Peter Robb returns a shot at Monday drop-in pickleball at the Silver Creek school gym. Sessions run from 6:15 to 8:15 p.m. and paddles are provided, for those who need them, in the $2.00 drop-in fee. Ages 15 and up are welcome. Barry Stewart/Hope Standard

What is pickleball anyway?

The game with a strange name is attracting fans in Hope

Tennis, hockey, ping-pong, polo, cricket, softball: we play and watch lots of games with curious names that give the uninitiated no clue as to what they’re about.

With Finnish wife-carrying and English football, the sport befits the label.

But “pickleball”?

In over 20 minutes of online interviews with co-founder Barney McCallum of Seattle, the reason for the game’s name doesn’t get a moment’s mention. Curious.

When a burning question goes unanswered, that creates fertile ground for “alternative facts.”

As Tristan Baurick writes in the Kitsap Sun, “The sport was NOT named after a family dog,” an invented story that has been widely adopted as truth.

Baurick contacted Peggy Pritchard-Olson, the daughter of co-founder Joel Pritchard, who said, “It was not named after the dog because we didn’t get the dog until years after the game started. The dog was named after the game. Not the other way around.”

In competitive rowing, leftover rowers from various teams are cobbled into a spare boat, to compete against the teams that have cast them aside. This is known as the “pickle boat.”

Joel Pritchard’s wife, Joan had been a competitive rower and noted the way pickleball cobbled together aspects of badminton, tennis and table tennis. Baurick quotes an article Joan wrote about the game and its name.

The story of a dog named Pickles snatching the loose ball and running away with it has seemingly edged out the pickle boat. Regardless, a game that was invented as a fun family pastime in the 1960s has taken root and is now popular around the world.

The game came to Hope in January of 2013, promoted by Jon Nigh, who had been introduced to it by his sister. This year, attendance has been strong for the Monday evening drop-in sessions at Silver Creek gym.

“The average has been 14 for the drop-ins,” said Mike Freimark, assistant manager of Recreation, Culture and Airpark Services. He said the Silver Creek sessions would continue till June 4, from 6:15 to 8:15 p.m.

“We’ll also be having drop-in pickleball in the arena (once the ice is removed) from May 7 to July 30,” added Freimark, who doubles as head coach of the RiverMonsters swim club.

A big advantage of the arena court — in addition to the available hours — is the generous space behind the baselines. In local elementary school gyms, there’s only a short step between the baseline and the wall.

Many of the rules formulated by the game’s founders are still in effect. The markings of a badminton court are used, as is a badminton net, though it is lowered to a height of 36 inches (91.4 cm).

The paddle is about twice the size of a table tennis paddle, with a smooth surface. The ball is a made of perforated plastic and is about the size of a tennis ball. Paddles are supplied by the rec centre but many players have their own.

The serve must be underhand and the return has to hit the ground first — as does the serving team’s first return. After that, you can hit the ball on the volley or after one bounce. Allow a second bounce and the play is over.

One big catch is the “kitchen” or no-volley zone near the net.

“The gall-darned kitchen,” groaned Peni Puschmann, Tuesday. “I always get called on it.”

Rules say you can only go into the kitchen to get a ball that has already bounced. This prevents players from acting as a blocker.

Puschmann said she got started with the game in 2014, at the former C.E. Barry gym.

“The next year, there wasn’t any interest — but I was thrilled to see so many coming out this year.

“When I first started, the ball seemed to go right through the paddle,” she said, laughing. “Now I’m able to direct it where I want it to go.”

While the drop-in sessions are open to ages 15 and up, Puschmann said it’s mostly seniors who have been turning up.

“If you have any kind of hand-eye coordination, you’re fine,” she said. “It gets hot, so wear light clothing. And don’t be discouraged when you first come out. We suggest watching YouTube first, to see what it’s about.

“Most people come out to have fun and be silly and have a laugh — for only two dollars. Where else can you do that?”


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