Pickleball was created on Bainbridge Island, Washington, a short 35-minute ferryboat ride west of Seattle. Joel Pritchard and his family would occupy their Bainbridge Island home there during the summer months. Their close friend Bill Bell and his family would sometimes occupy the guest cabin on the Pritchard property.
One day in the summer of 1965, Joel and Bill came home after playing a round of golf to find their children – namely, Joel’s son Frank – complaining that there was nothing to do. Joel said that when he was a kid, he would have invented something to do. Joel instructed the kids to go make something up. After a while, Bill and Joel checked on the kids and found them playing on the Pritchards’ badminton court with an assortment of broken racquets, ping pong paddles and a Wiffle ball. The badminton net was at its regular 60-inch height, requiring the ball to be volleyed over the net. They realized that the ball bounced well off the smooth asphalt court, so that was soon incorporated into their play. It quickly became apparent that the ping pong paddles were too small for hitting the Wiffle ball, so the dads went to the Pritchards’ woodworking shed and fashioned plywood paddles. The next morning, the dads heard giggles and screams coming from the badminton court and discovered that the net had been lowered to hip height, allowing a small tennis-like game to be played.
Barney McCallum and his family had a cabin on Bainbridge Island a short distance away from the Pritchards’. When they arrived at their summer place the following weekend Joel knew that Barney had to be introduced to this fun new pastime. The minute Barney was handed one of the crude paddles, he was hooked. It was apparent that formal rules were needed because after a while, hitting the ball back and forth became rather boring and pointless. With the idea of providing a sport that the entire family could enjoy, Joel, Bill and Barney set about creating rules for the game. They based the new rules on elements taken from badminton, ping-pong and tennis. The object was to create a game with balance between offense and defense. An underhand serve, meeting the ball below the waist was intended to eliminate any advantage of the serve and prevent it from becoming an overpowering offensive weapon. Then the double bounce rule was created, also taking away the advantage to the serving team.
More aggressive players soon discovered that the best position was right on top of the net, providing a perfect place to smash the ball for a quick put-away. The short service line on the badminton court was 6 ½ feet from the net and it gave the inventors the idea to create a penalty zone from the short service line to the net where volleying was not allowed. Only after a ball bounced in the penalty zone was a player allowed to enter the penalty zone to make a return shot. On later courts, this area would be moved back further to seven feet from the net and re-named the non-volley zone (often referred to as “the kitchen”). This one element was what really made the game and helped to create many of the unique dynamics of pickleball.
The group found that they were breaking a lot of Wiffle balls with their aggressive play and somewhere along the line, they acquired the Cosom Fun Ball. This would become the official ball for many years. Specifications of balls used today maintain the characteristics of this original ball.
There has been disagreement about the origins of the sport’s name. Barney McCallum claimed that the game was named after the Pritchards’ dog Pickles who would chase the ball and run off with it. But according to Joel Pritchard’s wife Joan, she started calling the game pickleball because the combination of different sports reminded her of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were selected from the leftovers of other boats. Though name changes have been debated over the years, “Pickleball” is here to stay.
In 1967, the first permanent court, built specifically for pickleball, was on Joel and Joan Pritchard’s home in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood. In 1968, Joel, Barney and Bill filed Articles of Incorporation for Pickle Ball Inc. to promote the sport and sell equipment. Throughout the 1970s, pickleball was mentioned in various publications like The National Observer, Tennis magazine, and in a chapter of Dick Squires’ book, The Other Racquet Sports, published in 1978. In 1976, the first known pickleball tournament was held at South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, WA, just south of Seattle.
In 1980, Sid Williams was introduced to pickleball. By 1984, he had organized the first governing body of pickleball, U.S. Amateur Pickleball Association (U.S.A.P.A.) which was changed to United States of American Pickleball Association sometime in 1986-87. Sid was the first Executive Director and President of the U.S.A.P.A. Between 1984 to 1995 Sid hosted tournaments around Washington State – anywhere from 8-10 tournaments per year. He expanded the official rules for tournament play and published the first rulebook in 1984. He also created a national rating and ranking system for players.
