Relishing Pickleball: The Real Pickleball Story

David Zapatka

Many people believe pickleball was named after founder Joel Pritchard’s dog who was named Pickles. Not true! Joel Pritchard’s son, Frank, recently came clean about the real reason the sport was named pickleball.

It was a hot July afternoon on Bainbridge Island, Wash., in 1965 and 13-year-old Frank Pritchard was bored. He whined to his dad that there was nothing to do. Frank explained his dad didn’t tolerate complaining and Frank should either do something about it or be quiet.

Father Joel told Frank that when he was a kid and they felt bored, they made games up. Frank challenged his dad to do this now. Joel was up to the task.

Joel picked up a plastic ball Frank had been given for his birthday. He then headed to the badminton court Frank’s grandparents had built and strung the net at ground level. He found some old, wooden paddles. Frank’s dad and his dad’s friend, Bill Bell, started hitting the ball over the net. They got Barney McCallum who lived nearby on the beach to join them. It wasn’t long before this weird little game they began to play with their buddies was pretty fun.

Afternoon pickup games soon became competitive. Before long, neighbors were building their own pickleball courts, half the size of tennis courts at their homes.

About two years later, Frank’s next-door neighbors, the O’Briens, built a pickleball court and began having tournaments. Barney McCallum built a court about six doors down from the Pritchard’s home.

People were loving this game that had no name. Contrary to the pickleball lore so many of us have heard, this Wiffle ball, ping-pong, and badminton hybrid wasn’t named after the Pritchards’ family dog, Pickles. They didn’t get the pup until three years after the game was invented and apparently named the dog after the game. Frank’s mom named the game after her appreciation for another sport, rowing, known as crew in the Pacific Northwest. This is the sport of racing boats using oars. It differs from paddling sports where rowing oars are not attached to the boat using oarlocks. Rowing is divided into two disciplines: sculling and sweep rowing.

In crew, there is a term for a boat filled with the leftover rowers who weren’t already chosen in a competition. It’s called a pickle boat. Frank’s mother said her husband’s game “was a little bit of this and a little of that,” and “pickleball would be a good name.”

The name stuck. Through word of mouth, interest in the game grew through Joel Pritchard’s political sphere and Seattle contacts. McCallum saw the game’s promise and founded Pickle-ball Inc., the original pickleball company (which still exists today) to sell paddles, balls, and other game accessories.

Have a question about pickleball? Want to know more about the sport, the rules, equipment or have some pickilicious news you would like to share with our pickleball community? Email David Zapatka at [email protected].