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Washington invention comes to Winthrop

The Winthrop Town Council Wednesday agreed to allow one of its old tennis courts to be used for the game of pickleball at the request of game enthusiast John Northcott.

He told the council that 40,000 to 50,000 people play pickleball every day in the United States. Earlier he told the council that he hopes Winthrop eventually will be able to host a pickleball tournament, which he predicted could bring 200 to 300 players to town.

photoThe old tennis court behind the ball field will become the site of Winthrop's new pickleball court. Photo by Solveig Torvik

Northcott said he will buy the paint and stripe the court, plus pay for the net, which he said will cost about $135. He also said he will fix a crack in the court’s concrete surface.

Northcott originally asked the council to allow re-striping on one of the town’s two newer tennis courts. But this was met with objections from Brian Drye, who said he represents a group of 36 avid tennis players.

“I’m open to sharing the court,” Drye told the council. But he objected to having the pickleball players lower the tennis net, which the tennis players purchased, by two inches to accommodate pickleball rules. “I’m strongly opposed to moving the net at all,” Drye said, because the constant raising and lowering of the net would damage the integrity of the netting and become a hassle.

Northcott then suggested the alternative of using the older court adjacent to the town ball field. That court has basketball hoops on it and has been abandoned as a tennis court. “The last thing I want to do is upset anybody,” said Northcott.

Pickleball is usually played on a badminton court, with the net at 34 inches, using a perforated plastic baseball similar to a whiffle ball.

photoPickleball is similar to tennis but uses small, hard paddles and perforated plastic balls. The net is also set lower than on a traditional tennis court.

“Why is it called pickleball?” council member Mortee Banasky demanded to know. Northcott replied that the game was named after Pickles, the game founder’s dog, repeating a myth that is published as fact on the USA Pickleball Association’s website. However, that version is incorrect, according to the game’s founders.

Loosely based on badminton, the game now played worldwide was devised by Washington’s popular, long-serving Republican U.S. Congressman and lieutenant governor, the late Joel Pritchard.

In the summer of 1966, he and a couple of friends at the Pritchard’s Bainbridge Island home needed a way to entertain some bored children after the badminton equipment was found wanting. So Pritchard used the faulty badminton equipment to invent a new game.

Pickles was not yet a member of the Pritchard family; he came along two years later. As Pritchard himself put it in an oral history published by the State of Washington in 2000, “…no, the dog was named after the game” because it loved to chase the balls.”

Pritchard’s wife, Joan, a competitive rower and columnist, on July 27, 2007, explained in the Parkersburg. W.V., News and Sentinel how a game serendipitously invented in Washington that’s now taking the world by storm got its name: “The name of the game became Pickle Ball after I said it reminded me of the Pickle Boat crew when oarsmen were chosen from the leftover of other boats.”


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