Pickleball: Hybrid sport invented by bored Congressman is sweeping Philly

A Tuesday night game at Pleasant Park in Mount Airy.

The Summer Olympics have shone light on a number of strange competitive sports – racewalking, anyone? But right here in Philly, another weird game is quickly catching on: Pickleball.

“I first heard about it when I was in Arizona visiting friends that moved down there,” said former LaSalle University co-head tennis coach Stan Shoemaker. “So I go out there and I see this court – it looks like a mini tennis court – and I immediately fell in love with this game, like most people do when they see it.”

Described as a hybrid incorporating aspects of tennis, volleyball, Ping-Pong and badminton, the sport was started in the 1970s, but didn’t catch on locally until Shoemaker returned from his trip in the winter of 2008 and started a group on Meetup.com. Soon 20 members ballooned to nearly 200.

“It’s the most growing sport around,” Shoemaker said. “I’ve had everyone come out, from people in their 20s up to 85. I’ve got two grown kids, five grandchildren and even the little one, who is four years old, she’s starting to play a little Pickleball herself. It’s a game for a lifetime and I just keep getting more and more calls about it all time.”

Masons Mill Park in Huntingdon Valley, which hosts biweekly matches, has even painted official Pickleball courts, Shoemaker said. He attributes the game’s rapid spread to its social nature.

“It’s unbelievable how people find out from friends and relatives and say, ‘When can I play? The sooner the better,’” he said. “And they keep coming back – that’s the thing – because it’s social. Once you get started, you want to keep coming back.”

Dan Wheeler, who won the gold medal in his age division at last year’s USA Pickleball Association National Tournament in Arizona, started another biweekly group at Mount Airy’s Pleasant Park in April. “Most people are coming to Pleasant, especially the better players,” he said. “We mix the better and the weaker players sometimes, but often, for competition, the better players want to play among themselves.”

As for the Olympics, he doesn’t expect to see Pickleball alongside trampolining and curling any time soon. “I don’t see that happening,” he said. “It’s not a knock against the game. While Pickleball is played in some other countries, it’s pretty much a U.S. sport.”

Brand new set of rules

– Pickleball is played on a badminton or tennis court with the net lowered and a smaller area marked off. Players use lightweight wood or composite paddles and a perforated plastic ball similar to a whiffle ball.

– Games can be played in singles or doubles and usually end at 11 points. A point can only be scored by the server or serving team.

– The server hits the ball underhand from below the waist with both feet behind the baseline. The ball must bounce once before the receiver can return it and bounce again before the server can hit it back. After that, the ball can be hit either in the air or after it bounces.

– The game is more accessible than tennis or badminton because the short racquets require less hand-eye coordination, the underhand style is easier on the joints, the smaller court means less distance running and the perforated ball travels slower, making each rally longer.

– Groups ranging between 12 and 20 people meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Pleasant Park, East Slocum Street and Chew Avenue, at 5:30 p.m. and play until dark. Groups also meet on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. at Masons Mill Park, 3500 Masons Mill Road. For more locations and times, check out the Pickleball meetup group of Philadelphia and the suburbs.

And why is it called ‘Pickleball’?

1965 – Pickleball was invented by Washington State congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell at Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island, Washington by creating four wooden paddles and using a perforated plastic ball to play on the property’s old badminton court. It was named for the the Pritchard family cocker spaniel, Pickles, who used to chase the stray balls and hide them in the bushes.

1967 –
Pritchard had the first permanent Pickleball court constructed in his Seattle backyard.

1976 – The world’s first known Pickleball tournament was held at the South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington.

1984 – The USA Pickleball Association was formed to promote the sport’s growth and advancement on a national level, the first rulebook was published and the first composite paddle was constructed by a Boeing Industrial Engineer with the fiberglass, Nomex and honeycomb panels used by commercial airlines for their floors and structural systems.

2005 –
USAPA reorganized as a nonprofit more focused on promoting Pickleball as a sport than crafting a lucrative business.

2008 – The Rules Committee published the USA Pickleball Association Official Tournament Rulebook. Pickleball came to Philadelphia.

2008 – 420 places to play on about 1500 individual courts in 43 states and four Canadian provinces were listed on the USAPA website, up from 39 known places to play on about 150 individual courts in ten states and three Canadian provinces in 2003.

2009 - The first USAPA National Tournament was held in Buckeye, Arizona and drew nearly 400 players of all ages from 26 states and several Canadian provinces.


Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.


Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…


OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…


MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.


Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."


'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.


'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."


TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.


Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.


Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.


Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”


Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.


Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.


Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…


NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.


The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.