After playing golf one Saturday during the summer, Joel Pritchard, congressman from Washington State and Bill Bell, successful businessman, returned to Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island, WA (near Seattle) to find their families sitting around with nothing to do. The property had an old badminton court so Pritchard and Bell looked for some badminton equipment and could not find a full set of rackets. They improvised and started playing with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. At first they placed the net at badminton height of 60 inches and volleyed the ball over the net.As the weekend progressed, the players found that the ball bounced well on the asphalt surface and soon the net was lowered to 36 inches. The following weekend, Barney McCallum was introduced to the game at Pritchard’s home. Soon, the three men created rules, relying heavily on badminton. They kept in mind the original purpose, which was to provide a game that the whole family could play together.
The first permanent pickleball court was constructed in the backyard of Joel Pritchard’s friend and neighbor, Bob O’Brian.
A corporation was formed to protect the creation of this new sport.
The National Observer published an article about pickleball followed by a 1976 article in Tennis magazine about “America’s newest racquet sport.”
During the spring of 1976, the first known pickleball tournament in the world was held at South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington. David Lester won Men’s Singles and Steve Paranto placed second. Many of the participants were college tennis players who knew very little about pickleball. In fact, they practiced with large wood paddles and a softball sized plastic ball.
The book, The Other Raquet Sports, was published and included information about pickleball.
Pickleball pioneer, Sid Williams began playing and organizing tournaments in Washington state.
The United States Amateur Pickleball Association (U.S.A.P.A.) 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 U.S.A.P.A. was Sid Williams who served from 1984 to 1998. He was followed by Frank Candelario who kept things going until 2004.
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.
Pickleball was being played in all 50 states.
Pickle-Ball, Inc. manufactured pickleballs in-house with a custom drilling machine.
Joel Pritchard passed away at age 72. Though he was Washington State’s Lieutenant governor from 1988 to 1996, he is probably better known for his connection to the birth of pickleball.
The first pickleball internet website, Pickleball Stuff, launched and provided players with information, equipment, and products.
The game of pickleball was introduced for the first time in the Arizona Senior Olympics through the efforts of Earl Hill. The tournament was played at Happy Trails RV Resort in Surprise, AZ and drew 100 players. It was the largest event ever played to that point. Over the next few years the event grew to nearly 300 players.
There are 39 known places to play in North America listed on the Pickleball Stuff website. This represents 10 States, 3 Canadian Provinces and about 150 individual courts.
Pickleball was included for the first time in the Huntsman World Senior Games, held each year in St. George, Utah during October.
A new corporation for the sport was established as USA Pickleball Association (USAPA). Mark Friedenberg was named the first president of the new USAPA and the first Board of Directors included:
- Vice President – Steve Wong
- Secretary – Fran Myer
- Treasurer – Lela Reed
- General Counsel – Phil Mortenson
- Grievance – Phil Mortenson
- Marketing – Erne Perry followed by Pat Carroll in March, 2006
- Membership – Carole Myers
- National/International Relations and the Ambassador Program – Earl Hill
- Newsletter – Jettye Lanius
- Ratings and Rankings – Mark Friedenberg
- Rules – Dennis Duey
- Tournaments – Barney Myer
- Training – Norm Davis
- Webmaster – Steve Wong
Steve Wong (former USAPA Webmaster) created the first USAPA website that went live in March. Website activity continued to increase as the popularity of pickleball grows and the features of the website increase.
USAPA became a Non-Profit Corporation on July 1.
USAPA cooperated with several web sites to have them discontinue their Places to Play links and consolidate all their entries into the USAPA database creating a single reliable source for players to find sites to play. Today this website is: places2play.org
One of the originating founders of the sport, Bill Bell passes away at 83.
The USAPA Rules Committee, headed by Dennis Duey, published the (1) USA Pickleball Association Official Tournament Rulebook – Revision: May 1, 2008.
Pickleball was included for the first time at the National Senior Games Association (NSGA).
