Pickleball courts full across the city as more people enjoy the gameAug 07, 2022 08:51PM ● By Greg James
By Greg James | [email protected]
Pickleball was invented on Bainbridge Island, Washington, in the mid-1960s as a children's backyard game. Fast forward to 2022 when it was adopted as the official state sport of Washington.
“I played the game in elementary school growing up,” West Valley resident and Washington native JP Tarbutton said. “When I was in law school in Philadelphia we played in organized leagues. It is easy to pick up, competitive and good exercise.”
Joel Pritchard, who served in the U.S. Congress and as Washington’s lieutenant governor, and two of his friends are credited with inventing the game and its rules. The game was named after his family dog, Pickles.
Equipment for this simple game includes paddles similar to table tennis, a Wiffle Ball, and a court similar to, but smaller than, a tennis court. The game's rules are a hodgepodge of the like.
“It is fun and easy to learn,” Tarbutton said.
“When Jesse (her son) came home from his mission he had played it and introduced it to our family,” Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center pickleball league and tournament coordinator Jana Helsten said. “We found out the fitness center was having open play, we went and tried it out. I kept playing and about a year later they asked me if I would help run the leagues.”
The spread of the sport is attributed to its popularity within community centers, public parks and private health clubs.
“I think anybody can play it. It is a Goldilocks family game. It is as easy or as hard as you want it to be,” Helsten said.
KOPFC holds open play on summer mornings and, during the summer, a league plays once a week. They are not alone—West Valley’s Centennial Park has 12 courts next to its swimming pool, Lodestone Park has two courts, and West Jordan’s Ron Wood Park has six courts near the splash pad. They are always full of families and experienced players alike.
“I had a student that is 17 years old and plays professionally with sponsors,” Helsten said. “I think the rules can be the most challenging thing about the game. Learning them can be hard.”
Announcing the score and the two bounce rule can be the most difficult parts of the game. From there, serving, ball spin, control and game management become its biggest draws.
“It is almost like a chess game. It can be very strategic learning to place your ball,” Helsten said.
The U.S. Pickleball National Championships have been held near Palm Springs, California since 2018 and the Professional Pickleball Association finds its home in Draper. The sport grew as an outdoor alternative to indoor sports during the Covid-19 pandemic. It experienced a 21% growth in 2020. It was named the country's fastest-growing sport with over 4.8 million players.
“Come learn a fun game that is relatively easy. Throw up the net, grab some paddles and balls and have some fun. During the fall we can have up to 40 players per night, three different leagues,” Helsten said.
KOPFC offers beginner and advanced leagues and tournaments. They have coordinated with centers to offer better learning of the game.
In Florida, many recreation sites are removing shuffleboard courts and replacing them with pickleball. It has been adopted by bars and clubs and even a clothing-optional league in a private camping facility has emerged.
“Not to that extent, but this game is growing here for sure,” Helsten said.