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Joel Pritchard, inventor of pickleball


Joel Pritchard invented the game pickleball, but it was his wife Joan Pritchard who came up with the name. Our namesake, J. Pritchard, is dedicated to both their contributions to the sport.

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Joel Pritchard’s creativity and innovative spirit helped shape pickleball as a popular social sport for both young and old. With the help of his friends Bill Bell and Barney McCallum, he fashioned pickleball rackets out of plywood, thought up defining rules, and created a long-lasting legacy that inspired generations. Joel’s wife, Joan, named the sport pickleball, inspired by the ad-hoc nature of “pickle boats” in rowing.

Joel’s original vision was to create an activity that the whole family could enjoy together, regardless of their skill level. And although he invented the game for his kids, the adults quickly caught on to the sport’s fun and infectious nature. Socializing and spending time with friends and family is still at the heart of what makes pickleball so enjoyable. Today, pickleball continues to grow in popularity throughout the US, Canada, as well as European and Asian countries.

Background on Joel

Joel grew up playing sports like football, tennis, basketball, and even advancing in swimming to the point of being a lifeguard. His active lifestyle followed him into adulthood, where he enjoyed tennis, golf, badminton, skiing, mountain climbing, and squash. His invention of pickleball showcased his playful spirit even during his more serious years serving as a congressman from Washington State.

Joel Pritchard had an impressive career full of crowning achievements. At a young age, he was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army to contribute to World War II efforts from 1943 to 1946. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 12 years, a member of the Washington Senate for four years, and a member of the House of Representatives for another four years. After that, he served as the 14th Lieutenant Governor of Washington from 1989 to 1997. Even with all these accomplishments, the invention of pickleball was one of his proudest moments.

Creation of Pickleball

Pickleball started from humble beginnings, one lazy summer day on Bainbridge Island in 1965. On that fateful day, Joel Pritchard finished his round of golf and came home to his family complaining that they had nothing to do. Ever the creative spirit, he channeled his inner child to make up a game as he would have when he was younger.

His summer home had a backyard badminton court, which set the stage for the first game of pickleball. He found broken paddles, racquets, and perforated plastic balls to kick off the first version of the sport with his family. He carved paddles out of plywood from his backyard woodshop, and called on his friends Bill Bell and Barney McCallum to help define the rules of the game.

Pickleball was officially recognized on February 13, 1968, when Joel and others filled articles to form Pickle Ball Inc. Their aim was to promote the game and continue developing its potential for players everywhere.

Joan (pronounced Jo-ann) Pritchard, Joel Pritchard’s wife, contributed a big piece of pickleball history; she gave the sport its name. At J.Pritchard, we honor her legacy by keeping the J in our namesake for both Joel and Joan.

Growing up in Marietta, Ohio, Joan was a loyal fan of the Marietta crew teams. Even though she never rowed herself, she loved to watch the races and cheer for the Marietta team. At rowing events, the best varsity teams competed against each other, but there were always leftover non-starters that would compete separately. These rowers from different universities would compete in “pickle boat” races just for fun.

The leftover non-started oarsmen came together in pickle boats inspired Joan. She realized that pickleball had a similar hodgepodge approach, mixing together different games like badminton, ping-pong, and tennis. Although some people thought pickleball got its name from the family’s dog Pickles, credit should be given to Joan. In fact, Pickles the dog was not born until after the invention of pickleball.

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