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The History of Pickleball

The History Of Pickleball: A Sport For All Ages

How old is pickleball? Founded in 1965, pickleball is one of the newer sports in the United States. There a few theories about the history of pickleball and how pickleball got its name.

The story goes that in 1965, on Bainbridge Island, Washington, two friends--Washington Congressman Joel Pritchard and his friend Bill Bell--had a badminton court and wanted to play badminton but didn’t have enough racquets. So instead, they played with ping pong paddles and a wiffle ball. At first, they used the net at badminton height (60 inches) and volleyed the ball but as they played they realized they could rally longer if they let it bounce. So they lowered the net to 36 inches.

Shortly afterwards they invited their friend Barney McCallum to join the game and the three men create rules--mostly based on badminton--and make it a real game. They shared the idea with friends and it caught on locally. Pritchard’s wife, Joan, started to call 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 other boats. (Another theory is that they named the game after Pritchard’s dog, who was named Pickles.)

Pickleboat Play-PKL
Pickle Boat: A thrown together crew of leftover rowers

The first pickleball players made their own paddles from wood and mostly played on badminton courts by lowering the net, or set up makeshift courts on pavement by drawing chalk lines. The first permanent court was constructed in 1967 at Pritchard's neighbor's home.

By 1972, a corporation by the name of Pickle-ball, Inc. was founded by the MacCallum family to help interested players buy equipment and learn how to play the game. A few years later the sport had spread enough that a Tennis magazine article touted it as "America's newest racquet sport."

The sport grew slowly through the late 20th century with the first tournaments in the 1980s and the formation of the United States Amateur Pickleball Association (USAPA), who published an early rule book detailing how to play pickleball. By the late '80s, composite paddles began to replace wood as the preferred material and by 1990 pickleball courts could be found in every state.

Between 2013 and 2021, the number of USAPA members grew from about 4,000 to over 50,000 and the organization rebranded itself to USA Pickleball. In 2022, pickleball was named the fastest growing sport in America for the second consecutive year. And in 2023, membership reached an unimaginable 70,000, representing a nearly 30 percent increase over 2022. 

USAPA 2020-present

Today, There are an estimated 8.9 million players in the United States. Pickleball is played all over the world—in community groups, school gym classes, public parks, retirement communities, and more. 

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