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.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Monday is the deadline to register for Pennsylvania…

If residents want to vote in the May primary, which includes a vote for a new City Council member, today is the deadline to register.

National

Miss America thinks school should reconsider discipline of…

A Pa. student was suspended for asking Miss America to prom.

Local

Aria Health Torresdale workers caught selling prescription drugs

Two Aria Health at Torresdale employees were fired amid accusations they sold prescription drugs out of the Northeast Philadelphia campus.

National

Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter died Sunday from prostate cancer…

Former U.S. professional boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who spent 19 years in prison for murder and then was released after it was determined he did not get a fair trial,…

Television

‘Mad Men’ recap: Season 7, Episode 2, ‘A…

Peggy and Lou are horrible, Bert's racist, Don is honest(ish) and Roger and Pete are frustrated. "A Day's Work" not quite worthy of "This Will Be Our Year."

Television

'Game of Thrones' recap: Season 4, Episode 3,…

The problem with the devil you know is that ignoring them doesn’t mean they simply lie in wait. It allows them time to do things…

Television

Discovery cancels 'Everest Jump Live' special in wake…

The Discovery Channel has indicated it will not be moving forward with "Everest Jump Live," a planned special about mountain climber Joby Ogwyn's effort to…

The Word

'X-Men' director Bryan Singer drama continues

  News broke late last week that "X-Men" and "The Usual Suspects" director Bryan Singer is being sued by a man who said Singer molested…

NHL

Ray Emery steps up in Flyers’ Game 2…

Sure, he allowed two goals in the Rangers’ first four shots Sunday afternoon, but it’s about how you start, not how you finish.

NHL

Flyers come from behind, even series with Rangers

The Flyers overcame a two-goal deficit to get a much-needed win at Madison Square Garden Sunday.

MLB

Phillies get set for four against the Dodgers

The Phillies will face tough starting pitching out west against the Dodgers this week.

MLB

Phillies notebook: Cole Hamels returns this week

The Phillies should receive a big boost when Cole Hamels returns during the Dodgers series.

Travel

Packing: The one thing you need in your…

A new survey that looks at the travel habits of 50,000 people around the world has revealed that Western and Asian globetrotters have different priorities…

Home

Is your chair making it hard to talk?

Ever wished there was an office chair that could make impromptu meetings and discussions more private? The Cristiana Wing Chair is an asymmetrical armchair which…

Travel

Live large at these luxury hotels

From Thai boxing lessons and macabre Dracula tours to the Australian Outback, the Four Seasons hotel chain launched a series of new travel packages this…

Parenting

4 things that every summer camp should have

Alan Saltz, director of the 92nd street Y program lists things that every summer camp should have.