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From pickles to Pickleball: how Badminton’s cousin got off the bench

It is 7:50 a.m., and a group of sleepy-eyed college students are hitting a ball back and forth over a low-hanging net. Although the students are in a badminton HPE class, the sport they are playing is pickleball. Instead of using a netted racket, they are hitting a wiffle ball with a wooden paddle.  

Professor Lance Watson, the class instructor, describes pickleball as “a combination of tennis, ping pong and badminton.” He chose to incorporate this new sport in his badminton classes because of its popularity across the United States.  

The 2018 Pickleball Participant Report reveals that the sport has 3.1 million players across the U.S. This is a 12% increase from the previous year, making pickleball America’s fastest-growing sport.  

Pickleball was invented in the summer of 1965 by Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington State, and Bill Bell, a successful businessman, as they improvised a game to keep their children entertained. Using the badminton court at the Pritchard’s residence along with the equipment available to them, the two fathers created a sport that could be enjoyed by the whole family.  

Interestingly, the game was named after the congressman’s dog, Pickles, who was known for running off with the ball.  

One of the reasons for the sport’s growing popularity is that it is relatively inexpensive to play. The necessary equipment includes a wooden paddle, a pickleball and a small, plastic ball with holes, typically costing between $50 to $150. 

On a court similar in size to a traditional badminton court of 20 feet by 44 feet, both a doubles team or a single player can engage in the paddle sport. Most matches are played on repurposed tennis courts. Players could dedicate half an hour to lowering the portable net at a neighborhood park to 36 inches and putting tape on the court so it fits the necessary dimensions, and all will be set for an epic game of pickleball. 

Apart from being affordable, pickleball is a fun, fast and friendly game—a sport that both young and old can enjoy, for it is not cardio-intensive. 

Professor Watson emphasized that the movements involved in this sport are easier on the joints. Compared to tennis, pickleball players can keep active for longer periods with ease due to the smaller court size and shorter racket. The game also strengthens players’ hand-eye coordination.  

Presently, students are allowed to explore pickleball in the badminton HPE classes on Mondays and Wednesdays. Since many of the students introduced to the game have enjoyed it, the ORU Department of Health, Leisure and Sports Science will be adding a pickleball class in the spring semester, held at 7:50 a.m., 8:50 a.m. and 9:50 a.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. 

Professor Watson anticipates that the pickleball classes will fill up fast. Therefore, he urged students to “sign up early” to join America’s fastest-growing sport.  

Graphic by Sterling Zoe Rubottom