There are now 420 places to play in North American as listed on the USAPA website. This represents 43 States and 4 Canadian Provinces and about 1500 individual courts. This does not account for those places that are adding courts at private homes.
ABC’s Good Morning America aired live, in-studio segment on pickleball that included a brief demonstration. This was the first mass media exposure for the sport.
The first USAPA National Tournament for players of all ages was held in Buckeye, Arizona, November 2-8, 2009. The tournament drew almost 400 players from 26 states and several Canadian provinces.
USAPA establishes the Grant Program to assist players in creating new sites for new players. By the end of 2013 the program has accounted for over 1,400 new sites.
To help foster the growth of the sport on an international level, USAPA established the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) organization and corresponding website (ifpickleball.org).
In January, Justin Maloof joined USAPA as its first full-time Executive Director.
USAPA starts the year off with a record 4,071 members.
USAPA re-brands with a new logo and red, white, and blue color scheme that is more consistent with other US national sports governing bodies.
USAPA launched a new, more user-friendly website.
Pickleball Channel launched making it the first professional media group for the sport
USAPA surpasses 10,000 members for the first time.
The first USAPA ambassador retreat was held in Tahoe City, CA.
According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), there are now just over 2 million pickleball players.
USAPA and author Mary Littlewood collaborate with publisher, Human Kinetics to produce a new pickleball book for beginners titled (2) Pickleball Fundamentals, Master the Basics and Compete with Confidence.
After 6 years in Buckeye, AZ, USAPA moves the USAPA National Championships to Casa Grande, AZ.
Total number of courts per Places2Play continues to grow and breaks through 10,000 courts and finishes the year at 12,800 for both indoor and outdoor courts.
USAPA reports it now has more than 17,000 members.
USAPA creates a national certified referee certification program.
Pickleball Magazine launched as the sports first full-color, professional print and digital publication. USAPA members receive a free digital copy and a discount on a mailed subscription.
The first US Open Pickleball Championships were held in Naples, FL and included the first nationally televised broadcast of pickleball on CBS Sports Network.
More than 4,600 locations are now listed on Places2Play.
USAPA selects St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital as it’s national charitable partner.
The Super Senior International Pickleball Association (SSIPA) was created and partners with USAPA and sanctions all their tournaments.
The USAPA volunteer Ambassador group exceeds 1,500.
Places2Play reflects nearly 5,900 locations.
USAPA expands the number of USAPA regionals from 8 to 11.
USAPA and the American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) partner to co-author the first official pickleball construction book for the sports industry. (3) Pickleball Courts – a Construction & Maintenance Manual provides detailed technical information for properly building pickleball courts and facilities.
USAPA and the International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association (IPTPA) launched a Pickleball Hall of Fame. Inaugural inductees were Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, Sid Williams, Arlen Paranto, Mark Friedenberg, and Billy Jacobsen.
With over 1,300 players, the USAPA National Championships sets a record for participants and for the first time, a 2-hour segment of the event airs to a nation-wide audience on CBS Sports Network.
USAPA membership doubles in two years and is 22,000 by December.
USAPA membership surpasses 30,000.
Total number of courts per Places2Play locations is nearly 7,000 and there are nearly 21,000 known courts across the U.S.
USAPA partners with Pickleballtournaments.com to produce and launch the sports first results-based tournament player ratings (UTPRs).
USAPA partners with the newly formed Professional Pickleball Registry (PPR), a subsidiary of the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR). During the first 6 months, PPR certifies over 1,000 new pickleball instructors.
USAPA members Jennifer Lucore and Beverly Youngren co-author and publish the sport’s first historical book, (4) History of Pickleball, More Than 50 Year of Fun!
The USA Pickleball partners with Desert Champions, LLC with a multi-year deal and moves the National Championships to the world-renowned Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, CA. Registration for the newly branded Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships explodes to over 2,200 participants. The event featured over 17 hours of live-streamed content to a nation-wide audience on ESPN3 and a 1-hour segment aired nationally on ESPNEWS. The event also provides the highest cash purse ($75,000) in the history of the sport.
