Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Joel M. Pritchard


BORN:  May 5, 1925 in Seattle, Washington
DIED:  October 9, 1997 at age 72

Queen Anne High School
Seattle, Washington

Attended from 1946 - 1947
Marietta College
Marietta, Ohio

Joel served in the U.S. Army.  He was drafted in 1943, served during World War II and was discharged in 1946 with the final rank of Sergeant.  

Joel Pritchard is the inventor and “Father of Pickleball.” In 1965, Joel was at his summer home on Bainbridge Island, Washington. He and his friend Bill Bell had returned from playing golf to find their families sitting around complaining that there was nothing to do. Joel replied that when he was a youngster, they would go make up games to play. His son Frank said, “Okay, why don’t you go make up a game?” After surveying their backyard badminton court and rounding up some broken paddles, racquets, and a whiffle-type ball, they had the beginnings of what would eventually become the sport of pickleball. A short time later, Joel went up to the workshop at the back of the property and started fashioning paddles out of plywood. Since Bill Bell and his family were staying on the property, Bill and Joel began the process of working on the game together. Frank thinks it was that same day that his father said, “You know who we need? We need Barney.” Barney McCallum lived a few doors down from the Pritchards on Bainbridge Island. So they called him and he came down. From the beginning, the three of them worked on it together. That’s how it started. They decided that this game had so much potential that they needed to formalize it and make it a real competitive sport and set down some rules. In creating the first set of rules, they drew heavily on badminton rules. The original purpose was to provide a sport for the entire family. On February 13, 1968, articles for Pickle Ball, Inc. were filed by Joel and several others. This new corporation was “to develop the game of Pickle Ball and to sell and promote said game in a lawful manner.”

The first pickleball court on Bainbridge Island, Washington

There is debate about how “pickleball” got its name. According to Joel’s son Frank Pritchard, the name Pickleball was created by his mother Joan (pronounced Jo-Anne). Her alma mater, Marietta College, had an active rowing program and she was a fan. When she came to Seattle after marrying Joel, she followed the University of Washington’s rowing program. Evidently, they had a “Pickle boat” that was made up of oarsmen that didn’t make the first or second boat. Joan thought that since their game was made up of different aspects of other games, "Pickle Ball" would be an appropriate name. Many have given credit to their dog Pickles for inspiring the game’s name, but Frank says that the dog joined the family in 1966 and was actually named after the game.

Joel was the 14th Lieutenant Governor of Washington from January 11, 1989 – January 15, 1997.  Prior to that, he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 12 years and a member of the Washington Senate for four years. He was also a member of the Washington House of Representatives from the 36th district for four years.  

Joel Pritchard (R) pictured with Dan Evans, 16th Governor of Washington State 

Joel was very athletic.  He played team sports from grade school on and remained physically active throughout his life.  He played on the football, basketball and tennis teams all through high school.  He was an excellent swimmer and at one point was a lifeguard.  He was the quarterback for Queen Anne High School’s football team and a running back for the Marietta College football team.  As an adult, he continued with tennis, badminton, squash and skiing.  He was an enthusiastic mountain climber and climbed all the major peaks in Washington.  He was also a very competent pickleball player.  Despite a long list of weighty accomplishments as a politician, pickleball remained at the top of his list.  Joel’s daughter Peggy Pritchard-Olson recalls what he said at a party in his honor just before he died in 1997.  “He said that out of all the things he’d done in his life, he was most proud of that game.  It’s made such a lasting impression on so many people.  It’s made people healthy and happy.”

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