It was February 6, 2008, when Pat and Suzi Zwolenski of Tampa, Florida were first introduced to the world’s fastest growing sport. They were watching Good Day Tampa Bay, where reporter Charlie Belcher was doing live coverage of a group of people in Sun City Center playing a game called Pickleball. This reminded Pat of a game called Paddle Tennis he had played in St. Augustine when he was in the Florida National Guard. He would soon learn that this sport was much more popular, and for he and Suzi, much more addictive. Pat called the number displayed on the screen at the conclusion of the program. It took a few calls to find courts near his home, but Renee Glassman finally invited them to play with our MeadowPoint group in Wesley Chapel, Fl.
Pat told us, when he returned home from playing that first night “I researched Pickleball on line until 2:00 in the morning and then gave Suzi printouts and a spreadsheet describing the different types of paddles and told her to pick one out.” And it didn’t stop there. To tell you what a great job they have done promoting our game since that first day would keep you reading for weeks, so you’ll only get the very condensed version.
Shortly after learning the game and buying their paddles they recruited two new players for our MeadowPoint group. Pat got a friend of his from his Scouting days, Steve Long, to come out with his good friend Mary Jones. Steve didn’t want to play because he was sick, but after watching for a little while, he started playing and now both of them play regularly with the group. Phil and Marianne Marty bought six new paddles before they even played the game!! They wanted four extra paddles to leave with their family when they visited them in Zambia this summer. Pat, a private investigator, has gotten one of his clients to promise to come out and play with our group when Suzi and he return from Washington.
That’s the State of Washington, folks……….where Pickleball was invented by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum; where the very first Pickleball court was built, and where Pickles the dog once lived!!
Pat and Suzi reside in Bellingham, Washington every year from June through September to be with their son and daughter-in-law. This year would certainly be different. They arrived with extra paddles in hand and began the search for a place to play. They found Pickleball lines on the tennis court at their complex, but where were the players? They left notes on all the mail boxes in the complex trying to encourage people to play. One neighbor, Anne Kauffman, a 12-year Pickleball player was excited to find someone to play with and brought along her friend Jim Trowbridge. Another neighbor, Jack Kaufman, no relation to Anne, joined the group and so did Debbie Zmistowski and her husband Eric Fisher, friends of Pat and Suzi’s son and daughter-in-law. At their church worship band barbeque, they put on a Pickleball demonstration and perked the interest of five more potential players. Pat finally tracked down a neighbor, Rob Gray, up the street who had a Pickleball court in his back yard, and got him out to play with the group. Rob is a PE teacher at a middle school in Bellingham and teaches Pickleball to his classes. Pat and Suzi went to the local YMCA where they also found another player for their group, Steve Rothenberg. Steve and a partner recently placed second in a tournament in Canada. In all they say they’ve picked up about fifteen players from their recruiting efforts and from people walking in the neighborhood while they are playing. They plan on getting some of the tennis players to start after their season ends. Hopefully, this group will continue once Pat and Suzi return to Florida, so they will have a group to play with when they return to Bellingham next summer.
On their way to a Garrison Keillor concert in Seattle, they visited Fran Myer, Public Affairs Officer for USAPA and owner of Pickleball Stuff to purchase a new paddle since they had sold one of theirs to their neighbor. Before leaving they also purchased official “Pickle Pins” to welcome each new person they introduce to the game. Later, needing to order wraps and other equipment, Pat got to talk Pickleball with Mark Friedenberg, owner of Pro-Lite and the President of USAPA.
Being an investigator, Pat wanted to know more about the history of this sport, and went in search of the original Pickleball court built in the backyard of Joel and Joan Pritchard. Joel Pritchard passed away in 1997, as has his friend and co-inventor Bill Bell. Pat was able to locate Joel’s wife, Joan Pritchard, living in Ohio, and spoke with both Joan and Barney McCallum, the last remaining architect of Pickleball. Both shared their stories of how the courts were built, how they made the first wooden paddles and, of course, the story of Pickles. We are sorry to report that Pickles was taken shortly after Joel died. Pickles fell off the family porch in Ohio and broke his leg. While being attended to by the Vet, Pickles developed a blood clot and had to be put to sleep. Pickles was cremated and his ashes are somewhere in Ohio. Joan later sent Pat and Suzi the picture of Pickles that you see in this article. And yes, they found the original Pickleball Court, built behind the Pritchard’s summer home on Bainbridge Island. These pictures of Pat and Suzi and their Cocker Spaniel Trooper on those same courts, as they look today.
And here is a link to an article written by Joan Pritchard that was featured in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel on June 27th, 2008. httpp://www.newsandsentinel.com/page/content.detail/id/507610.html?nav=5055l.com/page/content.detail/id/507610.html?nav=5055el.com/page/content.detail/id/507610.html?nav=5055
It's great to have Pat and Suzi back home in Florida. As they continue on their journey for new players, the last thing that Pat told me was…..”We carry blue painter’s tape in our bag and a rope marked off with 7’-15’-10’ lengths so we can quickly line a tennis court and get a game started anywhere we go.”