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Tennis-like game picking up steam with seniors

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 4, 2012 at 9:56 am •  Published: December 4, 2012

"It's really easy to learn, it's a lot of fun and it's a very social game because you're in a small area with a lot of interaction," said Bill Booth, president of the USA Pickleball Association.

OK, so what's with the name?

That's up for debate, sort of.

The sport was hatched in 1965, in the backyard of Joel Pritchard, a Congressman for the state of Washington. Bored after a round of golf, Pritchard and a friend lowered the badminton net on the property of his Bainbridge Island home and cut two paddles out of plywood. After trying several balls that didn't work, they started hitting a neighbor's whiffle ball back and forth. They came up with rules and the sport was born.

Joan Pritchard, Joel's wife, said she told the guys that the game reminded her of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.

Over the years, however, a story circulated that the game was named after the family's dog, Pickles, who would chase after the ball. According to Joan Pritchard, Pickles the canine came years after pickle the game, but the ball-chasing-dog legend grew over the years, blurring the truth.

"We kind of go with named-after-the-dog because it's cute and a legend, but take your pick — it doesn't really matter," Booth said. "It's like, how did squash get its name? That's a vegetable too."

Pickleball spread to Pritchard's Bainbridge Island neighbors, who started building their own courts, and gradually across the United States and Canada. About a decade ago, it started to gain steam in senior communities, with courts popping up all over.

The USAPA estimates now there are 100,000 to 150,000 pickleball players in the United States, and pickleball associations have started up in places like India and China. Arizona and Florida, with their huge retirement populations, have become hotbeds for the sport, including an estimated 10,000 players hitting the courts in The Villages near Orlando.

Kids, too, have started, uh, pickling it up. Schools around the country have started adding pickleball to physical education programs and a few leagues for younger players have started up.

In retirement communities, pickleball is often the first thing the grandkids ask about.

"I talk to my grandson on Skype and the first thing he says is: 'I want to play pickleball, Pop,'" Darrow said. "He just loves it."