USAPA Facebook team carried several live matches of the National Championships on Facebook and had a total reach of over 1.5Million viewers.
Pickleball Hall of Fame inductees were Earl Hill, Fran Myer and Robert Lanius.
USA Pickleball Association as part of the growth agenda adds several new staff including Hope Tolley, Managing Director, Recreation Programs, George Bauernfeind, as first Chief Marketing Officer, and Karen Parrish, Head of Competition and Officiating.
The Sports Fitness Industry Association 2019 report indicates pickleball continues as one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. as participants reaches 3.3 million.
The last of the three originating founders of the sport, Barney McCallum passed away at 93.
The Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships places a greater emphasis on spectators and the spectator experience. A VIP lounge and live video screens were placed just outside the stadium court where fans could enjoy the action from the food and beverage areas. The event drew nearly 28,000 fans.
Pickleball Hall of Fame inductees were Dan Gabanek, Jennifer Lucore, Enrique Ruiz and Steve Paranto.
USAPA reaches almost 40,000 members by the end of the year, a 1,000% growth rate since beginning of 2013.
USAPA rebranded as USA Pickleball, aligning more consistently it with other US sports governing bodies and our USA Pickleball National Championships. The brand re-launch also includes a new, modern logo and an updated website. The new name, logo and website are designed to strengthen USA Pickleball’s worldwide image as the official pickleball organization in the U.S.
Stu Upson joins USA Pickleball in December as first full-time CEO.
USA Pickleball Membership reached the 50,000 milestone and ended the year with just over 53,000 members, a 43% increase from the previous year and the largest single growth year to date for the organization. With over 2,300 registered players, the 2021 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships presented by Pickleball Central was the largest tournament in the world to date.
USAP continued to reinvest in staff infrastructure and ended the year with nearly 20 staff members. Media exposure also continued to drive awareness with several national segments on NBC’s The Today Show, CNBC, BBC News, Live with Kelly and Ryan, and stories published within top-rated publications including, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Forbes, Allure, The Boston Globe, The Economist, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, Parade, and Axios.
The Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) named pickleball the fastest-growing sport in America for the second consecutive year in its annual 2022 Topline Participation Report. The 2022 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships drew nearly 2,300 registered players with the professional players competing for $150,000 in prize money. The Indian Wells Tennis Garden hosted 5,522 fans at the peak of Championship Sunday, the largest-ever pickleball attendance in history.
In 2022, “pickleball” was one of the hottest trends in the U.S., receiving an unprecedented level of media coverage by major domestic and international outlets. More information about the growth of pickleball in 2022 can be found in USA Pickleball's Annual Growth Report here.
USA Pickleball membership numbers reached the 70,000 mark in February of 2023, after a nearly 30 percent increase in membership growth in 2022. In its 2023 Topline Participation Report, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) named pickleball the fastest-growing sport in America for the third year in a row. According to the report, pickleball is now up to a total of 8.9 million players in the United States over the age of six years old, an increase from 4.8 million in 2022. In March, USA Pickleball and the Professional Pickleball Association announced that the 2023 USA Pickleball National Championships, presented by the PPA Tour, will be held in Dallas this November.
Currently, the sport of pickleball is exploding in popularity. There are now nearly 11,00 locations on the USA Pickleball’s Places2Play map. The spread of the sport is attributed to its popularity within community centers, PE classes, YMCA facilities and retirement communities. The sport continues to grow worldwide as well with many new international clubs forming and national governing bodies now established on multiple continents.
Videos: The Pickleball Story and an Interview with Barney McCallum
The first video is 7 minutes and was recorded on August 11, 2013. Congressman Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, and Bill Bell invented the game of pickleball one summer afternoon in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, WA. In Barney's own words, here is the story, along with views of the original (and oldest) pickleball courts in the world.
The second video is 14 minutes and was recorded December 3, 2009 at Barney McCallum's home in Seattle WA.
Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum are unfortunately no longer with us. USA Pickleball was honored to have Barney attend the Nationals Championships in November, 2013. He was court side for a number of matches and was the special guest speaker at the ambassador's dinner. In addition, Barney was also able to travel to the 2018 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships at the renowned Indian Wells Tennis Garden. The experience of seeing first-hand how far the sport had advanced brought tears to his eyes. We were grateful to Barney for taking the time to attend and provide us, not only with the history, but the reasoning behind many basic rules as well as the origin of the sport's name. We hope you enjoy watching the above videos.
How Pickleball Got Its Name
In the summer of 1965, pickleball was founded by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Within days, Joan Pritchard had come up with the name “pickle ball”—a reference to the thrown-together leftover non-starters in the “pickle boat” of crew races. Many years later, as the sport grew, a controversy ensued when a few neighbors said they were there when Joan named the game after the family dog, Pickles. Joan and the Pritchard family have held fast for decades that the dog came along a few years later and was named after the game.
It’s an undisputed fact that pickleball began, and was also named, in the summer of 1965 by Joan Pritchard. If Pickles was around then, the dog story could be true. If Pickles wasn’t born until after 1965, the dog story would be confirmed as just a funny newspaper interview hoax—later confessed by Joel Pritchard.
Proof of when Pickles was born could help resolve the two-story name debate. As the official magazine of pickleball, we decided to dig up the past and report the truth, regardless of the venerable feathers being ruffled. We looked for dog records, uncovered photos, and interviewed several people who were there from 1965-1970. Based on evidence, we learned that the dog was born in 1968—three years after pickleball was first played and named. In other words, the Pritchard family story stands true that pickleball was not named after the dog, but rather in reference to the local pickle boat races.
Summer of 1965
Joel and Joan (pronounced “Jo-Ann”) Pritchard lived in Seattle and spent their summers at their home on Bainbridge Island, WA. In the summer of 1965, the Pritchards invited Bill and Tina Bell to stay with them at their Bainbridge compound. One day after golfing, Joel and Bill returned home to find Joel’s disgruntled 13-year-old son, Frank, in one of those moods.
Frank, now 68, recalls, “I was bitching to my dad that there was nothing to do on Bainbridge. He said that when they were kids, they’d make games up.” Frank bitterly responded to his dad, “Oh, really? Then why don’t you go make up a game?”
Well, Joel (age 40 at the time) loved a challenge, so he and Bill took off to the backyard badminton court where the 44 x 20-ft. regulation court had been asphalted earlier by Joel’s parents. The steady Seattle rain necessitated the paving of their court.
Joel and Bill went to the back shed and grabbed a plastic perforated ball from a plastic bat and ball set that Frank had been given for his birthday earlier that year. They located a pair of table tennis paddles, set up the badminton net, grabbed the ball and played that first game.
Broken paddles became a problem, so the men fashioned some pretty scary-looking paddles in Joel’s father’s garage workshop. It was at this time that the game started to take form. Frank recalls his dad saying, “You know who we need? We need Barney.”
Barney McCallum lived six doors down on the beach and was very handy. He was able to construct more reliable, better-looking paddles. He quickly became an integral part of the game’s equipment, rules and formation.
One day, during the summer of 1965, the Bells and Pritchards were sitting around and made the decision to come up with a name for the game. Joan stepped up and said, “Pickle Ball.” She then explained the reference to leftover rowers who would race for fun in local “pickle boat” crew race competitions.
The Pritchards have always claimed that only their houseguests (the Bells) were in attendance when the name was decided upon.
College Crew “Pickle Boats” Inspired the Game’s Name
Joan grew up in Marietta, Ohio, and attended Marietta College. At that time, the school had one of the strongest crew programs in the country. Locals would all gather together to watch the races. Although Joan was never a racer, she was a loyal fan of the Marietta crew teams.
Joan and Joel met at Marietta and moved to Seattle (Joel’s hometown) in 1948. As luck would have it, the University of Washington also had a top-tier rowing program. In the ‘50s, the University of Washington hosted annual regatta competitions. As an enthusiastic alumna, Joan would go out to cheer on her visiting Marietta team.
