Bob Dunning: Unravelling the mystery of pickleball

By Bob Dunning

If you were with me yesterday, I was discussing the Paddle Battle for court space going on in our town between folks who love pickleball and those who love tennis.

Truth be told, however, there is some crossover between these sports with compelling evidence that talented biathletes actually play both sports, but not at the same time. In other words, you are not allowed to play pickleball with a tennis racket.

Given that pickleball was invented several centuries after tennis, it’s fair to say that many tennis players in recent years have switched to pickleball, but no pickleball player in recorded history has switched to tennis.

For those who follow trends, the movement is all toward pickleball as tennis participation throughout the United States continues its precipitous decline. Then again, Wimbledon has yet to grace its hallowed grounds with a pickleball court and likely never will.

Whether or not the city of Davis’ switch to district elections will help to decide the proper ratio of pickleball courts to tennis courts in town remains to be seen, but it can’t hurt.

As someone who has played a fair amount of tennis in Davis and Woodland and as far away as Esparto, I have in recent years frequently received calls from former tennis colleagues who ask excitedly, “Have you tried pickleball?”

Actually, I did try it once four or five years ago at a remote resort in Northern Idaho, where players were forced to share the concrete courts with the lodge’s large barbecue pit where that evening’s tri-tip dinner was being prepared.

As I recall, there were about eight “players” on the court at the same time, half of them grown up and half of them under the age of 10, plus a golden retriever who kept running off with the plastic pickleball.

Those who were old enough played with a paddle in one hand and an adult beverage in the other and it seemed as if no one was keeping score.

All I remember is that the net had seen better days and the ball didn’t bounce nearly as high as a tennis ball does.

The current controversy in town made me realize there’s a lot about pickleball that I don’t understand.

As it turns out, according to the official USA Pickleball Association, “Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle,” and not that far from Northern Idaho, where I was introduced to the game.

“Three dads — Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum — are credited for creating the game. According to Barney McCallum, the game was officially named after the Pritchards’ dog Pickles, who would chase the ball and run off with it.”

Apparently, having a dog nearby is a requirement of the game, which makes me think maybe they should be converting the East Davis dog park to pickleball courts instead of using our unused tennis courts.

“The name ‘pickleball’ is one word and only capitalized at the beginning of a sentence, in a title, or as part of a proper name.”

As in, “I’d like you to play pickleball with my friend, Priscilla Pickleball.”

According to the official USAPA rulebook, “There are no medical timeouts for muscle cramping unless deemed necessary by the on-site medical team or the tournament director,” who will presumably bill Medicare for their services.

“If blood is present, play may not resume until the bleeding has been controlled and any blood on clothing and the court has been cleaned up.”

Blood on the court? Is pickleball a contact sport? Will the Davis City Council investigate this dangerous activity before voting to add more courts?

Until the dust settles, it might be best to stick to playing badminton in the backyard, where blood on the court is rare.

— Reach Bob Dunning at