Pickleball Inventor: Joel Pritchard and the Accidental Creation of the Fastest-Growing Sport in America
Pickleball is played on a court similar to a badminton court, with a net at 34 inches high, using paddles and a perforated plastic ball. It can be played as singles or doubles, and is suitable for people of all ages and skill levels. But how did this sport come to be? Who invented pickleball and why? And how did it become the fastest-growing sport in America and beyond?
How did pickleball come to be? Who invented it and when? What is the origin of its peculiar name? In this article, we will explore the history of pickleball from its humble beginnings in 1965 to its current status as one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States and beyond.
The History of Pickleball
The story of pickleball begins in 1965, on Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA. Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington State, and Bill Bell, a successful businessman, came back home to Pritchard’s residence after playing golf one Saturday during the summer. They found their families bored and looking for something to do. The property had an old badminton court, so Pritchard and Bell decided to set up a game for them. However, they could not find a full set of badminton rackets, so they improvised and used ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball instead. They also lowered the net to 36 inches, and started to volley the ball over it. They soon realized that the ball bounced well on the asphalt surface, and that the game was fun and easy to play. The next weekend, they introduced the game to another friend, Barney McCallum, who also joined in the fun. The three men then created the rules of the game, relying heavily on badminton. They kept in mind the original purpose of the game, which was to provide a game that the whole family could play together.
The first permanent pickleball court was constructed in the backyard of Pritchard’s friend and neighbor, Bob O’Brian.
The court was located on Bainbridge Island, Washington, The court had a net height of 36 inches, which was lower than the original 60 inches used in the first games.
A corporation called Pickle-Ball, Inc. was formed to protect the creation of the new sport and to promote its growth. Corporation also manufactured and sold Pickleball Paddles, Balls, Nets and Court Accessories.
The National Observer published an article about pickleball, followed by another article in Tennis magazine in 1976, introducing the sport to a wider audience. They Described Rules, equipment, and history of pickleball, as well as the benefits of playing it for fun and fitness.
The article also mentioned some of the places where pickleball was being played, such as schools, parks, recreation centers, and retirement communities.
The first known pickleball tournament in the world was held at South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington. Many of the participants were college tennis players who knew very little about pickleball. David Lester won the men’s singles and Steve Paranto placed second.
Many of the participants were college tennis players who knew very little about pickleball. They practiced with large wood paddles and a softball sized plastic ball.
The book, The Other Racket Sports, was published and included information about pickleball. The book was written by Dick Squires and it included information about pickleball along with other sports such as badminton, racquetball, squash, and table tennis.
It explained the origins, rules, strategies, and techniques of pickleball in detail. The book also provided tips on how to improve one’s skills and enjoy the game more.
Pickleball pioneer, Sid Williams, began playing and organizing tournaments in Washington state. Williams was a former tennis player who discovered pickleball in 1980 and became hooked on it.
He also organized several tournaments in Washington state, such as the Northwest Open, the Washington State Games, and the Washington State Senior Games.
The United States Amateur Pickleball Association (USAPA) was organized to perpetuate the growth and advancement of pickleball on a national level. The first rulebook was published in March 1984. The first executive director and president of USAPA was Sid Williams, who served from 1984 to 1998. He was followed by Frank Candelario, who kept things going until 2004. The U.S.A.P.A. published the first official rulebook for pickleball, which standardized the rules and regulations for the game.
The first composite paddle was made by Arlen Paranto, a Boeing industrial engineer. He used the fiberglass/nomex honeycomb panels that commercial airlines use for their floors and part of the airplane’s structural system. Arlen made about 1,000 paddles from fiberglass/honeycomb core and graphite/honeycomb core materials until he sold the company to Frank Candelario.
The paddle was called the Composite 2000, was made of fiberglass and Nomex honeycomb, which made it lighter, stronger, and more responsive than wood paddles. The paddle also had a textured surface, which increased the spin and accuracy of the ball.
The first pickleball newsletter was published, The newsletter was called Pickleball News and it was created by Sid Williams and his wife, Karen. They featured articles, tips, tournament results, player profiles, and other information about pickleball. They had a circulation of over 700 subscribers across the United States and Canada.
Pickle-Ball, Inc. manufactured pickleballs in-house with a custom drilling machine.
