Pickleball The popular paddle sport that took over The Evergreen State

What started out as a simple backyard game for friends and family in the late ‘60s, pickleball has evolved into a national craze. It is still strongly rooted in Washington, becoming the state’s official sport in 2022. Its wild popularity in the Bellingham area fostered pickleball clubs, campus competitions and a new buzz among younger generations. It’s no longer just a game for your grandparents.

Project by Erik Anderson, Kieran Bresnahan, Ethan Henry, Nicola Wasmuth and Finn Wendt

The History of Pickleball

By Ethan Henry

When you think of sports in the state of Washington, the first things that come to your head may be football, baseball, basketball, or soccer. While these sports are undoubtedly popular, there is only one official sport in The Evergreen State. That sport is pickleball.

Pickleball was first played on Bainbridge Island, Washington in 1965 when two friends, Congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell, returned home from a game of golf. According to the United States Amatuer Pickleball Association, they wanted to play a game of badminton with their families but didn’t have enough equipment, so they improvised. They played with a wiffle ball and ping pong paddles on an asphalt court. 

The following weekend they had another friend join their game, Barney McCallum, and they began to work on some rules. By 1967, they had created a full set of rules loosely based on badminton, and created the first pickleball court in Pritchard’s backyard.

The first pickleball tournament was held in 1976 in Tukwila, Washington. The tournament consisted of mostly college tennis players who knew nothing about the sport. By this time the sport was played with larger wooden paddles and a slightly bigger perforated ball.

The USAPA was founded in 1984 and was created to expand the growth of pickleball across the entire country. By 1990, pickleball was being played in all 50 states. 

Over the course of the next 30 years, pickleball would slowly begin to rise in the number of players and members of the USAPA. From 2016 to 2021, USAPA grew from 17,000 to 53,000 members, and the number continues to climb to this day. On March 28, 2022, Washington Governor Jay Inslee officially made pickleball the state sport

The sport that once was just a backyard family sport, has now become the official sport of Washington. While the founders of the sports have since died, their sport has forever left its mark in history.

Pickleball Through the Years

  • 1965

    First Pickleball Game

    The first game of pickleball was played by Congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

  • 1967

    First Pickleball Court

    The first permanent pickleball court was constructed.

  • 1976

    First Pickleball Tournament

    The first pickleball tournament was held at South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington.

  • 1984

    First Pickleball Organization

    The United States Amateur Pickleball Association was founded.

  • 2009

    First National Pickleball Tournament

    The first USAPA National Tournament was held in November of 2009 in Buckeye, Arizona.

  • 2015

    USAPA Reaches 10,000 Members

    USAPA reaches 10,000 members and reports over 2 million pickleball players nationwide

  • 2021

    USA Pickleball reaches 50,000 Members

    After a 43% increase from the previous year, it was the largest single growth year to date for the organization.

Source: “History of the Game.” USA Pickleball, 2021. https://usapickleball.org/what-is-pickleball/history-of-the-game/

graphic with rules for pickleball

Photos by Kieran Bresnahan, Ethan Henry and Nicola Wasmuth.