FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks North Star Borough Parks and Recreation department has opened two courts for a popular sport whose name sounds like an appetizer served at a dinner party.
Pickleball is a doubles racket sport that blends badminton, tennis and table tennis. The borough installed a pair of pickleball courts two weeks ago on an outdoor rink at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Pickleball has been around for nearly 50 years. According to the USA Pickleball Association website, the sport is played on a badminton court with the net lowered to 34 inches at the center. It uses a perforated plastic baseball, similar to a whiffle ball, and wood or composite paddles with large rectangular heads.
The sport, according to the USAPA, is easy for beginners to learn and can still be fast-paced and competitive for experienced players.
Pickleball is not new to Fairbanks, as there is the Fairbanks Pickleball Club and the Alaska International Senior Games in August will include pickleball competition at the Alaska Club South. The University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Student Recreation Center also has courts that can be set up for pickleball.
The borough, though, was minus a facility. That changed after Steve Taylor, parks and recreation project coordinator, recently received calls from some pickleball players.
“There’s a few avid players in town and they were calling us about where to play,” Taylor said Tuesday by phone. “We also got a few calls from some snowbirders who were in town from Arizona asking where they could play.
“We were able to find some portable nets, and it was pretty straightforward for us to set them up in the rink and to stripe the courts,” Taylor added.
The borough and the Fairbanks Pickle Club are offering a free pickleball clinic from 2-4 p.m. Saturday at the Dipper’s outdoor rinks. Equipment can be rented for no charge inside the arena, but participants are asked to leave an ID.
“It’s a short summer and whatever we can do to broaden the activities and amenities that we offer people is important,” Taylor said. “We had a rink that was underutilized in the summer and it seemed like a good fit for us.”
The sport was invented in summer 1965 by U.S. Rep. Joel Pritchard (R) and Bill Bell, a businessman, at Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island, Wash.
According to the USAPA, Pritchard and Taylor returned from a golf outing to find their families sitting around with nothing to do. Pritchard’s property had an old badminton court, so Bell and he grabbed badminton equipment but they couldn’t find a full set of rackets.
They improvised by cutting shafts off the damaged rackets and finding a perforated plastic ball. The rackets didn’t work well, so they created four wood paddles.
The net was placed at the badminton height of 60 inches and they volleyed the ball over it. They later played on asphalt after discovering the ball bounced better. The net also was lowered to 36 inches.
Barney McCallum, a friend of Pritchard and Bell, was introduced to the sport the following weekend at Pritchard’s home. The trio created rules that day that are similar to badminton regulations.
The sport got its name from the Pritchards’ cocker spaniel, Pickles. Whenever a ball would come his way, he would take it and run off with it.
Two years later, the first permanent pickleball court was constructed in Pritchard’s backyard. In 1976, the first pickleball tournament in the world was played at the South Center Athletic Club in nearby Tukwila, Wash.
The USAPA estimates more than 100,000 pickleball players around the nation. The sport also has an international governing body, the World Pickleball Federation.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at