VISUALIZING OUTSTANDING VOLLEYS
Fine-Tuning Your Serve
Where Should I Hit the Ball?
January 2021 Issue
By Wayne Dollard
How Pickleball Really Got Its Name!
In the summer of 1965, pickleball was founded by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Within days, Joan Pritchard had come up with the name “pickle ball”—a reference to the thrown-together leftover non- starters in the “pickle boat” of crew races. Many years later, as the sport grew, a controversy ensued when a few neighbors said they were there when Joan named the game after the family dog, Pickles. Joan and the Pritchard family have held fast for decades that the dog came along a few years later and was named after the game.
It’s an undisputed fact that pickleball began, and was also named, in the summer of 1965 by Joan Pritchard. If Pickles was around then, the dog story could be true. If Pickles wasn’t born until after 1965, the dog story would be confirmed as just a funny newspaper interview hoax—later confessed by Joel Pritchard.
Proof of when Pickles was born could help resolve the two-story name debate. As the official magazine of pickleball, we decided to dig up the past and report the truth, regardless of the venerable feathers being ruffled. We looked for dog records, uncovered photos, and interviewed several people who were there from 1965-1970. Based on evidence, we learned that the dog was born in 1968— three years after pickleball was first played and named. In other words, the Pritchard family story stands true that pickleball was not named after the dog, but rather in reference to the local pickle boat races.
Summer of 1965
Joel and Joan (pronounced “Jo-Ann”) Pritchard lived in Seattle and spent their summers at their home on Bainbridge Island, WA. In the summer of 1965, the Pritchards invited Bill and Tina Bell to stay with them at their Bainbridge compound. One day after golfing, Joel and Bill returned home to find Joel’s disgruntled 13-year- old son, Frank, in one of those moods.
Frank, now 68, recalls, “I was bitching to my dad that there was nothing to do on Bainbridge. He said that when they were kids, they’d make games up.” Frank bitterly responded to his dad, “Oh, really? Then why don’t you go make up a game?”
Well, Joel (age 40 at the time) loved a challenge, so he and Bill took off to the backyard badminton court where the 44 x 20-ft. regulation court had been asphalted earlier by Joel’s parents. The steady Seattle rain necessitated the paving of their court.
Joel and Bill went to the back shed and grabbed a wiffle ball from a plastic bat and ball set that Frank had been given for his birthday earlier that year. They located a pair of table tennis paddles, set up the badminton net, grabbed the ball and played that first game.
Broken paddles became a problem, so the men fashioned some pretty scary-looking paddles in Joel’s father’s garage workshop. It was at this time that the game started to take form. Frank recalls his dad saying, “You know who we need? We need Barney.” Barney McCallum lived six doors down on the beach and was very handy. He was able to construct more reliable, better-looking paddles. He quickly became an integral part of the game’s equipment, rules and formation.
One day, during the summer of 1965, the Bells and Pritchards were sitting around and made the decision to come up with a name for the game. Joan stepped up and said, “Pickle Ball.” She then explained the reference to leftover rowers who would race for fun in local “pickle boat” crew race competitions.
The Pritchards have always claimed that only their houseguests (the Bells) were in attendance when the name was decided upon.
College Crew “Pickle Boats” Inspired the Game’s Name
Joan grew up in Marietta, Ohio, and attended Marietta College. At that time, the school had one of the strongest crew programs in the country. Locals would all gather together to watch the races. Although Joan was never a racer, she was a loyal fan of the Marietta crew teams.
Joan and Joel met at Marietta and moved to Seattle (Joel’s hometown) in 1948. As luck would have it, the University of Washington also had a top-tier rowing program. In the ‘50s, the University of Washington hosted annual regatta competitions. As an enthusiastic alumna, Joan would go out to cheer on her visiting Marietta team.
The regattas pit the best varsity teams against each other. Afterward, like many college sports, the non- starters would participate in a separate competition. Since at least 1938, the leftover “spares” from multiple universities competed in a just-for-fun “pickle boat” race.
Frank recalled, “To hear my mother tell it, they sort of threw the leftover non-starter oarsmen into these particular pickle boats. She thought pickleball sort of threw bits of other games into the mix (badminton, table tennis, wiffle ball) and decided that ‘Pickle Ball’ was an appropriate name.”
He added, “I first heard my mother utter the words pickle ball when we were actually on the court. It was in that first summer of 1965 and the name stuck. I never heard the game called anything but Pickle Ball (later changed to pickleball).”
Pickles and the Summer of 1968
Three years later, in the summer of 1968, the Pritchards invited their friends Dick and Joan Brown, and their children, to stay on the property at the Bainbridge guest house.
Paul Brown, now 62, treasures his memories of that summer. He explains, “I remember the summer of 1968 well. The Pritchards invited us to stay at their compound, and even had a big birthday bash on the beach to celebrate my dad’s 40th birthday (he was born in 1928).” Paul laughs, “Fib Peterson brought the tall three-foot yard glasses, and the adults were all drinking beer.”
He reflects, “In the summer of 1968, I was 10, and so was the Pritchards’ daughter Jeannie. I remember the day we got the dogs. Jeannie and I walked a mile or so to Lynwood and came across a flea-ridden puppy litter (outside the Oligario house). We brought two home. Later that day, we were in the cabin and we named our dog Lulu. The next day I saw Jeannie and they had named their dog Pickles. That dog was overfed her entire life.”
Frank recalls, “I will say that I had a sixth sense that the name was going to be Pickles since we were actually on the pickle ball court at the time when Paul and Jeannie brought the puppies home, and my mother’s mind would run in those channels. Sure enough, she named our puppy Pickles and the Browns named theirs Lulu.”
To further correct the record, he added, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of the dogs referred to as cocker spaniels, and several other breeds, but they were cockapoos. So, the family didn’t decide to get a dog—my sister just came home with one. That girl could get away with murder!”
Where Did the Dog Rumor Come From?
Sometime between 1969 and the early 1970s, Joel was interviewed by a reporter from a national publication who was going to give the game some large-scale publicity. Joan and some of the neighbors were in attendance. Joel was asked where the name “pickle ball” came from. He told the reporter the true story about Joan’s naming the game from the pickle boats. He then proposed, as a fun story, the idea of writing that the game was named after the dog (by then a few years old). The reporter paused and said to go with the dog story since it was cuter and more memorable, and because the true story was a bit of a mouthful for the readers. The meeting was most likely the catalyst for the memories shared by neighbors who recalled being in the room when name discussions were being tossed around.
When other Bainbridge pickleball locals heard about Joel’s cute dog story with the reporter, they weren’t happy and let him know it. His legendary response was, “Don’t worry, it’s just a funny story. It will never stick.”
Frank says, “Barney and my dad agreed that this was the tale they would tell—and they told it for years. You can imagine how upset my mother was about that decision! Later in life, as the game grew, my father would admit in other interviews that the game was not named for the dog, but Barney to his dying day (a year ago) held that the naming was due to Pickles the dog.”
He concludes, “I feel strongly about giving my mom credit for naming the game—it’s her little piece of pickleball’s history, and One of the first handmade paddles something she’s never been given enough credit for."