California has surfing, Minnesota has ice hockey and Maryland has lacrosse.
Washington has no official state sport, but lawmakers should change that by giving the honor to pickleball, as proposed by Senate Bill 5615.
Yes, pickleball: The homegrown mashup of Ping-Pong, tennis and badminton. Invented by bored kids right here in the Puget Sound region a generation ago, refined by a future lieutenant governor and adopted by enthusiasts around the world.
Pickleball may not be as historic as, say, the marathon. But its quirky origins are uniquely Washington. The sport was born on a 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 U.S. Congress just a few years later, sent them out to an old badminton court with Ping-Pong paddles and a lightweight plastic ball to get them out of adults’ hair. They soon were engrossed in this new competition, so that night, McCallum used a bandsaw to make larger plywood paddles.
“There was absolutely nothing formal about it,” McCallum said about the game’s humble origins. The founders borrowed rules from other sports — with a nod to home court limitations like the Madrone tree that grew close to one baseline, making it all but impossible to serve with both feet outside. One foot out would be good enough, the friends decided. That’s how it’s still played, not just at the Founders Courts at Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island, but around the globe.
It’s fitting for state lawmakers to honor pickleball, which was intentionally designed to give kids and adults of every size and athletic ability a fair shot at winning. That’s why the cross-court serves are underhand and players must let the ball bounce during the first few exchanges. The rules are simple and the equipment inexpensive.
Today, the pick-pock of ball against pickleball paddle reverberates far beyond Washington’s borders. The International Federation of Pickleball counts 67 member countries, and there are more than 4 million pickleball enthusiasts in the U.S. Seattle citizen requests led the city’s Parks and Recreation department to launch a pickleball pilot a few years ago. Now, the city is gathering input about permanent facilities. The survey is online at parkways.seattle.gov until Feb. 8.
On Jan. 14, SB 5615 was approved by the Senate Committee on State Government & Elections, which passed the ball to the Rules Committee for a second reading. Lawmakers should swiftly approve the proposal and give pickleball it’s due.