It’s the fastest growing sport in the United States, was founded at the Bainbridge Island home of a late U.S. Congressman, and also has a funny name.
The sport is pickleball, and it also boasts a strong following in Edmonds, where pickleball expert and Edmonds resident Roger BelAir often leads clinics for the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.
On Thursday afternoon, BelAir gave an hour-long clinic to a group of City of Edmonds employees, and My Edmonds News was invited along to learn about the game, which is a cross between tennis, badminton and ping pong.
“Some people call it ping pong on steroids,” BelAir said, as he gathered the group of employees around to point out the finer points of the game, from serving to strategy to scoring. The game is played on a badminton-size court, and points can only be scored by the serving team. This YouTube video provides a handy summary:
While pickleball was created in 1965, “it was somewhat of a dormant game until the baby boomers really figured it out,” said BelAir, who conducts scores of clinics nationally and internationally. It’s inexpensive to play, too, with paddles starting at $50, he added.
City of Edmonds Recreation Supervisor Todd Cort said that BelAir’s passion for the game “has helped Edmonds become a hotbed for pickleball. Players have come from as far away as Stanwood, South Seattle and Bellevue to participate in drop-in play at our eight courts at Yost Park,” Cort said.
Pickleball can be played as either a singles or doubles game, but Cort said that doubles — especially mixed doubles — is the most popular for Edmonds Parks and Rec players. You can learn more about the city’s various pickleball leagues here.
According to the USA Pickleball Association website, pickleball got its start like this: After playing golf one Saturday in the summer of 1965, U.S. Congressman Joel Pritchard and business owner Bill Bell returned to Pritchard’s Bainbridge Island home to find their families “sitting around with nothing to do.” Since the property had an old badminton court, Pritchard and Bell looked for some badminton equipment but couldn’t find a full set of rackets.
“They improvised and started playing with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball,” the story continues. “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.”
BelAir said the game was named after the Prichards’ dog Pickles, who would chase the ball and run off with it.
It’s a no-brainer why pickleball is so popular, he said. “It’s fun, great exercise, social, easy on the joints, and simple to learn.”
It’s also one of the few sports where people of different ages can play competitively against each other, he added.
“It’s multi-generational. I know a woman who’s 79 and she plays with her 13-year-old grandson,” BelAir said. “How many other sports can you do that?”
— Story and photos by Teresa Wippel