Each Tuesday afternoon at the town tennis courts, a strange cadre of people, carrying odd racquets and yellow whiffle balls, take to the playing surface.
It is not the U.S. Open.
It is not tennis.
The people play “Pickleball” each Tuesday evening from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and they’re looking for more converts to the sport.
It is played with what looks like an oversized table-tennis paddle, on a shortened court. It is a doubles-only format, at least under the canopy of trees in Mammoth, and it looks like a load of fun.
So far, there are nine to 11 people who play every week, at least one pair of Arizonans who call themselves “Heat Birds” who have been coming to Mammoth for years.
The pickleballers have been at this for the past three years and their season is just warming up.
Visitors and beginners are welcome.
Originally invented as a backyard pastime, pickleball is now an organized sport represented by national and international governing bodies.
Since its inception in 1965, pickleball has spread across the United States and into Canada. It is now beginning to spread around the world.
The United States Pickleball Association estimates there are more than 100,000 active pickleball players in the country alone.
The game started during the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island at the home of Congressman Joel Pritchard of Washington State.
He and two of his friends, William Bell and Barney McCallum, returned from golf and found their families bored one Saturday afternoon. They attempted to set up badminton but no one could find the shuttlecock.
They improvised with a whiffle ball, lowered the badminton net, and fabricated paddles of plywood from a nearby shed.
The unusual name of the game originated with Joan Pritchard, who said it reminded her of the “Pickle Boat” in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.
But the popular story told today is that it was named after the family dog.
As the story is told, the whiffle ball belonged to the dog.
Whenever an errant shot happened, “Pickles” would run and try to get the ball and hide it. They named the game for their dog’s ball, “Pickles’ Ball,” then it became Pickleball. It’s a good story, but the truth is the Pritchard family didn’t get the dog until 1967.
Actually, the dog was named after the sport.