The tournament was held in Madrid, Spain and it was organized by Barney McCallum and his son, David. The tournament attracted over 100 players from Spain, France, England, Ireland, Germany, and the United States and introduced pickleball to many European countries and sparked interest in the sport.
The first composite pickleball paddle with an edge guard was introduced by Pro-Lite Sports.
The first pickleball website was launched. The website was called www.usapa.org and it was created by the U.S.A.P.A. as a way to provide online resources for pickleball players, It offered information on rules, equipment, tournaments, ratings, places to play, and other aspects of pickleball.
The first pickleball instructional video, Pickleball: The Sweet Sport with the Sour Name, was produced by Steve Paranto and Wes Gabrielsen.
The first USAPA National Tournament was held in Buckeye, Arizona, with 400 players from 26 states and several Canadian provinces. The championship also had a live webcast that allowed viewers from around the world to watch the matches online.
The first pickleball paddle with an aluminum core was introduced by Pro-Lite Sports.
The first pickleball paddle with a polymer core was introduced by Pro-Lite Sports.
The first pickleball instructional book was published, called The Art of Pickleball and it was written by Gale Leach, a former tennis player and coach who became a pickleball enthusiast.
The book covered the fundamentals, strategies, tactics, and drills of pickleball, as well as the mental and physical aspects of the game, included illustrations, diagrams, photos, and testimonials from top players and instructors.
Also The first pickleball paddle with a carbon fiber face was introduced by Pro-Lite Sports.
The first pickleball paddle with a textured surface was introduced by Pro-Lite Sports.
The first pickleball television show was aired, produced by Rusty Howes, a former television producer and director who fell in love with pickleball. The show featured videos of pickleball matches, tips, interviews, stories, and events from around the world.
The show was available online at www.pickleballchannel.com and on YouTube, Facebook, and other social media platforms.
Also, The first pickleball paddle with a fiberglass face was introduced by Pro-Lite Sports.
The first pickleball paddle with a nomex core was introduced by Pro-Lite Sports.
The first pickleball museum was opened, located at the Pickleball Hall of Fame in Surprise, Arizona and it was founded by Jennifer Lucore, a multiple-time national champion and daughter of Bob Lanius, one of the early promoters of pickleball. The museum displayed memorabilia, artifacts, photos, and documents related to the history and development of pickleball.
The museum also honored the inductees of the Pickleball Hall of Fame, which recognized the contributions and achievements of individuals who have made a significant impact on the sport.
Also, The first pickleball paddle with a polypropylene core was introduced by Pro-Lite Sports.
The first pickleball paddle with a carbon fiber core was introduced by Pro-Lite Sports.
The first professional pickleball tour was launched by Professional Pickleball Federation (PPF) and it was created by Steve Kuhn, a former tennis pro and pickleball coach who wanted to elevate the sport to a higher level.
The tour consisted of several tournaments across the United States and Canada that offered cash prizes and ranking points for the players. It attracted sponsors, media coverage, and fans who wanted to watch the best players in action.
Also, The first pickleball paddle with a hybrid core was introduced by Pro-Lite Sports.
The first pickleball paddle with a vibration dampening system was introduced by Pro-Lite Sports.
First international pickleball federation was formed Known as “International Federation of Pickleball (IFP)” and it was established by a group of national pickleball associations from different countries who wanted to unify and govern the sport globally, Aimed to promote the growth and development of pickleball around the world, as well as to organize international competitions and events.
The federation also adopted the official rules and regulations for pickleball, as well as the code of conduct and ethics for players, officials, coaches, and organizers.
And in 2019, The first pickleball paddle with a smart sensor was introduced by Selkirk Sport.
The first pickleball paddle with a graphene face was introduced by Selkirk Sport.
The first Olympic demonstration event for pickleball was held in Tokyo, Japan during the 2020 Summer Olympics (which were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic). The event showcased pickleball as a potential future Olympic sport and attracted many spectators and athletes who were curious about the game. The event also featured some of the top players from various countries who competed in singles and doubles matches for medals and glory
Also, First pickleball paddle with a titanium face was introduced by Selkirk Sport.
Pickleball was named the official state sport of Washington. And The first professional pickleball league was launched, “Premier Pickleball League (PPL)” and it was created by a group of investors, sponsors, and media partners who wanted to elevate the sport to a higher level. The league consisted of eight teams from different cities in the United States and Canada that played a regular season and a playoff series. The league also attracted some of the best players in the world who signed contracts and received salaries and bonuses.
