The Complete History of Pickleball
Sep 27, 2019
Have you ever wondered how pickleball got its start? Or where the funny name stems from? Or what about the sport’s recent rise in popularity? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then this post is for you! We’re covering the complete history of pickleball, major milestones and all.
The Early Years of Pickleball
Like any other summer day in 1965, congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell gathered together at Pritchard’s home in Bainbridge Island, Washington. They saw that their families didn’t have anything to do and searched their belongings to see if they could find something to remedy the situation. After coming across a set of ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball, they went over to the badminton courts on Pritchard’s property and made a game of their own.
After playing a few games with the net at the typical badminton height of 60 inches, they soon lowered the net to 36 inches above the ground and went from volleying the ball to bouncing it on the asphalt. The next weekend, Pritchard and Bell introduced the game to their friend Barney McCallum, and it was during this game that the rules of pickleball were defined.
Two years later, the first permanent pickleball court was created in the backyard of one of Pritchard’s friends, Bob O’Brian.
The Origin of Pickleball’s Name
Pickleball is quickly becoming a household name, but where did the name ‘pickleball’ originate? Well, the tale is that the name came about from Joel Pritchard’s family dog, Pickles. Back in 1965 when the families would play the game together, Pickles would grab the ball and run around with it.
Pickleball’s National Recognition
In order to protect the creation of this new game, a corporation was formed in the early ‘70s. Just a few years later is 1975, The National Observer published an article about pickleball that was soon followed by an article in Tennis magazine in 1976. In the same year, the first-ever pickleball tournament was held in Tukwila, Washington at the South Center Athletic Club.
In 1984, the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) was formed to help the growth of pickleball on a national level. As a result, the first rule book was published in March of that year. In fact, there were many firsts for pickleball in ‘84, including the first Executive Director, President of USAPA, and the construction of the first, official pickleball paddle.
Pickleball’s Rapid Growth and Popularity
In 1990, 25 years after the start of pickleball, the sport was being played in every state. Seven years later, founder Joel Pritchard passed away at 72-years-old.
The 2000s were a major turning point for pickleball! In 2001, the game was introduced to the Arizona Senior Olympics thanks to Earl Hill. The tournament brought in 100 players and would eventually draw close to 300 players in the years to come.
By 2005, President Mark Friedenberg created the USAPA Board of Directors and USAPA became a non-profit organization. During this time, USAPA launched their website and quickly became a database for Places2Play (a resource for looking up local pickleball courts). Places2Play quickly grew to hold 420 places to play in the United States and Canada.
In 2009, there was the first USAPA National Tournament for players of all ages held in Buckeye, Arizona. This tournament drew the largest turnout of players recorded up this point with 400 players from 26 states and many Canadian provinces.
Present Day and Beyond
Since those beginning and crucial years of pickleball, the sport’s popularity has continued to grow and grow! There are now over 4,000 places in USAPA’s Places2Play map and pickleball has become common in community centers, PE classes, YMCA facilities, and retirement communities.
According to USAPA’s 2019 fact sheet, the number of pickleball players has increased to more than 12% over the last year, bringing the total to 3.1 million players in the US alone. If pickleball continues to grow as quickly as it has, it’s only a matter of time until it becomes a household name. Until then, we hope you continue to share the love of pickleball with your family and friends! And to make it easy for all the new pickleballers out there, check out and share our ultimate beginner’s guide to pickleball - you’ll feel like a seasoned pro in no time!