So when did it start and what’s with the pickle name?

Date Published: 
Sept. 15, 2017

Special to the Coastal Point • Vaughn Baker: The Ocean View Crew’s Steve Melofchik gets ready to hit a serve from behind the baseline.Special to the Coastal Point • Vaughn Baker: The Ocean View Crew’s Steve Melofchik gets ready to hit a serve from behind the baseline.This year is the 50th anniversary of the first pickleball court, and the 2017 tournament in Ocean City, Md., celebrated that event. Here are some lines from the poem to honor that event:

It was the year 1967, we all were feeling GroovE…

The hippies created their very own lingo,

The words of which never appeared in bingo,

Hippies had their own symbol, the famous Peace sign,

Which they stole from England, too stoned to self design,

Spent much of their time in flip-flops at 9th Street in the sand,

Listening to great music like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Hello GoodBye, Penny Lane,

Strawberry Fields Forever, All You Need Is Love, all hits main…

The first permanent pickleball court was built, the game itself two years before,

Only the Lord above knows where and why they came up with the pickle score

In 1965, U.S. Rep. Joel Pritchard from the state of Washington and several of his friends invented the game several years before the first formal pickleball court.

The origin of the name of “pickleball” is open to dispute. Pritchard’s wife claimed it came from the term “pickle boat,” the slowest boat in a race. But Barney McCallum, another of the inventors, told author Dick Squires in his 1978 book “The Other Racket Sports” that it was named after Pritchard’s cocker spaniel Pickles, who liked to run down the pickleball and hide it in the bushes.

Since the much-missed Squires was one of my best friends and held the record for more national championships in more racket sports and was a bigger-than-life guy, I will go with his version.

I recently almost had another verification of that version. When a longtime friend, Dr. Robert Nirschl, entered the exam room, he asked me if my knees had finally given way to tennis, and I responded that I was now playing pickleball.

He had told me more than a decade ago that I needed replacements after a lifetime of tennis, so he seemed a little confused. Since he didn’t immediately respond, I asked him if he even had heard of pickleball, and before he even had a chance to respond, I started to tell him about our great game.

He held his hand up to shush me, and said of course he knew all about Pickleball because Congressman Joel Pritchard, the inventor of the game, was one of his first patients. Nirschl’s name is synonymous with tennis-elbow treatment, and he explained he had treated Pritchard for tennis elbow decades ago, at the same time Pritchard was inventing pickleball.

We talked about my medical problems, and then, while we were waiting for his assistant to bring some injections, we talked about pickleball again. I was just about to ask Dr. Nirschl what he might know about Pritchard’s naming the game pickleball when he put what seemed like a 10-foot needle into my body, and my nervous system began to set off alarms screaming at me, “Dive! Dive! We are under attack!”

I will ask him about the name the next time I am in the office, but before they bring out the injections.

I mentioned to Nirschl that I had noted his medical offices are adorned with autographed photographs of famous athletes from his four decades of practice and large cases containing their original team uniform jerseys. I volunteered one of my pickleball T-shirts for a new display case, but he didn’t seem interested. His assistant diplomatically said she thought it was the lack of wall space or something like that.

Sussex County was well-represented at the annual Delaware Senior Olympics, which is one of the most important regional pickleball tournaments. One event, the Men’s Doubles 60-64, almost seemed like a practice session at Fairway Village, with five of the members of the Ocean View Crew — Bob Gaudreau (gold), Dom Travaglini (silver), Charlie Biddle (silver), Steve Melofchik (bronze) and Bob Zimmer (bronze), taking Delaware medals.

Two other members of the Ocean View Crew, Pete Rayner and Bruce Smart, took bronze in the Men’s Doubles 55-59, which was won by Bob O’Malley and Rick Bell. Smart, Bell and local resident Maurice Hechscher are to be congratulated for taking gold in their respective singles competitions.

The women from Sussex County continued to rack up medals as well, in every category, led once again by Marion Lisehora. Special congratulations to Kathy Casey, president of the First State Pickleball Club, for her silver medal in the Women’s Doubles.

Mixed Doubles on the third day of the event featured many of the same people in the winner’s circle. There were simply too many to single out. Bob O’Malley, my cohort in founding the Delmarva Team Pickleball League, pointed out that the team concept seems to be helping our members in competition.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.