Urban legend has it that the term pickleball comes from the name of a dog, Pickles, who chased tennis balls relentlessly around the yard of owner Joel Pritchard’s home.
Another legend has it that sometime in the mid-1960s Pritchard — a former Washington State congressman — saw boats in a Seattle bay clustered, or pickled, together. Or maybe they were boats that caught herring fish.
“The real essence is that this game was cobbled together with a badminton net, a whiffle ball and some wooden paddles,” said Dennis Gallaher, 68, the president of the Southwest Metro Pickleball Club. “It was ‘pickled’ together much like a pickle boat. That’s the real origin. The dog didn’t come until a few years later.”
Because of its easy-to-play nature, pickleball has become a popular sport among seniors. Starting Friday, 659 participants from around the country will take place in the Senior Games pickleball tournament at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 20 of those are from the Minneapolis area.
“The thing about pickleball is it’s a way to get seniors active and get them off the couch,” said Jerry Maas, 78, one of the founders of the Southwest Metro Pickleball Club. “Our objective is to keep nursing homes empty. My objective is to win a pickleball tournament at 90.”
Pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court with a tennis level net, a plastic whiffle ball and a hard paddle. Because it’s is played on a smaller court, it doesn’t require as much legwork as tennis. Instead, pickleball players rely on faster hand-eye coordination.
Games are played to 11 points, and a team must win by two. Points are scored only by the serving team. There’s a place on the court called the “kitchen,” a no-volley zone that goes seven feet on either side of the net that players aren’t allowed to step into unless the ball bounces first.
In 2014, ABC News called pickleball fastest-growing sport in America.
The Southwest Metro Pickleball Club was founded four years ago by six members. Today, it has 290. Recently, Maas led a training session for beginners in White Bear Lake. He expected 10 or 12 people, but had more than 30 attend.
“What’s happened is that the senior community that used to play racquet sports wants to continue to be active,” Maas said. “But they can’t cover the amount of space you need to cover in tennis. So pickleball has become very desirable for them.”
Gallaher started playing in July 2013 when his neighbor, Mike Slinkard, who introduced him to it. The two will be partners at the Senior Games, and are excited to bring such quality competition to their hometown.
“It’s a big deal because it’s a national stage,” Gallaher said. “This is the national age-related pickleball tournament every other year.”