Why Is It Called Pickleball – Incredible Story Behind Pickleball

Do you remember the first time someone told you about pickleball? You probably wondered what this sport’s name was all about. Why is it called pickleball, and who decided on that?

If you’re still curious about this cute name, this blog post will give some insight into its history from Bainbridge Island with plenty more information!

Why Is It Called Pickleball?

The origin of “pickleball” has been a mystery for some time. Two tales offer insight into this curious point!

Tale 1: Pickles the Dog

Joel Pritchard’s family adopted a dog from their neighbor and named this Cockapoo puppy “Pickles”. According to the story, Pickles enjoyed playing a new racquet game with Joel Pritchard’s daughter and Jim Brown – her neighbor. One day, he picked up his favorite toy – the Wiffle ball in his mouth and ran off court to play! Then this soon became a habit of Pickles.

Pickles the dog

The McCallum family (also the Browns – some of the first players) agree that this new sport was indeed named after the dog. They reported that they still remember the exact night when they named the game “Pickles”, they were sitting in the living room of Pritchard’s house. They were excitedly cheering over how funny it would be if they called the new game “Pickleball!”

Tale 2: The Pickle Boat

The second tale of how pickleball got its name comes from Joan – Joel Pritchard’s wife. She says that “pickle” originated from the word “pickle boat”- the final boat to arrive at the finish line. In the race, it is often made up of other teams’ leftover oarsmen – just like the way this sport was invented from other sports’ leftovers. Eventually, the inventors suggested naming this new game “Pickleball.”

The pickle boat

Peggy – Pritchard’s daughter, said that the game didn’t get its name from the dog because it had started before they adopted it. Still, Barney McCallum agreed that everyone involved in this story knew the name “pickleball” was from the dog.

It’s often a mystery as to the origins of popular names. According to our research, it’s likely that this sport got its name from the “pickle boat”, not the dog. If you have a chance to visit Eagle Harbor – the hometown of pickleball, you probably will see the rowers practice there. They love water sports like motorboating, sailing, and rowing.

The inventors of this sport were politicians and businessmen. They knew how to spread the game with their words, so it’s no surprise that this pleasant pastime has been spreading like wildfire across America! 

Whenever introducing someone to this game, usually the first question is “What is the meaning of that name?”. Well, it’s always easier to explain the game got its name from a furry friend than trying to describe the term “pickle boat”!

Where Did the Dog Rumor Come From?

Sometime between the mid-1969 and the early 1970s, Joel took part in an interview with a reporter from a national publication, who was about to broadcast the game on a massive scale. Joan and her neighbors were also present. 

The reporter asked Joel about the origin of the name “pickleball”, and he related the story about how Joan named the game from “pickle boat”. He then suggested the reporter telling the game got its name from the dog.

The reporter paused and considered going with the dog story as it was more adorable and memorable, while the true story was somewhat confusing and obscure for the readers. The interview was most likely what triggered these memories to the neighbors – then when asked about the name discussion and recalled this meeting.

Pickles was sought after the interview

When hearing about the cute dog story, other Bainbridge pickleball locals were unhappy and told him about it. He reassured them that it was just a funny story and asked them to see how long this lasted!

Frank said that Barney and his dad agreed on the story they would tell – and they did it for years. Still, his mother was upset about that decision! Later in life, when the game grew bigger than he could handle all by himself, Frank’s father admitted during other interviews that pickleball was not named after the puppy, but Barney claimed that it was (before his dying day).

He points out that he was grateful to his mother for naming the game – a little piece in the history of this sport, and one of the early handmade paddles, something she deserved at least some credit.

When Did Pickleball First Appear? 

The sport of pickleball first appeared in the year 1965. Joel Pritchard, Washington’s congressman, and Bill Bell, a brilliant entrepreneur, returned to Pritchard’s house on Bainbridge Island after their playing golf during the summertime.

At home, Pritchard’s children desired to play badminton on a rusted-out court with no proper sports equipment. They then improvised using a perforated plastic ball and table tennis paddles. They began with a 60-inch high badminton net and hit the ball over the net.

They eventually found that the ball bounced pretty well on the surface, so they lowered their net (around 36 inches high). The next week, Barney McCallum joined in the game, and these three people created rules for the game. They remembered their original intention of pickleball was for the whole family to enjoy themselves together when they got bored.

Pickleball in its early years

Who Invented Pickleball?

Pickleball was created by the three founders: Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, and William Bell. 

Joel Pritchard

Joel Pritchard is probably the best remembered of the three fathers. He served as a six-term U.S Congressman in the period of 1973 and 1985, and later was the Lieutenant Governor for Washington state. 

As this game was first invented in the 1960s, Joel served in both the Washington State Senate and the Washington State House of Representatives. He also served in the U.S Army as a sergeant from 1944 to 1946.

This sport was invented at Joel Pritchard’s house on Bainbridge Island. He died of cancer in 1997 and was the first member of the Pickleball Hall of Fame!

Joel Pritchard - the founding father of pickleball

Barney McCallum

Barney McCallum was a key player in developing the pickleball rules and sharing the sport later. Barney and Joel were co-workers at The Griffin Envelope Company and also close neighbors in the summertime.

After that summer, Barney’s family returned to Magnolia, Seattle’s second-largest neighborhood, for winter. Barney finally built a court at his own house and refined the game rules. For instance, the first change was to replace the Non-Volley Zone to 7 feet from the net.

In an effort to make this sport more accessible, Barney created a company dedicated exclusively to selling equipment. The initial pickleball sets came on the market at a price of around $29.50. It is indeed a fact that Barney has made no small contribution to taking this sport from a family game to a nationwide sport.

William Bell

William Bell is a prominent businessman and near neighbors with Barney and Joel on Bainbridge Island. He was also present to invent this sport on that fateful afternoon and a co-founder of Pickleball Inc., specializing in equipment for this game.

Pickleball Timeline 

Let’s take a look at some previous milestones of this sport in its history!

1965: Pickleball was invented on Bainbridge Island. Though the exact year has widely been debated, its first game is thought to have occurred somewhere between 1963 and 1966.

1967: Pritchards and his friend – Bob O’Brian built the first court for this game in his neighbor’s backyard.

1972: There was a corporation established to preserve the invention of pickleball.

1975: A sports article about pickleball was published by The National Observer and followed by another with the title “America’s newest racquet sport” by Tennis magazine in 1976.

1976: The early known pickleball tournament in world history took place at South Center Athletic Club in Washington. David Lester won the championship, and Steve Paranto finished second. Many participants at this event were college tennis players. They knew almost nothing about this game, and they practiced the game with a softball-sized plastic ball and large wood paddles!

1978: They published a book related to pickleball. The title was “The Other Racquet Sports”.

1984: The USAPA (the United States Amateur Pickleball Association) was formed to maintain the development of the sport all over the United States. Its first rule book was also published this year.

Sid Williams was the first Executive Director and also President of USAPA. In 1998, it was Frank Candelario that took over until 2004.

1990: Pickleball was broadened in 50 states. 

1999: – Pickleball Stuff – the first website was launched.

2001: The Arizona Senior Olympics introduced the game pickleball, which drew 100 players to its first event. Later on, this figure would grow to roughly 300 participants.

2003: Pickleball Stuff listed 39 destinations to play in North America. Of these, there were ten states, three Canadian Provinces, and up to 150 individual courts.

2005: The USA Pickleball Association was formed, and three years later, they published their official rule book. This sport was first included in the National Senior Games Association and then broadcast live on Good Morning America.

2009: The first USAPA National Tournament took place in November 2009 and saw nearly 400 participants from 26 states and several Canadian provinces.

Professional pickleball tournaments

Until now: This sport has exploded in popularity and growth since then, with millions of people of all ages participating in tournaments around the globe. Currently, the USAPA has over 40,000 members, and it is also known as one of the fastest-spreading sports in the U.S (with over 3.3 million participants).

Conclusion

Pickleball has been around for decades, but we’re sure not many people understand the story behind its name. Still, we’ve explained to you a full detailed answer to your initial question – why is it called pickleball? 

If you’re already a fan of this game or just want to learn about its origins, we do hope our explanation tickles your curiosity!

Further reading:

Pickleball – Wikipedia

Pickleball History

What is this sport called pickleball anyway? – Los Angeles Times

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