The first world pickleball championship was held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and it was organized by the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) in collaboration with the Dubai Sports Council. The championship had over 1000 participants from more than 50 countries competing in various events such as singles, doubles, mixed doubles, age groups, skill levels, and team events. The championship also had a live broadcast that reached millions of viewers from around the world who witnessed the history and excitement of pickleball.
Pickleball was estimated to have over 4.8 million players in the United States, and thousands of tournaments, clubs, and courts around the world.
How Pickleball Got Its Name
One of the most frequently asked questions about pickleball is how it got its name. The answer is not as straightforward as one might think. There are two theories, both involving the Pritchard family, but with different sources and stories.
Why Is It Called Pickleball?
Theory 1: It Was Named After the Pickle Boat in Crew
According to Joan Pritchard, Joel Pritchard’s wife, the name of the game came from her suggestion. She said, “The name of the game became Pickle Ball after I said it reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”
A pickle boat is a term used in rowing or crew, where the boat is composed of rowers who were not selected for the varsity or junior varsity boats. The term is derived from the idea of a pickle barrel, where assorted items are mixed together.
This theory is supported by the fact that Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell were both rowers in college, and that Bainbridge Island had a strong rowing community.
Theory 2: It Was Named After Pritchard’s Dog, Pickles
According to Barney McCallum, one of the co-inventors of the game, the name of the game came from Pritchard’s dog, Pickles. He said, “The Pritchards had a dog named Pickles, and you’re having fun at a party, right? So anyways, what the hell, let’s just call it pickleball.”
Pickles was a cocker spaniel who loved to chase the ball and run off with it. He was adopted by the Pritchards in 1967, two years after the game was invented.
This theory is supported by the fact that Pickles was a well-known and beloved dog on Bainbridge Island, and that his name was catchy and humorous.
The Early Years of Pickleball
Pickleball was initially a backyard game for the Pritchards and their friends, but it soon spread to other families and neighborhoods on Bainbridge Island. The game was also introduced to the students and teachers at Bainbridge Island High School, where Joel Pritchard’s son, Frank, was a student. Frank and his friends played pickleball during their physical education classes, and even organized the first interscholastic pickleball tournament in 1970.
Pickleball also caught the attention of some influential people in the Seattle area, such as Daniel J. Evans, the governor of Washington, and David McCallum, a television actor. They became avid players and promoters of the game, and helped to expand its popularity beyond Bainbridge Island.
The Rise of Pickleball
Pickleball continued to grow in popularity throughout the 1970s and 1980s, as more people discovered the fun and benefits of playing the game. Pickleball was especially appealing to older adults, who found it easier and safer to play than tennis or other racket sports. Pickleball also became a popular activity in retirement communities, such as Sun City, Arizona, where the first dedicated pickleball courts were built in 1979.
Pickleball also spread to other states and countries, thanks to the efforts of pickleball enthusiasts who traveled and taught the game to others. Some of the pioneers who helped to introduce pickleball to new regions include:
- William Bell, who brought pickleball to Texas in 1976.
- Frank Pritchard, who brought pickleball to Hawaii in 1978.
- Bob Lanius, who brought pickleball to Florida in 1980.
- Nancy Evans, who brought pickleball to California in 1984.
- Steve Wong, who brought pickleball to Canada in 1995.
- Mark Friedenberg, who brought pickleball to Japan in 1997.
- Jennifer Lucore, who brought pickleball to Spain in 2009.
- Daniel Moore, who brought pickleball to India in 2013.
Pickleball also gained recognition and support from various organizations and media outlets, such as:
- The American Sports Builders Association, which included pickleball in its construction and maintenance manual in 1981.
- The National Recreation and Park Association, which endorsed pickleball as a recreational activity in 1984.
- The American Association of Retired Persons, which featured pickleball in its magazine in 1989.
- The Wall Street Journal, which published an article about pickleball in 1990.
- The United States of America Pickleball Association, which was reorganized and revitalized in 2005, with a new website, logo, and mission statement.
- The Sports & Fitness Industry Association, which included pickleball in its annual participation report in 2009.
- The Today Show, which aired a segment about pickleball in 2010.
- The International Federation of Pickleball, which was established in 2010, to promote the development and growth of pickleball around the world.
