By Peggy Mackenzie
“What is pickleball?” you ask. “It’s the fastest growing sport you’ve never heard of,” said Public Works Director Roger Pence, who made a pickleball presentation to the Parks Commission during a recent meeting. The initial response from the commissioners was mixed, in part because the sport was generally unheard of, but a quick online review revealed that numerous West Virginia communities, large and small, have established pickleball clubs and organizations. WVSOM student Parks Commission member Noel Mellor concurred, stating that among the students at the school, pickleball is already a popular sports activity.
Described by Pence as an opportunity to serve “needs not met” at the City’s parks, and as a sport activity that’s easily adaptable at minimal effort and expense, pickleball could soon be the next big thing in Lewisburg. The Parks Commission, it must be recognized, is not in the business of advertising and promoting activities, just in providing access to activities, Pence said. The next obvious step appeared to be to gather information and evaluate where to develop pickleball courts.
At last Tuesday evening’s Parks Commission meeting, a net, or “trial balloon,” was set up at Hollowell’s skateboard park and a wiffle ball was lobbed across the net as several park commissioners began to play. Pickleball is a paddle ball sport (similar to a racquet sport) that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. Two or four players use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a perforated polymer ball, similar to a wiffle ball, over a net. Skills quickly developed among the players once the wiffle ball’s unique movements were mastered. Soon, their drive to compete checked in and stakes were raised. Within minutes, the game was on.
“This is fun,” said commissioner Jeri Via. “I could do this all day.”
Commissioner Franklin Johnson, whose game of choice is pickup basketball, initially expressed some skepticism, but became enthusiastic about installing courts at the unused portion of the skate park at Hollowell after playing on the court.
Four pickleball courts could fit within the boundaries of a tennis court or basketball court or a multi-use court at either Dorie Miller or Hollowell Park. A pickleball court is similar to a doubles badminton court. The actual size of the court is 20×44 feet for both doubles and singles. The net is hung at 36 inches on the ends, and 34 inches at center. The court is striped like a tennis court, with no alleys. The inner courts are non-volley zones and extend seven feet from the net on either side. There are lots of rules and terms to learn, but that happens as you play the game.
Pickleball was invented in the mid 1960s as a children’s backyard game. According to Wikipedia, the game started during the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, at the home of former State Representative Joel Pritchard, who eventually went on to become Lieutenant Governor of Washington. He and two of his friends, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum, returned from golf and found their families bored one Saturday afternoon. They attempted to set up badminton, but no one could find the shuttlecock. They improvised with a wiffle ball, lowered the badminton net, and fabricated paddles of plywood from a nearby shed.
Some sources claim that the name “Pickleball” was derived from the Pritchard’s family dog, Pickles, but, instead, the dog was named for the game. Apparently, as the story goes, stories about the name’s origin were funnier thinking the game was named for the dog.