Pickleball—the New York Times called it a serious sport with a funny name—has arrived! And how do we know this? Because there are pickleball jokes and books on pickleball jokes. Here’s one: Why did the pickleball player cross the road? To get to the other court.
This is interesting because it reshapes an old joke, much like pickleball, which has reshaped some old sports. And the punchline hints at its growing popularity. Those playing it get off one court only to get onto another.
Pickleball is a combination of tennis, badminton, and table tennis and was in the news recently because Friends star Matthew Perry is known to have played it a few hours before he died. It is the fastest-growing sport in some countries. Pickleball players are called ‘pickles’. There is a national body for the sport in India, and you can hire indoor courts in many cities to play the game. And—another sign of its popularity—there is a clamour for including it in the Olympics.
Another sign of its popularity is that there are already different versions of how the game got its name. And it was invented only in 1965. Joel Pritchard, a Congressman, and his two friends Bill Bell and Barney McCallum created it on Bainbridge Island (near Seattle) to entertain their children bored with the usual summer activities.
As for the name, one version has it that it is named after the pickle boat—a rowing crew that is thrown together from those who didn’t make it to the main teams—since the sport is a mix of rules thrown together. Another credits the family dog Pickles with lending his name to the sport by the simple method of running off with the ball every time it came near him. This version is supported by the McCallum family. Doubtless we will hear other versions—tracing it back to ancient Greece or Rome or the connection with a bottle of pickles, perhaps.
The court is the size of the one badminton is played on. The game is played with a paddle and a plastic ball, the size of a tennis ball, which has holes in it. The zone near the net is called the kitchen.
Initially, the sport came up against opposition from two sets of people: tennis players who didn’t want their courts to be converted into pickleball courts and residents tired of the regular pop-pop sound, which they said was like “having a pistol range in your backyard.” Some 40 per cent of tennis courts in the U.S. have been converted into pickleball courts in the last four years.
Clubs see money in this. Players see social networking and physical fitness advantages of playing on a smaller court.
There are naysayers, of course. “Any game that you can take up after breakfast and be pretty good at by lunch is not a sport,” wrote a Washington Post humourist. He is unlikely to be inducted into the Pickleball Hall of Fame anytime soon.
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