Fifty-Five Years Of Pickleball: Origins

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By Pickleball Is Great  Special Contributor
This month Pickleball Is Great presents a series of articles looking at the first 55 years Of Pickleball. This is the first installment of four in that series.

This summer we celebrate 55 years of pickleball. It was back in the summer of 1965 when Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, and Bill Bell began to develop this game with the crazy name. Take a few minutes to watch “The Origins of Pickleball: How It All Began.”

Pickleball began on an old badminton court with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. Initially the net was set at 60” (official badminton height) and the ball was volleyed over the net. After experimenting with different play, the net was lowered to 36” and the bounce was used. Rules were developed, and the early years of pickleball began. By the mid-70s, the sport had moved from a backyard activity to a legitimate sport, and in 1976 the first pickleball tournament was held.

The following timeline illustrates how quickly pickleball grew into one of the fastest growing sports in America. (Taken from the USAPA.org website.)

  • 1965 – 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.
  • 1967 – The first permanent pickleball court was constructed in the backyard of Joel Pritchard’s friend and neighbor, Bob O’Brian.
  • 1972 – A corporation was formed to protect the creation of this new sport.
  • 1975– The National Observer published an article about pickleball followed by a 1976 article in Tennis magazine about “America’s newest racquet sport.”
  • 1976 – 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 whiffle ball.
  • 1984– 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.
  • 1984– 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.
  • 1990 – By 1990, pickleball was being played in all 50 states.

In the next installment of Fifty-Five Years Of Pickleball, we talk about the changes that the game has seen since its invention in 1965.

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Special Contributor
Pickleball Is Great
Mike Hoxie, Kathy Rambousek, Gigi Guerra

Pickleball Is Great is the premier pickleball tournament management company in the western U.S., hosting dozens of pickleball tournaments and thousands of players each year. Thinking about staging a tournament? Reach out to the professionals at Pickleball Is Great!

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