Arlen Paranto and Steve Paranto developed the first non-wood light-weight composite pickleball paddle in 1984. Due to this new paddle’s instant popularity, The Ultra-Lite Paddle Company was formed and began making and selling the Pro-Lite line of paddles. The basic design of these paddles is the same design used by almost all paddle manufacturers today.
The Villages, FL constructed their first permanent courts in 1989. They went on to host the first National Championship Tournament in 2002 which they repeated in 2003.
In 1992 Pickle Ball, Inc. started manufacturing the first balls ever created specifically for the sport of pickleball. It would come to be known as the first outdoor ball, with smaller holes than the Cosom ball which was used primarily for indoor play.
Pickleball Stuff, LLC, the first online retailer of pickleball equipment and supplies was created by Fran Myer in 1999, marketing supplies for pickleball all over the world.
In 2001, the Arizona Senior Olympics included pickleball for the first time with Earl Hill as the commissioner. Earl would continue in this role until 2008. In 2004, Earl called a meeting of pickleball enthusiasts to advance the idea of forming a national organization for pickleball.
In 2005, Mark Friedenberg re-established the United States of America Pickleball Association (USAPA), creating the governing body for the sport that has endured to present day. In 2008, the USAPA published its first USAPA Official Tournament Rulebook and in 2009 held the first USAPA National Pickleball Tournament in Buckeye, AZ with 395 participants. This annual event now takes place at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden and draws over 2,200 participants each year.
Bob Lanius’ tournament software program was used for first USAPA National Tournament in 2009 and since that time it has expanded its features and capabilities to be today’s most widely used pickleball tournament software listing hundreds of tournaments each year at https://www.pickleballtournaments.com/pbt_main.pl
In 2013 the first Tournament of Champions was held in Utah. https://tocpickleball.com
In 2014, Pickleball Channel website was launched to develop and provide professional video content for the pickleball community. https://www.pickleballchannel.com/meettheteam
In 2015, the International Federation of Pickleball – the world governing body of pickleball – was created by officially establishing its Constitution, Bylaws and Officers with member countries USA, Canada, Spain and India. Its purpose is to perpetuate the development and growth of pickleball throughout the world and achieve official recognition by the International Olympic Committee. https://ifpickleball.org In 2017, they put on the first Bainbridge Cup tournament in Madrid, Spain.
Also in 2015, the International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association (IPTPA) was created with the mission to be the world’s leading association of Certified Pickleball Teaching Professionals. https://iptpa.com
The first magazine dedicated to the sport of pickleball was launched in 2016. Pickleball Magazine, a full color print and digital publication comes out every two months and features all the latest in pickleball news. https://www.pickleballmagazine.com
In 2016 the first US Open Pickleball Championships were held in Naples, FL, making it the third major pickleball tournament (with USAPA National Championships and Tournament of Champions being the other two).
The Pickleball Hall of Fame (PHOF) was established in 2017 as an independent not for profit corporation. Original tier 1 sponsors of the PHOF were IPTPA, USAPA, Pickleball Central, Pickleball Magazine, and Pickleball Channel. The inaugural class of 6 inductees took place in November 2017. PHOF considers nominees from around the world, and currently inducts four members each year consisting of three in the Competitor category and one in the Contributor category.
In 2018, the Professional Pickleball Registry (PPR) was established in partnership with the USAPA to educate, certify and service professionals teaching the sport of pickleball. htpps://pprpicklball.org
The World Pickleball Federation (WPF) was founded at the end of 2018 to direct pickleball’s future as a globally recognized sport. Providing marketing & equipment assistance to schools & clubs in member countries and with coaching, equipment, rule improvements, and event management. https://www.worldpickleballfederation.org
A brick-and-mortar Pickleball Hall of Fame building is currently being planned by the board as well as the Pickleball Hall of Fame Championships tournament for 2024.