Maybe you’ve been playing pickleball for some time now. Perhaps you just only heard of it recently.
Either way, you’re now curious, and the question just cannot leave your mind: “How did pickleball get its name?”
People have always followed two stories, one of a dog, and the other of pickle boats, so let’s tackle those in this article.
How It All Started
Pickleball was invented on a dull sunny day.
In 1965, Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell, both fathers, played golf and then went to Pritchard’s house on Bainbridge Island, Washington.
They saw that their families were bored and had nothing to do.
Pritchard devised a plan to get his family and close friends out of their summertime rut.
He wanted to keep them from getting bored.
They started at Pritchard’s house because it had an old badminton court where they hoped to play.
But they couldn’t find enough rackets to play a full game, so he made do with some extra ping-pong paddles and a Wiffle ball.
With all of these random pieces, they made a whole new game.
It’s called pickleball these days.
As the weekend went on and time went by quickly, they added their own house rules, mostly based on badminton, to make their makeshift game even better.
The group realized that Wiffle balls rebounded effectively on their asphalt court, so they dropped the net to 36″.
Their game had very few rules, so Pritchard and Bell showed another family friend, Barney McCullum, their game the following weekend.
From there, the three dads took a lot of ideas from badminton and made new rules with the goal of making the game easy for families to play.
In 1967, they built the first pickleball court in Joel Pritchard’s backyard.
Five years later, they set up a company to protect and make the new sport’s official.
In 1975, National Observer published an article about pickleball.
The first tournament was held at the South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington, in 1976.
The United States Amateur Pickleball Association (U.S.A.P.A.) was started in 1984 with the goal of improving pickleball on a national scale.
In that year, the first set of rules came out. By 1990, all 50 states in the U.S. played pickleball.
This was 25 years after Joel Pritchard went looking for badminton gear.
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Who Came Up with Pickleball?
Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, and William Bell are the three men who came up with the idea for pickleball.
The most well-known of the three founders are Joel Pritchard.
Joel served in Congress for six terms, from 1973 to 1985.
After that, he was the Vice Governor of Washington.
When pickleball was established in the 1960s, Joel served in the Washington State House and Senate.
From 1944 to 1946, Joel was also a sergeant in the U.S. Army.
Joel came up with pickleball at his house on Bainbridge Island. Joel died on October 9, 1997, from lymphoma.
Joel Pritchard was also the first person inducted into the Pickleball Hall of Fame in 2017.
Barney McCallum and Joel Pritchard worked together at the Griffin Envelope Company in Seattle.
During the summer, they lived next to each other on Bainbridge Island.
Barney was a big part of making the rules for pickleball and spreading the game.
After the first summer of pickleball, Barney and his family moved to Magnolia, north of Seattle.
Barney used to play basketball in the street, so he built a court at his house.
There they refined the rules.
One of the first changes to the rules was to move the Non-Volley Zone from six feet from the net to seven feet away.
Barney was a big part of how pickleball went from being a family game on Bainbridge Island to a sport played all over the country.
In 1972, Barney started Pickleball Inc., the first business to sell pickleball gear.
He made $29.50 selling the first pickleball sets from his home.
William Bell was a successful businessman who lived in Bainbridge next door to Joel and Barney.
Bill helped make up the game on Bainbridge that summer afternoon.
Bell was also one of the people who started Pickle-ball Inc., which was the first company to sell pickleball gear.
However, one thing not mentioned earlier was how pickleball became known by its name.
We have two different stories about this.
On one side are the McCallums and the Browns, who like to tell the story of a dog named Pickles.
On the other side are the Pritchards, whose name comes from boat races, as Joan Pritchard, Joel’s wife, says.
Let’s start with the story that the McCallums and the Browns tell most often.
The McCallums and Browns said that the Prichards’ dog, Pickles, would run over and grab the Wiffle ball so it could play with it.
When they saw how happy the dog was, they decided to name the activity after it.
So, it got the name “pickleball.”
This is the most common answer when people ask where the name came from in interviews or stories.
If you look around the Internet, you’ll find this to be the story that most blogs and articles like to tell.
It’s a fun backstory, and most of the time, it’s better than the other.
Also, the image of a cute puppy playing around with the ball as an origin story is more appealing.
There’s one problem, though. It could just be a big joke.
A “pickle boat” is a term used in rowing to describe a random group of rowers who are put together to race.
Most of the time, these were the rowers no one else wanted on their team, so they usually came in last.
Joan, Joel Pritchard’s wife and a competitive rower thought the sport looked like a “pickle boat” because people who were “leftover” from other sports played it.
The name makes sense when you think about how you play the sport. It is a mix of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong.
Also, the Pritchards say that their dog Pickles didn’t show up until a few years after they gave their sport its name.
People say that the dog was named after the sport of pickleball, not the other way around.
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It makes no difference.
We can all agree that the name is pretty unique, but millions of people now like this sport.
We can thank the McCallums, the Prichards, and maybe even their dog.