The History of Pickleball

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United States, but it’s important to know where the sport came from before moving forward. We’ll share a brief history of the sport, how it received its famous name, and what the current popularity looks like.

When Was Pickleball Invented & Who invented It?

Pickleball was born in 1965. After playing golf during the summer, Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington, and Bill Bell, a successful businessman, returned to Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island, not far from Seattle, Washington. With bored children at home, they sought to play badminton on an old badminton court but couldn’t find the proper equipment. They improvised and played with table tennis paddles and a perforated plastic ball. They began with the net at a badminton net height (60 inches high) and volleyed the ball back and forth over the net. Eventually as play progressed during the weekend, they found the ball bounced well on the asphalt surface and they would eventually lower the net to 36 inches high. The following weekend, Barney McCallum joined and began playing and the three men created the rules for pickleball. The men remembered the original purpose of creating the game was for a game the whole family could play when they were bored.

By 1967, the first permanent pickleball court was constructed in the backyard of Pritchard’s friend and neighbor Bob O’Brian. In 1972, a corporation was formed to protect the sport and in 1975, the National Observer wrote for the first time about pickleball. Tennis magazine followed this with an article about America's newest racquet sport in 1976.

By spring 1976, the first known tournament in the world was held at South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington. Team ONIX's Steve Paranto placed second and David Lester won Men's Singles. Because this was such a new sport and players knew so little about it, at the time of the tournament, they practiced with large wood paddles and a softball-sized whiffle ball. 

In 1978 a book called The Other Raquet Sports was published and it included information about pickleball. Four years later, Sid Williams began playing and organizing tournaments in Washington.

The first pickleball rulebook was published in 1984 by the United States Amateur Pickleball Association, which committed to growth and advancement of the sport. Sid Williams served as the first executive director and president from 1984 to 1998. Frank Candelario followed him until 2004. 

Steve Paranto's father Arlen Paranto, a Boeing Industrial Engineer, created the first composite pickleball paddle. Arlen used fiberglass and nomex honeycomb panels that the commercial airplanes used for their flooring and structural system. Arlen made 1,000 paddles from this fiberglass/honeycomb core and graphite/honeycomb core until he sold the company to Frank Candelario. 

By 1990 pickleball was being played in all 50 states. Two years later, Pickle-Ball, Inc. manufactured pickleballs in-house with a custom drilling machine. By 1999, the first ever pickleball website launched called Pickleball Stuff.

In 2001, pickleball was introduced in the Arizona Senior Olympics drawing 100 players, which was the largest event to be played at that point. Later, events would begin growing to nearly 300 players. By 2003, Pickleball Stuff would list 39 known places to play in North America: 10 states, 3 Canadian Provinces, and 150 individual courts.

In 2005, the USA Pickleball Association was established. Three years later, the USAPA Rules Committee published an official rulebook. Pickleball was included for the first time in the National Senior Games Association. Good Morning America aired a live segment on pickleball for the first mass media exposure for the sport. 

The first USAPA National Tournament was held in November 2009 and drew almost 400 players from 26 states and several Canadian provinces. 

Since then, pickleball has been exploding in growth and popularity with tournaments played by millions ranging from young to old all over the world. The USAPA has more than 40,000 members and it's estimated pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States as participants reach around 3.3 million.

How Did Pickleball Get Its Name?

When you first learn about the sport, the name “pickleball” often produces a laugh, especially since no pickles are involved. But there is some debate on how the name was originated. There are two different accounts. The first account is according to Joan Pritchard, Joel Pritchard, she started calling the game pickleball because the combination of different sports reminded her of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of the other boats. The second account from Barney McCallum says pickleball was named after Pritchard’s dog Pickles, who would chase the ball and run with it. Some believe Pickles was named after the game because he didn’t join the family until a couple of years after the game was created.

To learn more about the history of pickleball and for a complete timeline, visit https://usapickleball.org/.