3.7 min readBy Published On: October 16th, 2021Categories: Features0 Comments

Let’s take a quick trip out of South Boston to the Pacific Northwest to begin to learn about something that has already swept the nation and is now poised to take over the neighborhood — pickleball! What exactly is pickleball? Why are people posting constantly about it? Where did it come from? Why does it have that ridiculous name? Let’s find out in this Caught in Southie History Lesson!

Pickleball was invented in the 1960s outside of Seattle, Washington. A bunch of dads were trying to come up with a new game for their bored kids. They were all hanging out somewhere that had an old badminton court but they didn’t have any of that equipment on hand. What did they have? Table tennis paddles and a plastic ball with holes! They started to hit the ball and then they dropped the height of the badminton net and – voila!- they had the beginnings of pickleball. Fun fact: One of the dads went on to become a Congressman! Representative Joel Pritchard was a Washington House of Representatives Rep from 1959 until 1967; he was in Congress from 1973 until 1985. And then he was elected Lieutenant Governor of Washington. Busy guy!

Pickleball spread throughout the Pacific Northwest rapidly. By 1976 the first pickleball tournament was held in Washington state, by 1984 the United States Amateur Pickleball Association (USAPA) was organized to help grow the sport nationally and the 1st rule book was published.  Pickleball is still extremely popular in Seattle.  As of 2020, Seattle had the largest number of pickleball courts per resident of any city, with three pickleball courts per 20,000 residents!

The USAPA did its job, by 2009 the game was played throughout the US and the first USAPA all ages National Tournament was held in Arizona. The tournament drew almost 400 players from 26 states and several Canadian provinces. The following year the USAPA created the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) organization. Today the USAPA has renamed itself and is now USA Pickleball. There’s a Pickleball Hall of Fame and, according to the Sports Fitness Industry Association, a 2019 report indicates Pickleball continues as one of the fastest growing sports in the US with 3.3 million participants.  Perspective check: according to the National Golf Foundation, in 2019 there were 24 million golfers who played golf on a dedicated golf course.

But pickleball takes a lot less space to play than a round of golf does! A pickleball court is 20×44 feet and the same court is used for both singles or doubles games. On ONE tennis court you can fit FOUR pickleball courts. The rules are interesting and I’m not sure if I can do them justice! Here’s a summary of the basic rules. 

While pickleball is played by people of all ages it has really been embraced by Baby Boomers. According to seniorhousingnews.com: “Seniors embracing pickleball are attracted to its simple rules and its low impact on knees and joints, and studies have shown playing pickleball regularly can improve fitness levels in seniors. A 2018 study conducted by Western State Colorado University found that seniors playing pickleball three times a week saw improvement in blood pressure and cardiovascular fitness. Pickleball also helps with hand-eye coordination.” Fun fact: The Villages, the infamous and very popular 55+ community in Florida, has over 200 pickleball courts!

If you are thinking to yourself, “wow, this sounds interesting. Do we have any courts in Southie?” We do! You can find our neighborhood on the Global Pickleball Network here and read about the free, dedicated Pickleball courts at Evans Field! Exciting! PKL Boston is now open at Iron Works!  Southie also has a South Boston Community Pickleball Forum on Facebook if you are looking to play or looking to learn more about the sport.

And about that name. There had to be controversy somewhere in this History Lesson and we’ve found it! The name! One version of the name’s origin is that one of the founding families had a dog named Pickle and they named the game after the dog. Simple, right? However, in another version, one of the members of the founding families said the game reminded her “of the Pickle Boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.” Uh, what? A ‘pickle boat’ in rowing is a thrown together crew. So, sure, simple.  Who knows exactly where the game got its name but one thing’s for sure: it’s here to stay!

Let us know if you play in the comments!

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