Picture a game that’s a hybrid of two sports, easy for people of all ages to play, and provides hours of entertainment and competition when played either indoors or outdoors. Such a game exists, and it’s known by an unusual name: Pickleball.
Pickleball’s popularity has been exploding for the past several years to decade. A mixture of racquet sports, with parts of tennis, badminton and ping-pong amalgamated into the rules and playing of the game, pickleball’s appeal is vast.
For many across the High Country, the game provides the perfect opportunity to combine exercise, socialization and competition, and the game has taken root across rec centers and clubs around the region.
Players use paddles to hit a perforated polymer ball, complete with perforations back and forth over a net that is lower than that used on tennis courts.
The game can be played indoors or outdoors, with a slower-moving ball and a smaller court area, the game is more accessible for younger and older people than tennis. Also like tennis, the game can be played in singles or doubles, though it is usually played in doubles.
Pickleball’s relatively recent origins date back a little more than five decades when, returning from a game of golf on Bainbridge Island, Wash., the children of then-Congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell were sitting around bored at the rainy beach island. The dads determined to help cure the kids’ boredom, so they opted to break out a badminton set for a family game. The fathers realized, however, that they didn’t have a complete racket set, so the family rummaged for and located equipment originally designed for other sports, such as a plastic baseball and paddles used to play ping pong, which they decided to use on the old badminton court.
Realizing the need for organization for this new hodgepodge game, Pritchard and Bell set to making rules to accommodate the uniqueness of the equipment being used. As days went by, other interested individuals, including friend and neighbor Barney McCallum became interested in the process, and additional adults had their own interest piqued by this unusual, yet highly entertaining game.
The pioneers of the new sport set out to write rules for play and finalizing equipment that would be used in contests. The height of the net was lowered from the traditional 60 inches to Pritchard’s waist height of 36 inches. Pritchard also redesigned custom paddles, as he found that traditional ping pong paddles proved too flimsy to withstand the rigors of the game. The origins of the game’s name are often attributed to the name of the Pritchard’s family dog known as Pickles, while Prichard’s wife, Joan, has stated that the game’s originated from a different comparison, specifically “the combination of different sports reminding me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”
Since the humble beginnings of the sport, pickleball has gone national, exploding in popularity with courts in all 50 states and more than 4,000 locations.
Although a racket sports, pickleball does differentiate from its other sports cousins. Among the differences are that the game requires an underhand serve, meaning that a serving racket must contact the ball below the navel area to be legal. Additionally a non-volley area near the net is off limits virtually guarantees that aggressive play styles are negated, which helps to literally level the playing field.
In 2018, USAPA allied with Professional Pickleball Registry to grow the sport.
USAPA Executive Director Justin Maloof noted the partnership as part of USAPA’s goal creating strategic partnerships position the sport on the global stage after the announcement.
Pickleball possesses its own national championships, regionals and so forth, and has many location options across all three counties of the High Country, enabling aficionados the opportunity to play at a court near where they reside. The USAPA’s website is stocked with resources to further the interest and involvement of prospective players of the sport, even including a directory for places to play the game near you. For an enhanced look into the finer details of pickleball, click to https://www.usapa.org.