Baseball had creator Abner Doubleday. Pickleball had Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington state, and his friends Bill Bell and Barney McCallum.
In the mid-'60s (it's debated whether it was the summer of '65 or '66), Pritchard and Bell arrived for a holiday weekend at the Pritchards' Bainbridge Island, Wash., estate. The men found the family lolling around in midsummer ennui and decided to get the kids up and moving.
Badminton was the first thought, as there was an old court on the grounds. But then the crew could find no birdie, nor undamaged rackets.
So they improvised, taking damaged rackets and making them into shafts. They then borrowed a wiffle ball from a neighborhood kid. Over the course of the weekend, Bell and Pritchard fashioned better wooden paddles from scraps of wood -- much like the ones still used in the game. Then, after discovering that the ball bounced pretty darn well on the court, the players lowered the badminton net, usually 60 inches high, to about 36 inches, more like a tennis net.
After another visitor, Barney McCallum, was introduced to the game, the three friends created official rules for their family sport -- never losing sight of the fact that this game was meant for the entire family.
According to the United States Pickleball Association, there are believed to be more than 100,000 active pickleball players in the United States, with popularity growing around the world.
What's in a name?
There are two tales told about how pickleball came by its whimsical name.
One is the legend most repeated, that there was a family dog by the name of Pickles Pritchard. Some say the wiffle ball was his toy before the gang absconded with it for their new sport. Others say Pickles was just the kind of guy who enjoyed chasing a ball now and again.
Regardless, it is said that when the ball came Pickles' way, he would run off with it, adding a chase-down element to the original game. Thus it became Pickle's ball, shortened later to pickleball.
However, the Pritchard family has said this charming tale is a mere shaggy-dog story.
In 2008, matriarch Joan Pritchard set the record straight in a piece she wrote for the Parkersburg (W. Va.) News and Sentinel. Joan Pritchard had been a competitive rower in her youth, and said she borrowed the name from one used in that sport for a catch-as-catch-can crew:
"The name of the game became pickleball, after I said it reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.
"Somehow the idea the name came from our dog Pickles was attached to the naming of the game, but Pickles wasn't on the scene for two more years. The dog was named for the game, but stories about the name's origin were funnier thinking the game was named for the dog."
Sources: usapa.org, worldpickleball.com, www.newsandsentinel.com