At a home in Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 1965, three dads came together to create a game.
Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum saw their families sitting around with nothing to do. There was an old badminton court nearby but no equipment, so they started playing with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball.
At first, they volleyed the ball over a 60-inch-high net. As they kept playing, they determined it was better to bounce the ball on the asphalt, so they lowered the net to 36 inches.
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After some rules were established, pickleball was born.
It’s now one of the fastest-growing sports in America and also is popular in Canada, Europe and Asia.
According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association’s 2016 Participant Report, there are more than 2.5 million pickleball players in the United States. In the past six years, the sport has seen a 650% increase in numbers, according to the USA Pickleball Association.
Just recently, the craze hit Seymour.
Kathy Jackson learned how to play while she was in Florida for the winter. When she returned to the city, she talked to the Seymour Parks and Recreation Department about getting pickleball started here.
“I just contacted some people and said, ‘Do you want to learn?’ and then I contacted park and rec, and they said they would help us out, let us have this,” she said of meeting at 6:30 p.m. Mondays on a volleyball court at Gaiser Park.
Once the volleyball net is lowered and the court is outlined with chalk, players pick up their graphite or wooden paddles and a wiffle ball and begin playing. If you don’t have a paddle, there usually are some available to borrow.
There also are pickleball games at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the Seymour High School tennis courts. At this time, there is no cost to play.
Jackson said only four people were at the first meeting in early May, and there are now around a dozen people involved.
The last couple of meetings, new people have shown up to play, so it’s catching on.
“I just heard some of the kids over here say, ‘Pickleball is neat,’” Jackson said of people playing in a city league volleyball match on the other court at the park. “We would love to get some of the younger kids started with it. We need to get some young people to do it.”
Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. The paddle is smaller than a tennis racket and larger than a ping-pong paddle.
Serving starts on the right-hand side of the court, and it must be done underhanded and can’t be above the server’s navel.
The ball has to land in the opposite court and bounce before the player on the opposing team can hit it. That player’s return has to bounce, and then from that point, the ball can be hit out of the air or after a bounce.
The upper part of the court is called the kitchen. If the ball bounces in that area, a player can go there to hit it, but they can’t stay there.
The first team to score 11 points wins the match.
Jackson said when she first tried to sport, she became hooked.
“I love to be active, and I just wanted to try something,” she said. “That was the whole purpose of going to Florida in the winter is so you could stay active, so I just started playing, and I like the fact that it’s all ages, all people. It’s fun. I’m sure there are competition leagues and they are serious about it, but we’re not. We do it for fun, for socialization.”
Jackson said she has played with people ranging in age from 8 to 80.
“I played with a lady down in Venice (Florida). Literally, she could not walk, she had such a bad hip. She was tournament champion in her age group,” she said.
The USA Pickleball Association says there are nearly 4,000 places to play the sport in the country. The spread of the sport is attributed to its popularity within community centers, physical education classes, YMCA facilities and retirement communities.
This year while in Florida, Jackson said she played Tuesday and Thursday mornings at outdoor courts that usually drew around 20 people. About 20 miles away, there is an indoor recreation center that has six courts and nearly 100 people playing.
“I’ve met so many interesting people,” she said. “You never know who you’re going to meet, where they’re from and I enjoy that.”
Jackson said she also likes the sport because it’s good for her health. In an hour of playing, she said you burn nearly 480 calories. Plus, it has improved her reflexes and hand-eye coordination.
Monty Marsh of Seymour said he also likes to be active, and he started playing four years ago in Florida.
“I had heard of the game pickleball, so when I saw them playing, I said, ‘Well, I’ve got to find out what this pickleball is,’” he said, smiling. “I went over there, and they were very friendly and asked if I was interested, and I said, ‘Yeah, I would like to try it,’ so I tried it, and it’s a hoot. It requires just enough competitive ability to really enjoy the game without having to be an expert.”
Marsh said he has seen several benefits of playing, and his therapist told him it’s a good game for him to play.
He also has seen it make a positive impact on Harold Meek of Seymour, a fellow Army veteran. Marsh said it keeps Meek mentally and physically sharp as he is beginning to deal with Alzheimer’s disease.
“He doesn’t really get to do anything else, but he loves to come out and play pickleball,” Marsh said of Meek. “If it wasn’t for this, he would probably just dwindle away, but he has this. He loves it. He wants to come out every night.”
Pickleball will continue outdoors in Seymour until it gets cold outside. Jackson said they are looking for a church gymnasium or a warehouse that would be available to play indoors. They already have a net and equipment, so they just need a place to play.
Jackson said the city also is working on applying for a grant to build pickleball courts. She said it costs $8,000 per court. If a local industry, business, individual, couple or family would want to donate money, that also could be put toward the project.
The idea is to build the courts so the city could host pickleball tournaments. A pickleball league could start here, and players also could travel to other areas, including Columbus and Madison, to play against people there.
“It’s just neat to get people out and get them involved and find a permanent place for it so we don’t have to chalk up the court every time,” Jackson said. “We really want people to know that it is a lot of fun, it doesn’t take a lot of physical talent and there’s the socialization of it, the people that you meet.”
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For information about the USA Pickleball Association, visit usapa.org.
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What: Pickleball matches
When and where: 6:30 p.m. Mondays at Gaiser Park in Seymour and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the Seymour High School tennis courts
Who: All ages can play
Cost: Free; bring your own paddle or borrow one
Information: Join the Pickleball group on Facebook at facebook.com/groups/289715051915568