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Pickle-ball, a local invention, finally taking hold 50 years later

Pickle-ball is part tennis, part Ping Pong, played on a badminton-sized court (44 feet by 20 feet) with a lower net, wooden paddles a bit longer than beach paddles and a hard plastic wiffle ball. In this photo, community members play pickle-ball at Maple Leaf Reservoir Park. (Photo courtesy Seattle.gov)

It’s a sport sweeping the nation and it’s giving older players a second life on the court. It’s pickle-ball and it was invented right here in the Puget Sound area.

It doesn’t take long for a beginner to become a devotee. Former high school tennis player Jeff Parke turned to racket ball in his 20’s and played aggressively for years until he hurt his Achilles. The Seattle veterinarian became aware of pickle-ball many years ago but didn’t pick up the long, wooden paddle until recently.

Then, he was hooked.

“For anybody who’s played a racquet sport, it’s pretty easy to pick up,” said Parke.

It’s part tennis, part Ping Pong, played on a badminton-sized court (44 feet by 20 feet) with a lower net, wooden paddles a bit longer than beach paddles and a hard plastic wiffle ball.

“The rules are fairly simple and the way I think of it is as Ping Pong on steroids,” Parke explained.

It’s all the rage among seniors and the sport is growing fastest in retirement communities in Florida and Arizona.

Parke has had knee trouble for years, “And since I’ve been playing pickle-ball, my knees haven’t bothered me at all, even though I’m putting quite a bit of stress on them, jumping around. I think I’m actually doing some of the things that strengthen my knees,” said Parke.

The game was invented in the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island by the late Joel Pritchard, the former Congressman, and a couple of friends – William Bell and Barney McCallum. The son of one of the founders operates PickleBall.com which promotes the game and the gear.

Parke gets a regular game at Seattle’s Miller Community Center – and he’s played all ages.

“This summer I played with an 8-1/2-year-old down at Garfield Community Center. He’d never played it before and in about 10 minutes, he was kicking our butts. Here at Miller, the fellow I hoped would show up today is 87 and I have yet to beat him,” Parke admitted.

The Seattle Parks Department has 17 indoor pickle-ball courts and plans to open its second, outdoor court next month, at Montlake Playfield. It has a ways to go to catch up with the pickle-ball capital of the world, The Villages, in Central Florida, which boasts 108 courts.

The U.S. Pickle Ball Association declares it has 100,000 players, and growing.

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