Pickleball: The Perfect Sport To Play In A Pandemic?

Remember that sport you played in middle school gym? It’s growing in popularity amid COVID-19

Constance Wright, Scarlet Staff

Taking Tucson, Arizona’s community by storm, the sport of pickleball has resurfaced as the city opens 12 new pickleball courts at Udall Park. Pickleball is a sport that combines many elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. Two or four players use solid paddles made of wood or other materials to hit a ball over a net. The sport shares features of other racquet sports, including the dimensions and layout of a badminton court as well as a net with a set of modified rules that resemble the rules of tennis.

Pickleball was invented in 1965 on an island right off of Seattle, Washington by three dads: Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum. The three families gathered on a Saturday afternoon, attempting to start an amateur game of badminton. However, before they could set the game up, they realized that they didn’t have enough rackets nor a shuttlecock (birdie) to hit, so they instead used ping-pong paddles and a plastic ball with holes for their game.

From there, the sport began to grow. By 1976, the first known pickleball tournament in the world was held in Tukwila, Washington. In 2005, a new corporation for the sport was established as the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA). Today, the sport of pickleball is exploding in popularity. There are now nearly 8,500 locations on the USA Pickleball’s Places2Play map. The spread of the sport is attributed to its popularity within community centers, PE classes, YMCA facilities, and retirement communities. The sport continues to grow worldwide as well, with many new international clubs and national governing bodies being established on multiple continents.

Considering that there are no pickles used in playing this unique sport, there are questions regarding the origination of the name. There are two different accounts on how the name originated. According to Joan Pritchard, Joel Pritchard’s wife, she started calling the game pickleball because “the combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew, where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats”. However, according to one of the inventors, Barney McCallum, the game was officially named after the Pritchards’ dog Pickles who would chase the ball and run off with it.

With the COVID-19 Pandemic still rampant across the USA, many people have turned to pickleball as a safe, fun, indoor and outdoor sport to play with limited people. In Tucson, Arizona, a couple passionate about pickleball were able to work with the city of Tucson and open 12 new public and free pickleball courts. 

The couple, Cindy and Bob Lutz noticed the lack of accessible and free pickleball courts in Tucson in 2016. Since then, they have worked tirelessly to bring awareness of pickleball to city officials. When interviewed by KOLD News 13 of southern Arizona, Cindy commented that, “We just persevered, we went and talked to council members. We talked to whoever would listen to us…we’re finally, after years, going to get public outdoor courts at Udall public rec (recreation) center.” 

In Massachusetts, there are various pickleball groups and free courts across the state. According to a Telegram article written in 2019 by Danielle Ray, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic, pickleball was played two times a week in Sterling, on Mondays and Wednesdays from 4:00pm to 6:00pm, “by dozens of participants, on the tennis courts in West Sterling during the warmer months and in the parish hall of the First Church in Sterling in the winter months”. 

In Worcester, the closest pickleball court is at Riverside Park in Hudson, MA with the Hudson Mass Pickleball Group. Beginners are welcome! 

If you are interested in learning more about pickleball, check out USA Pickleball’s website https://usapickleball.org . To find the closest pickleball court to you, use their Places 2 Play tool at https://www.places2play.org