Relishing the GameMay 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Carolyn Straniere
Pickleball has become a big dill lately, with more and more people joining the ranks of play. Contrary to its name, it is in no way related to pickles of any kind, which, for this lover of a crunchy half-sour, was a bit jarring. Pickleball is more of a cousin to ping-pong, badminton, volleyball, and tennis, than to dill, bread and butter, or gherkins—the name is derived from leftover rowers, but I’m getting ahead of myself—and has been around for almost sixty years.
The brainchild of two dads from Seattle, Washington, pickleball was created to help relieve the boredom of their families in the summer of 1965. The often-unused badminton court at the Bainbridge Island summer home of Joel Pritchard, a congressman in Washington, became the desired field on which to play. Unable to find the complete badminton set, Joel and his friend Bill Bell scrounged up a whiffle ball, along with a couple of ping-pong paddles, and made up some rules for an as-of-yet unnamed game.
Joel’s wife, Joan, a native of Marietta, Ohio, is credited with coming up with the game’s official name. A fan of Marietta’s college crew team, Joan attended many of the regattas while enrolled at the school. The very best varsity crew teams compete against each other, while the non-starters participate in their own, separate competition. It is these “leftover” rowers who are then engaged in what is known as a “pickle boat” race, an event that’s done just for fun. Joan realized the similarity between these thrown-together oarsmen and their new game, which consisted of thrown-together pieces from various other games, and concluded that “Pickleball” was the perfect name for their new venture.
The game gained in popularity over the next few years, and in 1972 Joel and Bill formed a corporation to protect their new sport. By 1984, the U.S. Amateur Pickleball Association was organized, as the game continued to catch on throughout the country. In 2010, the International Federation of Pickleball was formed, helping to spread the fun of pickleball to the world. (You can also find the official rules and regulations at ifpickleball.org.)
“It’s a game the entire family can play, regardless of age, fitness level, or experience,” says Alex Hamilton, head of Parks and Recreation in Corning. “Last year we turned the Nasser Civic Center ice rink into pickleball courts for those who wanted to play, and we offered a seasonal membership as well as drop-in play. The playing season lasts until mid-to-late October, when we have to start preparing the Center for the winter season and hockey and ice skating.”
Last year Corning offered a Wednesday night league, with tournaments throughout the season. “We had about 250 registered members. And we had twenty- and thirty-year-olds playing right along with sixty- and seventy-year-olds,” Alex says. “Golf has been replaced by pickleball in many senior communities as the game of choice. It’s a great game for the older generation, people with disabilities or even in wheelchairs, because it doesn’t require a lot of movement like tennis.”
Pickleball has many of the same elements as tennis, such as serving (underhand only), and volleying, and can be played either singles or doubles. Cheering is encouraged in pickleball, with shouts of “opa” occurring after a rally of continuous play has started. Scoring is also slightly different, with pickleball scored one point at a time. When you reach eleven points, you’ve won the game! What you don’t want to do is be pickled, which means your team has failed to score a single point.
Slightly smaller than a tennis court, the twenty-by-forty-four-foot pickleball court also has a seven-foot non-volley zone on either side of the thirty-six-inch net (for a total of fourteen feet) called the “kitchen.” According to the official rules, it is illegal to be in or make contact with the kitchen zone or its line while volleying. Good advice on and off the court!
Part of the appeal of pickleball is its affordability for families, as there’s nothing more than a paddle and a ball required. “You can get a good paddle for less than twenty dollars,” Alex notes. The pickleball paddle, though larger and heavier, was modeled after a ping-pong paddle, and is usually made of a lightweight composite material such as graphite or aluminum.
The game is played with a hard plastic ball, about three inches in size, similar to a whiffle ball in appearance, with perforated holes, but slightly heavier. (An indoor ball typically has twenty-six larger holes while an outdoor ball has approximately forty smaller holes). And while tennis balls are yellow, there are no rules on what color a pickleball needs to be, as long as it is uniform in color.
Today, pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America, nearly doubling in size over the last few years. The National Championship, an annual event, showcases professional players competing for $150,000. Last year’s event saw almost 2,300 participants vying for the prize money.
With the warmer weather approaching, Corning’s pickleball courts will be busy once again.
“We’re putting the finishing touches on our schedule this year,” Alex says. Upgrading the Civic Center is something he would like to see happen. “Right now, they’re playing pickleball on the cement, which isn’t exactly ideal, but it doesn’t stop them from coming out and having fun.”
If pickleball sounds like a dill-lightful game, why not join the almost nine million picklers across the United States who relish the opportunity to play?
For more information, contact Alex at (607) 962-0340, or cityofcorning.com/parksrecreation.