By Jack Rubinger
Pickleball combines aspects of whiffle ball, tennis, ping-pong and badminton. It’s a sport that’s fun, great for all ages and is easy to learn.
So who came up with that whimsical name? After playing golf one Saturday during the summer, Joel Pritchard, congressman from Washington State, and Bill Bell returned to Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island to find their families sitting around with nothing to do.
The property had an old badminton court so Pritchard and Bell looked for some badminton equipment and could not find a full set of rackets. They improvised and started playing with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball.
At first they placed the net at badminton height of 60 inches and volleyed the ball over the net. As the weekend progressed, the players found that the ball bounced well on the asphalt surface and soon the net was lowered to 36 inches.
The following weekend, Barney McCallum was introduced to the game at Pritchard’s home. Soon, the three men created rules, relying heavily on badminton. They kept in mind the original purpose, which was to provide a game that the whole family could play together.
Pritchard’s wife, Joan, started to call their 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,” but according to McCallum, they named the game after Pritchard’s dog.
Played at PE classes at Cleveland, Franklin and Benson Tech, pickleball can be played on a regulation tennis court or actual pickleball courts at Sellwood Park and Woodstock Park.
Two or four players use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a perforated polymer ball, much like a whiffle ball, with 26-40 round holes, over a net.
“It’s easy to pick up. You can play for a long time without getting too exhausted,” said Milo Rubinger, a local teenager who plays pickleball with his friends at various tennis courts around town.
“There are a lot of levels in terms of getting better,” he said. “But the best thing is that you can hit the ball hard and get a lot of spin on it. We used in play in PE in high school.”
A pickleball court is the same size as a doubles badminton court, measures 20 x 44 feet and is used for both singles and doubles play.
“We ran a team sports model,” said Sydney Hammond, PE/Health Teacher, Cleveland High School. “Students would learn the rules of the games, have a week or two to practice and then we would run a bracket style tournament. Students enjoyed it – it was one of the ones more students participated in.”
The PDX Pickleball Club started out as a small group of friends and family who were looking to play pickleball close to home within the Portland Metro Area.
The club quickly grew to about 200 members consisting of current and former tennis players, pickleball experts and lots of folks, including children, who were brand new to the game.
Cathy Owen plays pickleball with the folks from the PDX Pickleball Club at Sellwood Park. Owen was recovering from cancer treatment when she discovered pickleball. Now her health has been fully restored.
The non-profit club is restoring and resurfacing the old tennis courts at Sellwood Park this summer using their own money.
“It’s the kind of thing a grandfather can play with a six-year-old and they’ll both have fun,” said one club member. “It’s easier to play than tennis, it’s great exercise and there are tournaments for those who enjoy competition.”
With summer here, many are looking are looking for ways to get outside, take a break from COVID-19 and have a few laughs.
“Exercise is powerful, social and it gives you a natural high,” said Elliot Waksman, Certified Mental Performance Consultant. “It’s important to have something exciting to look forward to on your calendar for mental health and happiness, too. Pickleball offers all these things.”
Pickleball gear is available at Target and Dick’s Sporting Goods. For information about the PDX Pickleball Club, visit pdxpickleballclub.com.
Photo of PDX Pickleball Club by Nisa Haron.