Last Updated on September 12, 2020 by Cathy Jo Johnson
Do you know there were four times that the sport of pickleball almost died?
Recently Jennifer Lucore, a 17-time national champion, member of the Pickleball Hall of Fame, and co-author of The History of Pickleball-Fifty Years of Fun, stopped by Better Pickleball. Here’s what she had to say about those critical junctures.
Jennifer, how do you get the idea to write about the history of pickleball?
It all started three years ago in Lake Tahoe, which is your backyard, right? We were there at the resort, and it happened to be the first USAPA Ambassadors retreat. There were over one hundred ambassadors from all over the United States and Costa Rica. We met for three or four days and talked about pickleball. My mom, Beverly Youngren, and I were on the six-hour car ride back home and thought, you know what, there are so many people there that don’t know the history. How are they supposed to know? It’s in bits and pieces all over the Internet. I thought we need to capture all these stories because, of course, no one is getting any younger, and we need to write this book.
How long did it take you and your mom to write the book?
About three years. It was cool because my parents have been in pickleball since the late 90s. And they knew a lot of the founders and pioneers of the game. My parents were privy to the people that had these stories.
Then through my years of pickleball, which is around 11 years now, I got to meet Barney McCallum, who was one of three founders. We had a friendship for like ten years. I captured his stories on audio, and I had all this content, but I never thought about what to do with it.
If you don’t yet have a copy of the History of Pickleball, click this link to learn more about it.
Jennifer, our readers, may not know how pickleball started, so why don’t we begin there?
My short version is in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, which was right off the coast of Seattle, Washington. There were some families there, and they were out in the summer playing games. The kids were bored, and this game was created.
There are such great stories of how that all evolved, but basically, there was this old badminton court and a bunch of bored kids. The parents told the kids, you need to find something to do. Together the sport was created, and they just had fun with it for the summer. Then from there on, it ballooned slowly to what it is today.
One of the things I love about the book is that it’s more than just a history book. It’s the story of pickleball. Since there’s so much information Jennifer wanted to discuss four critical moments in pickleball history. She calls them game-changers.
Jennifer, what are game-changers?
Game changers are several times that our sport would have not continued growth and probably would have died off. There were four game-changers or times when our sport almost died.
What’s the first one?
In 1975, this newspaper article came out, and it was from the National Observer. Basically, a guy from New York City came and visited Barney McCallum in Seattle. They took the ferry over to Bainbridge Island because he wanted to check out Pickleball. It was a quick interview. The next day the guy flew home. Later he called Barney and asked how much it would cost for a starter kit. He wanted to put it in the newspaper article.
Barney thought a couple of paddles, a ball and a net, let’s say $29.50, and the guy said perfect. Then Barney didn’t hear from him for weeks.
Not long after, a flood of envelopes and orders came from all over the United States of people wanting their pickleball stuff. That news article was huge to continue the growth of pickleball.
It’s incredible that from that newspaper article, all these orders came in, and there was a teenage kid in the backyard with plywood, and he was cutting out paddles all summer.
The next game-changer has an interesting tie to a monumental event in women’s sports.
In the late 70s came trade shows and Title 9. You may wonder what the heck do they have to do in common. Pickleball Inc, who is the company that had the balls and paddles, would go to different trade shows throughout the United States. They sold their wares and took orders.
Well, also in the early seventies, 1972, to be exact, Title 9 passed. That was special funding for women’s athletics. It took a few years for the schools to implement that, which made it probably say the mid-70s to late 70s. That was helpful to pickleball because the orders came in for those wooden paddles and balls, and that really kept us going.
What’s next in our pickleball history lesson?
A third game-changer in pickleball is when, in the early 80s, the composite panel was created. Arlen Paranto is the guy that invented a composite paddle, which means no more wood paddles. The cool thing about Arlen is he was inducted into the Pickleball Hall of Fame a couple of years ago when it first was created. His son Steve Paranto is still around. He kept the game going by giving us new paddles made from new materials.
What’s the 4th game-changer, Jennifer?
The last game-changer in our sport, remember, these are big, big things that happen in the history of our sport, and if they didn’t happen, we would not have the fun that we have now with pickleball.
Sid Williams and the USAPA. Sid is from Tacoma, Washington, and was inducted into the Pickleball Hall of Fame, the first time with Arlen Paranto. The neat thing about him is that he got pickleball to have tournaments and get people involved. He had a pickle company, Nahles Pickle Company, sponsor a tournament.
He did all these awesome things like in the early 80s, way before most of us knew what pickleball was. Sid Williams was very involved with creating, or I should say he started the U.S.A.P.A. You’ll notice there’s a period in between the letters. That was the United States Amateur Pickleball Association, which he created.
Just a few years later, they realized some of these super pickleball players were good, and they were not amateurs anymore. Then they changed the A to America, the United States of America Pickleball Association, which is what we have today. The tournaments that Sid had in Washington and the creation of the USAPA kept our sport alive.
Jennifer, it’s pretty amazing when you think about those game changers and how they led to the explosive growth that we have in pickleball today.
I agree. That’s why I’m so happy we got time to share together. Those game changers in the book are explained in detail and with some humor and some real stories that happened. But so many times, our sport almost died. Now here we are with 3.2 million players in the US, which is from a report a year ago.
Jennifer, interestingly enough, there was one thing essential thing you were not able to document without your research. You have a special request of the Better Pickleball community.
I have homework because we need to know precisely where the term kitchen came from. If you have a story or you have real facts, documentation of any kind as to the term kitchen as created here and when and where would be great.
Jennifer, if people can help you with that kitchen information or if they’d like a copy of the book, how do they find you?
Well, CJ, go to allpickleball.com, you’ll find everything you need.
CJ Johnson Better Pickleball Age Well with C.J.
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