Folklore and mystery surround pickleball’s history and how it got its name. A hotly contested topic among scholars around the world is how pickleball became known almost 60 years ago, in the summer of 1965.
We don’t think so.
Yet, there are different explanations for where the name of what has now become America’s fastest-growing sport originated among even its founders. you may enjoy reading How to Play Pickleball
How Pickleball Began
Families used to play pickleball together when it was first introduced. During a Saturday afternoon, a congressman from Washington State named Joel Pritchard and a lawyer named Bill Bell were playing golf. Upon returning home, they found everyone sitting around doing nothing. Pritchard found some badminton equipment to use on their property’s badminton court so the family could all play.
A Wiffle ball and ping-pong paddle were among the sports equipment he stumbled upon. The ball bounced nicely on the asphalt as they played with the net at the height necessary for badminton. The net was eventually lowered. The group had so much fun that they developed the game and created rules largely based on badminton.
In 1967, Joel Pritchard built the first pickleball court in his back yard. Within five years, the new sport was made official by establishing a corporation. ‘Pickleball’ was featured in 1975 in an article by the National Observer and held for the first time in 1976 at the South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington.
USAPA (United States Amateur Pickleball Association) was established in 1984 to promote pickleball in the United States. In that same year, it published its first rules. As of 1990, pickleball was played in all 50 states in the United States, 25 years after Joel Pritchard set out to find badminton equipment.
As of 1997, Joel Pritchard was 72 years old.
Several internet sources indicate that the Brown family and McCallum family were among the other founders and original pickleball players.
In the above timeline, however, there is no mention of where or when pickleball came into being as a sport.
There are two conflicting stories about that.
Two families like to tell stories about Pickles, a dog named by the McCallums and Browns. Lastly, there is the Pritchard family, in particular Joel’s wife Joan Pritchard, who says the name derives from boat races.
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To begin with, our first group tells the McCallum and Brown stories a lot.
Story 01 – Pickles the Dog
Apparently, the Wrichards’ dog, Pickles, would chase the Wiffle ball and snatch it from them. They chose to name the sport after the dog because it brought the participants so much joy.
Therefore, it was called pickleball.
Interviews and recollections are usually where people tell the origin of the name. Blogs and articles love to report this story on the web. The origin story is fun to read, and for the most part, it’s better than the other.
Besides, who doesn’t love the concept of a furry little Cockapoo puppy running around a tennis court causing mayhem and chaos?
One problem remains, however. This may end up being a total farce.
This story is especially interesting if it was told to you by a family member.
Story 02 – Pickle Boats
During rowing competitions, a “pickle boat” refers to a motley crew of rowers put together by chance. This group was usually composed of rowers no one wanted on their team, and they were often last in the standings.
In Joan’s view, since the sport was populated by those who had been left over from other sports, it reminded her of a “pickle boat”.
It makes sense why the sport is called ping-pong, as it combines badminton, tennis, and ping-pong.
It was several years after the Pritchards named their sport that Pickles actually appeared on the scene. It’s said that pickleball had more of an influence on the dog’s name than the other way around.
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What is the truth?
According to the person you ask, it depends on which story you tell. Pickles, Joel Pritchard’s dog, is said to have invented the sport, which fits the boat story most logically.
Perhaps neither is true, or maybe both are true. Perhaps that’s what makes it so interesting. Despite evidence to the contrary, it is easy to understand why the latter story is told often, even if it comes from pickle boats instead of Pickles the dog.
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How Does It Affect Us?
The sports name pickleball is certainly a silly one, whichever story you believe. We owe thanks to McCallum and Prichard (and maybe their dog) for making this silly-named sport popular today.
Many in the field of pickleball believe the sport’s name is actually hurting its growth. The participation rate of pickleball increased by 21.3% in the two years between 2019 and 2020, according to reports. Pickleball is played by 4.2 million people in the United States. It is for this reason that the fastest growing sport in America has skyrocketed in popularity, and the need for courts and leagues has risen dramatically.
You might have noticed this increase in popularity in your area.
Names may impede progress, or they may not. We will likely never know where the name pickleball came from, just as we do not know how pickleball got its name.
Thinking about how to play pickleball? Check out our guide here.