Bainbridge Island: The Birthplace of Pickleball
Widely considered to be the fastest growing sport in America, Pickleball is a unique sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong. I hadn’t heard of the sport until I moved to Bainbridge in 2018 and started casually playing with our local club. It didn’t take long before I was hooked! The game has gained widespread hype and popularity over the years, though many still don’t know it was founded right here on Bainbridge Island.
In the 1960’s, Bainbridge was a haven for Seattleites looking to get away during the summer. Joel Prichard, Bill Bell, Barney McCallum, and their families spent summers on Pleasant Beach at the south end of the Island. When their children complained of boredom one summer day in 1965, Pritchard proposed they invent a new game. With only a badminton net and court, ping pong paddles, and a Whiffle ball the kids and their dads came up with what we know today as pickleball.
That summer, and for several years following, the group worked to define the game and experiment with different equipment. They adjusted the net height, debated the rules, and defined a standardized paddle for play.
To hear pickleball founder Barney McCallum recall the early years of the game, call 206-408-2726. Follow the voice commands. When prompted, press 50#.
The game caught on locally as friends and neighbors started to play as well. Some Bainbridge Islanders even installed courts specifically for pickleball at their homes in the late 1960’s. The popularity of the sport grew as players from the Pacific Northwest traveled south for the winter.
At the Museum, we noticed visitors making pilgrimages to Bainbridge years ago to celebrate the birthplace of the game. Dedicated fans and players were so energized by the sport that they would stop at the Museum to see early paddles and other materials in our collection.
The pickleball craze inspired our team to develop and host the first ever pickleball tournament on Bainbridge in August of 2019. The Bainbridge Island Founders Tournament, now an annual event, serves as a fundraiser for our organization. In addition to raising funds to support our mission, it also serves as a way for the community to honor the legacy of the founders and their unique story of innovation and invention.
Pickleball is accessible to players of all ages and abilities. There is a natural social and community feel to the game because of the typical doubles player structure. If you haven’t picked up a paddle, give it a try! Or, stop by the Museum to learn more about the origin of the sport.
Already play? Be sure to sign up for our tournament in August, 2021 when registration goes live. For more information, head to pickleballtournaments.com or founderstournament.com.
Original Article by Brianna Kosowitz, Executive Director of the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum talks all things Pickleball