California has surfing, Minnesota has ice hockey, and Maryland has lacrosse.
Washington doesn’t have an official state sport, but lawmakers should change that by giving pickleball the honor, as proposed by Senate Bill 5615.
Yes, pickleball: the local mix of table tennis, tennis and badminton. Invented by bored kids right here in the Puget Sound area a generation ago, refined by a future lieutenant governor, and embraced by enthusiasts around the world.
Pickleball may not be as historic as, say, the marathon. But its original origins are uniquely in Washington. The sport was born one summer day in 1965, at Joel and Joan Pritchard’s cabin on Bainbridge Island, where friends including pickleball co-founders Bill Bell and Barney McCallum had gathered for a picnic. The kids were full of energy, McCallum recalled in a 2009 interview. So Pritchard, a state legislator who would be elected to the U.S. Congress a few years later, sent them to an old badminton court with ping pong rackets. -pong and a light plastic ball to get them out of adults’ hair. They were quickly absorbed into this new competition, so that night McCallum used a bandsaw to make larger plywood paddles.
“There was absolutely nothing formal about it,” McCallum said of the game’s humble origins. The founders borrowed rules from other sports — with a nod to home court limitations like the Madrone shaft that grew close to a baseline, making it almost impossible to serve with both feet on the outside. One foot outside would suffice, the friends decided. It’s still how it’s played, not just at the Founders Courts at Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island, but all over the world.
It is fitting that state lawmakers honor pickleball, which was intentionally designed to give children and adults of all sizes and athletic abilities a fair chance at winning. This is why cross serves are underhanded and players have to let the ball bounce in the first rallies. The rules are simple and the equipment inexpensive.
Today, ball-versus-paddle pickpocketing in pickleball reverberates far beyond Washington’s borders. The International Pickleball Federation has 67 member countries and there are more than 4 million pickleball fans in the United States. Demands from Seattle citizens led the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation to start a pickleball pilot project a few years ago. Now the city is collecting information on permanent installations. The survey is online at parkways.seattle.gov through Feb. 8.
On January 14, SB 5615 was approved by the Senate Committee on State Government and Elections, which passed the ball rolling to the Rules Committee for second reading. Lawmakers should quickly approve the proposal and give pickleball its due.