The history of pickleball is filled with exciting stories and secrets that even the USA Pickleball Association can’t fully answer. The sport was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island. There are still many theories about why it’s called pickleball by sports enthusiasts in places like the National Senior Games Association.
Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell, the founders of the sport, both had their unique side of the story when asked how they came up with the name. With pickle as a sport growing by leaps and bounds every year, this article will discuss the sport’s origin and our best answer as to why it’s called pickleball based on hours of research.
The Story of The Origins of Pickleball
The game of pickleball is one of the most inventive racket sports that families can enjoy with each other. The story begins with Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell heading home after a day out playing golf with their friends on the island. They got home, surprised to see their children were sitting around on a hot summer afternoon with nothing to do. Since they had an old badminton court nearby, Pritchard tried to find all the gear necessary to get the game started.
They did not have all the equipment necessary to play badminton but had table tennis paddles and a Wiffle ball. So they played their first game following badminton rules with the net at 5 feet tall. Surprisingly, they realized the ball got a lot of traction on the court and bounced well. But they decided to start testing by lowering the net to see how it would change the game.
After finding out that reducing the height raised the excitement levels, they played like this for months, slowly making more adjustments to create the game of pickleball.
Joel Pritchard set up the first permanent pickleball court in his yard on Bainbridge Island in the late 1960s, using Joel’s father’s garage workshop to store their tools after they played pickleball. They then trademarked the name of the sport to make it official and set up a corporation to ensure no one copied their idea five years later. After incorporating it, they held the first pickleball contest in 1975 at the South Center Athletic Club in Washington. The winning team received a trophy.
By 1984, the founders put together the first USAPA national tournament run by a pickleball association focused on spreading the game’s popularity. Then six years after their first mass media exposure surrounding the first tournament, USA pickleball was spread to many countries worldwide. And that same year, with the help of the founders and Joel Pritchard’s wife, they put together and released a handbook with all the rules still followed by the Arizona Senior Olympics and others to this day.
Even after Pritchard died in 1997, people still don’t know how pickleball got its name. His friends, the McCallums, claim it comes from the founder’s family dog, whose name was pickles. But on the other side, the Pritchard family says the name originated from boat racing. Below, we discuss both stories so you can decide which is more believable.
Origin Theory #1 – The Pickles Dog
The McCallum family mentioned that Joel had a cute pet named pickles. The dog pickles would get involved in the matches while playing and steal the Wiffle ball off the court. When they saw how much their pet loved the sport, Joel’s cute dog story was born, and they named the sport after it.
This story is the most common when first-time players want to know why the sport has such a strange name, unlike other racket sports. After doing some research, you can see it’s not just a funny story and is taken as fact by most blogs that cover the game because it’s the one most want to believe.
But the only issue is that it might be fake when you hear the Pritchards’ side of the story because they claim it’s not true.
Origin Theory #2 – The Pickle Boat
A “pickle boat” is terminology that comes from rowing. It’s used when rowers are chosen randomly to perform together in exhibitions. Unfortunately, most of these rowers are the people no one wants on their team and are considered the second string that never wins.
Pritchard’s wife got the idea from local pickle boat races when she realized their backyard sport reminded her of a pickle boat because they were using leftover gear nobody wanted. Since pickleball was inspired by tennis, ping pong, and badminton parts, the name made sense, and they kept it.
Lastly, the Pritchards proved the initial story was wrong when they showed they had the name for the sport before they purchased their dog years later. So instead, pickles the dog was named after the sport they loved but not the other way around.
Which Story Makes the Most Sense?
The answer depends on the person you direct the question to, but our opinion is that the second theory is correct. The family of the most important founder should know more than anyone, so it makes more logical sense.
It’s not difficult to see why both stories are being considered, but the one you choose still shouldn’t take away from the fun you have when you play. On the other hand, both theories could be wrong, but we will never know since the founders are already dead. We think that makes the mystery interesting and fun to discuss.
Should you Care?
The name of the sport is bizarre, but people still love it. Not it’s growing every year by 30-50%. And we have the curiosity of the founders to thank for it.
But should the name and its history matter? Some would argue that it’s the case since the silly name makes people not want to take it seriously. But as long as the sport continues to grow and spread worldwide as it does now, the name doesn’t matter, so you should not worry about which theory is true.
Our best advice is to stop caring about such a trial matter and worry about things you can control, like improving your skills.