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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Legislature looks to honor pickleball’s Washington origins as official state sport

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 14, 2022

By Albert James The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – Hawaii has surfing, Texas has rodeo, Minnesota has ice hockey and Washington has … pickleball?

Pickleball’s Washington roots could soon be officially recognized if a bill being considered in the Legislature passes this session. The proposed bill would designate pickleball – a sport that uses paddles, a plastic ball and a badminton court – as Washington’s official state sport. It would join a long list of official state symbols, including the apple as the state fruit, the square dance as the state dance and petrified wood as the state gem.

At a Senate State Government and Elections hearing on Wednesday, sponsor Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, said the bill has garnered a lot of buzz.

“I can’t think of anything that has generated more interest and more fun comments,” Lovick said. “I’ve done more radio interviews over this than anything I’ve ever done.”

According to the USA Pickleball Association, the sport was created on Bainbridge Island in the summer of 1965 by Washington State Rep. Joel Pritchard – who would later go on to represent the state in Congress and serve as Washington’s Lieutenant Governor.

One day, Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell wanted their families to make use of Pritchard’s badminton court but could not find any badminton equipment. They improvised using some ping-pong paddles, a wiffleball and a modified court. Later, they introduced friend Barney McCallum to their activity, and the three men created rules for the new sport.

Members of the public who spoke at the hearing praised the sport for being inclusive and accessible.

“This is not only a sport for the fleet of foot and the professionals,” said Madeline Frayley of Port Orchard. “We now have huge communities that are built around the sport.”

According to a non-partisan analysis of the bill, over 4 million people play pickleball nationwide and 68 nations are part of an international pickleball organization.

Locally, over 180 players have registered for a tournament at Spokane’s Pickleball Playground early next month. The city will also serve as host for USA Pickleball’s Pacific Northwest Regional in early July.

Ling Winters, of Liberty Lake, plays pickleball twice a week and supports the idea of making it the official state sport.

“It’s such a good sport for senior citizens, especially during the winter time,” she said. “It’s a happy place.”

Joyce McSherry, of Spokane Valley, is 85-years-old and occasionally plays with her 67-year-old daughter. To her, pickleball has given her good memories and new friendships.

“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s just fun to play,” she said. “I forget about everything else.”

Jamison Battin just started playing with his wife and three kids. After moving here from California, he’s been looking for activities to do as a family indoors during bad weather.

“As a first time player, we love it,” he said.

However, Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, isn’t quite sold on the legislation. He joked that his position with the Spokane Indians and as the senator for a district with one of the best college basketball teams in the nation puts him in a tough spot.

“It’s very hard to get excited about pickleball as the state sport,” Billig said at a press conference last week. “If somebody wants to put a bill forward to make pickles the official something of the state, I think I can get behind that.”

Former Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro testified that he reached out to friends worldwide to see if pickleball has reached all corners of the world.

“I contacted through some relatives and friends, the folks in Antarctica. They said, ‘Yep, we play pickleball,’ ” Munro said. “One time they took their paddles and ball and went down and played a quick game on the south pole – exactly on the south pole.”

“Washington state is the history of pickleball,” said Frank Chiappone, president of the Seattle Metro Pickleball Association. “And pickleball should be the official state sport of Washington.”

The bill is currently awaiting a vote in the committee, which is expected to take place Friday. If it passes the committee, it will be heard by the full Senate.

S-R reporter Garrett Cabeza contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story cited a bill analysis that had an incorrect number of member nations in an international pickleball organization. 

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