there with hopes of playing. However, they couldn’t find enough rackets for a full game so instead, he improvised by using spare ping pong paddles and a wiffle ball. With these bits and pieces lying around, a brand-new game was born. Today, you know it better as pickleball.
As the weekend went on and time flew by, they enhanced their makeshift game further with their own set of house rules. At first, the net was set at badminton’s regulation height of 60”, but the group found that the wiffle ball bounced well on their asphalt court so they lowered it down to 36”. At this point, there weren’t many rules to their game so during the following weekend, Pritchard and Bell introduced their new creation to another family friend named Barney McCullum. From there, with heavy inspiration from badminton, the three dads created new rules with the sole purpose of family play and accessibility in mind.
Two years later in 1967, Joel Pritchard constructed the first, permanent pickleball court in the backyard of Bob O’Brian, who was Pritchard’s neighbor and close family friend. The decision to build a dedicated and permanent court further cemented their homemade game into a loveable pastime. As the game started to gain steam in the Pacific Northwest, a corporation by the name of Pickleball, Inc. was founded in 1972 to help interested players buy equipment to play the game. This included paddles, nets, and balls that weren’t taken from other racquet games, but were created specifically for pickleball. Not only did the founding of this corporation help people find the right equipment to play pickleball, but it helped transition the game from a local pastime to a legitimate sport.
Fast forward to today, and you’ll find that pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United States with international growth gaining steam. Currently, the U.S.A. Pickleball Association lists nearly 4,000 locations where you can play nationwide. To understand how pickleball’s popularity has exploded to this point over the last 50 years, let’s take a look at the nature of this fast-paced, friendly, and enjoyable sport.