Pickleball's roots stretch back to the mid-1960s, when three men — Bill Bell, Barney McCallum and Joel Pritchard — created the game to entertain their kids. No one can say for sure why or how the game spread from their backyards on Washington's Bainbridge Island. But today, several decades later, the game is everywhere. Indoor and outdoor pickleball courts are scattered across North America, at 9,524 locations according to the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA). Some 66 new locations open every month. In addition, the game is being introduced to kids in middle school and high school physical education classes. It's also an intramural sport on many college campuses, and pros are emerging.
In 2021, the Minto U.S. Open Pickleball Championships drew more than 2,000 competitors, according to Naples Daily News. And the 2021 Margaritaville USA Pickleball Nationals attracted 2,200 players who came from multiple states and countries. Competitive players have included active and retired tennis pros, such as JoAnne Russell, a former Wimbledon Doubles champ.
Pickleball may even become an Olympic sport one day, especially if the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) gets its way. Established in 2010, the IFP's goal is to make pickleball ubiquitous around the world. It's well along the way. IFP membership has mushroomed to over 60 countries, including the U.S., Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, Pakistan, the Philippines and Spain.
The one thing about pickleball that puzzles many people is its silly name. Why "pickleball," when no pickles are involved? There are two stories behind the name. The most frequently cited is that Joel Pritchard, one of the game's inventors, had a dog named Pickles, who would grab the ball during their games and run off with it. But the more plausible explanation comes from Puget Sound blogger Tristan Baurick.
In 2009, Baurick wrote that the name actually came from Pritchard's wife, Joan Pritchard, a competitive rower on Bainbridge Island. Joan said she started calling the unnamed game "pickleball" because its combination of different sports reminded her of the pickle boat in crew, which is comprised of oarsmen selected from the leftovers of other boats. Several other family members revealed that they didn't even get their dog, Pickles, until several years after the game was invented.
No matter how it got its name, pickleball appears to be here to stay.