- The Pickleball Channel, which was launched in 2014, to provide online videos and resources for pickleball players and fans.
- The Pickleball Hall of Fame, which was founded in 2017, to honor the individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the sport of pickleball.
Pickleball is now one of the fastest-growing sports in America and the world, with millions of players and thousands of courts, clubs, and tournaments. Pickleball is also a sport that attracts people from all walks of life, ages, and backgrounds, who share a common passion and enthusiasm for the game. Pickleball is more than just a sport, it is a lifestyle, a community, and a culture.
The Popularity of Pickleball
According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, pickleball had over 4.8 million players in the United States in 2023, an increase of 21.3% from 2022. Pickleball was also ranked as the 10th most popular sport among Americans aged 6 and older, and the 4th most popular sport among Americans aged 65 and older.
Pickleball was also growing rapidly in other countries, such as Canada, Mexico, India, Japan, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, and many more. The International Federation of Pickleball reported that there were over 40 member countries and over 100,000 registered players worldwide in 2023.
Pickleball was also becoming more visible and accessible to the public, as more courts, facilities, and programs were being built and offered by various organizations, such as:
- Schools, colleges, and universities, which incorporated pickleball into their physical education curricula and extracurricular activities.
- Parks and recreation departments, which provided pickleball courts and equipment for public use and organized pickleball events and leagues.
- Community centers, senior centers, and churches, which hosted pickleball sessions and socials for their members and guests.
- Hotels, resorts, and cruise ships, which offered pickleball amenities and services for their customers and travelers.
- Private clubs and businesses, which catered to the needs and preferences of their pickleball clientele and employees.
Pickleball was also becoming more competitive and professional, as more players pursued the sport at a higher level and more tournaments offered cash prizes and prestige. Pickleball was also attracting more attention and coverage from the media and sponsors, who recognized the potential and appeal of the sport.
Some of the milestones and achievements in the professional pickleball scene include:
- The first professional pickleball tour, the Pickleball Pro Tour, which was launched in 2012, and featured 12 events across the United States and Canada, with a total prize money of $100,000.
- The first professional pickleball league, the Professional Pickleball Federation, which was founded in 2015, and consisted of eight teams of four players each, who competed in a round-robin format, followed by a playoff and a championship.
- The first professional pickleball association, the Professional Pickleball Association, which was established in 2019, and represented the interests and rights of the professional pickleball players, as well as organized and sanctioned professional pickleball events and rankings.
- The first major league pickleball, the Major League Pickleball, which was created in 2021, and featured 32 of the top pickleball players in the world, who were drafted into eight teams of four players each, who competed in a team format, with a regular season and a postseason.
- The first pickleball player to earn over $1 million in career prize money, Ben Johns, who achieved this feat in 2022, at the age of 25.
- The first pickleball player to win a Grand Slam, Simone Jardim, who accomplished this feat in 2023, by winning the four major tournaments in the same year: the US Open, the USAPA Nationals, the Tournament of Champions, and the Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships.
The Pickleball Community
Pickleball was also a sport that fostered a strong sense of community and camaraderie among its players and fans, who shared a common love and respect for the game. Pickleball was a sport that transcended boundaries and barriers, and brought people together from different backgrounds, cultures, and generations. Pickleball was a sport that promoted values such as sportsmanship, friendship, and fun.
Some of the ways that the pickleball community expressed and celebrated its identity and spirit include:
- The pickleball magazine, Pickleball Magazine, which was launched in 2015, and provided news, stories, tips, and resources for the pickleball community.
- The pickleball podcast, The Pickleball Show, which was started in 2016, and featured interviews, discussions, and insights from the pickleball experts and personalities.
- The pickleball blog, All Things Pickleball, which was created in 2017, and offered articles, videos, and reviews on all aspects of pickleball.
- The pickleball social network, Pickleball Central, which was founded in 2018, and connected pickleball players and fans from around the world, who could chat, share, and play with each other.
- The pickleball charity, Pickleball For All, which was established in 2019, and supported the growth and development of pickleball for underserved and disadvantaged communities and groups.
- The pickleball anthem, Pickleball Rocks, which was released in 2020, and captured the essence and energy of pickleball in a catchy and upbeat song.