The regattas pit the best varsity teams against each other. Afterward, like many college sports, the non-starters would participate in a separate competition. Since at least 1938, the leftover “spares” from multiple universities competed in a just-for-fun “pickle boat” race.
Frank recalled, “To hear my mother tell it, they sort of threw the leftover non-starter oarsmen into these particular pickle boats. She thought pickleball sort of threw bits of other games into the mix (badminton, table tennis) and decided that ‘Pickle Ball’ was an appropriate name.”
He added, “I first heard my mother utter the words pickle ball when we were actually on the court. It was in that first summer of 1965 and the name stuck. I never heard the game called anything but Pickle Ball (later changed to pickleball).”
Pickles and the Summer of 1968
Three years later, in the summer of 1968, the Pritchards invited their friends Dick and Joan Brown, and their children, to stay on the property at the Bainbridge guest house.
Paul Brown, now 62, treasures his memories of that summer. He explains, “I remember the summer of 1968 well. The Pritchards invited us to stay at their compound, and even had a big birthday bash on the beach to celebrate my dad’s 40th birthday (he was born in 1928).” Paul laughs, “Fib Peterson brought the tall three-foot yard glasses, and the adults were all drinking beer.”
He reflects, “In the summer of 1968, I was 10, and so was the Pritchards’ daughter Jeannie. I remember the day we got the dogs. Jeannie and I walked a mile or so to Lynwood and came across a flea-ridden puppy litter (outside the Oligario house). We brought two home. Later that day, we were in the cabin and we named our dog Lulu. The next day I saw Jeannie and they had named their dog Pickles. That dog was overfed her entire life.”
Frank recalls, “I will say that I had a sixth sense that the name was going to be Pickles since we were actually on the pickle ball court at the time when Paul and Jeannie brought the puppies home, and my mother’s mind would run in those channels. Sure enough, she named our puppy Pickles and the Browns named theirs Lulu.”
To further correct the record, he added, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of the dogs referred to as cocker spaniels, and several other breeds, but they were cockapoos. So, the family didn’t decide to get a dog—my sister just came home with one. That girl could get away with murder!”
Where Did the Dog Rumor Come From?
Sometime between 1969 and the early 1970s, Joel was interviewed by a reporter from a national publication who was going to give the game some large-scale publicity. Joan and some of the neighbors were in attendance. Joel was asked where the name “pickle ball” came from. He told the reporter the true story about Joan’s naming the game from the pickle boats. He then proposed, as a fun story, the idea of writing that the game was named after the dog (by then a few years old). The reporter paused and said to go with the dog story since it was cuter and more memorable, and because the true story was a bit of a mouthful for the readers. The meeting was most likely the catalyst for the memories shared by neighbors who recalled being in the room when name discussions were being tossed around.
When other Bainbridge pickleball locals heard about Joel’s cute dog story with the reporter, they weren’t happy and let him know it. His legendary response was, “Don’t worry, it’s just a funny story. It will never stick.”
Frank says, “Barney and my dad agreed that this was the tale they would tell—and they told it for years. You can imagine how upset my mother was about that decision! Later in life, as the game grew, my father would admit in other interviews that the game was not named for the dog, but Barney to his dying day (a year ago) held that the naming was due to Pickles the dog.”
He concludes, “I feel strongly about giving my mom credit for naming the game—it’s her little piece of pickleball’s history, and something she’s never been given enough credit for.”
This article first appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Pickleball Magazine. To subscribe, visit pickleballmagazine.com.
(1) Pickleball featured on Morning show By JOAN PRITCHARD, Local Columnist, July 27, 2008
(2) “The Other Racket Sports” by Dick (Richard C.) Squires - published in 1978 by McGraw-Hill
(3) Official Tournament Rulebook
(4) Pickleball Fundamentals book
(5) Pickleball Court Construction Manual