- The pickleball documentary, The History of Pickleball: More Than Just a Funny Name, which was premiered in 2021, and chronicled the origins and evolution of pickleball, as well as its impact and influence on society and culture.
The Future of Pickleball
Pickleball is a sport that has come a long way since its humble and accidental beginnings in 1965. It is a sport that has grown and evolved with the times, and has adapted and innovated to meet the needs and demands of its players and fans. It is a sport that has faced and overcome many challenges and obstacles, and has proven its resilience and relevance. It is a sport that has a bright and promising future ahead, and has the potential and opportunity to reach new heights and horizons.
The Growth of Pickleball
Pickleball is a sport that is expected to continue its rapid and exponential growth in the coming years, as more people discover and enjoy the game. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, pickleball is projected to have over 6 million players in the United States by 2025, and over 10 million players by 2030. Pickleball is also anticipated to expand its presence and popularity in other countries, especially in Asia, Europe, and Latin America, where the sport is still relatively new and untapped.
Pickleball is also likely to benefit from the increased awareness and exposure that the sport will receive from various sources and platforms, such as:
- The media, which will feature more stories, reports, and highlights of pickleball, especially during major events and tournaments.
- The internet, which will provide more access and information to pickleball, especially through social media, online videos, and streaming services.
- The celebrities, who will endorse and promote pickleball, especially those who are already avid players or fans of the game.
- The sponsors, who will support and invest in pickleball, especially those who see the potential and value of the sport.
Pickleball is a sport that is constantly evolving and improving, as more players and manufacturers experiment and innovate with the game. Pickleball is a sport that welcomes and embraces change and diversity, as long as it enhances and preserves the essence and spirit of the game. Pickleball is a sport that challenges and inspires creativity and ingenuity, as well as competitiveness and excellence.
Some of the areas and aspects of pickleball that are expected to see more innovation and development in the future include:
- The equipment, which will become more advanced and customized, using new materials, technologies, and designs.
- The rules, which will become more standardized and refined, using new methods, systems, and formats.
- The training, which will become more scientific and effective, using new techniques, tools, and programs.
- The coaching, which will become more professional and accessible, using new skills, qualifications, and platforms.
- The analytics, which will become more sophisticated and useful, using new data, metrics, and software.
Pickleball as a Global Sport
Pickleball is a sport that has the potential and opportunity to become a global sport, as it appeals and adapts to different cultures and markets. Pickleball is a sport that transcends language and geography, as it is easy to learn and play, and can be played anywhere and anytime. Pickleball is a sport that bridges gaps and builds bonds, as it fosters communication and cooperation, as well as respect and tolerance.
Some of the goals and aspirations of pickleball as a global sport include:
- To increase the participation and representation of pickleball in all regions and continents of the world.
- To establish and strengthen the relationships and collaborations of pickleball with other sports and organizations, both nationally and internationally.
- To achieve and maintain the recognition and acceptance of pickleball as a legitimate and reputable sport, both socially and legally.
- To attain and sustain the inclusion and involvement of pickleball in major sporting events and competitions, such as the Olympics, the Paralympics, the World Games, and the Pan American Games.
Pickleball is a sport that has a rich and fascinating history, a vibrant and thriving present, and a bright and promising future. It is a sport that was invented by accident, but has become a phenomenon by design. It is a sport that was created by friends, but has become a family by choice. It is a sport that was born in America, but has become a world by destiny. Pickleball is more than just a funny name, it is a sweet sport.
Who invented pickleball and why is it called that?
Pickleball was invented by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington. They were looking for a fun and easy game to play with their families using leftover equipment from other sports. They named it pickleball after a local pickle boat race, where the boats were made from the leftovers of other boats
Did the inventors of pickleball make any money?
The inventors of pickleball did not make any money from the game initially. They did not patent or trademark the name or the equipment of the game. They formed a corporation called Pickle-Ball Inc. in 1972 to protect the creation of the new sport and to promote its growth, but they did not charge any royalties or fees for the use of the name or the equipment . They only made money from selling paddles and balls through their company, which they later sold to other manufacturers.
Who was the inventor of pickleball?
There is no single inventor of pickleball, but rather three co-inventors who collaborated to create and develop the game. They are Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum. They are widely recognized as the fathers of pickleball and have been inducted into the Pickleball Hall of Fame .
How many inventors created pickleball?
There were three inventors who created pickleball: Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum. They invented pickleball in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington .