Jim Price acquired his love for pickleball late in life, but he’s since become one of the area’s biggest advocates for the up-and-coming sport
In 1995, a couple of pickleball players at 24-Hour Fitness in Bellevue offered Jim Price a spare paddle and asked him to join in a game.
Those players had no idea that their simple act of friendliness would create a pickleball fanatic and one of the growing sport’s strongest local advocates. But that is exactly what happened.
Pickleball is similar to tennis, but also includes elements of badminton and ping-pong. It is played with paddles and a perforated plastic ball, bounced across a badminton-sized court, indoor or outdoor, back and forth over a modified tennis net. Just like tennis, there are singles and doubles matches.
The rules are simple, making the game ideal for beginners. But it can quickly become competitive among skilled players.
Price said his addiction to the sport happened fast — it was love at first serve. From that point on, not only has Price played pickleball several hours a week; he also has spent a tremendous amount of time lobbying to create more court space around the Eastside.
Soon after Price began playing, he said, his gym moved to a new site in Redmond. While the gym was under construction, Price took it upon himself to visit the site with a measuring tape in hand.
According to his calculations, there was plenty of space to add a couple pickleball courts to the new facility, and he gently urged the managers to do so. They initially refused, Price said, so he started a pro-pickleball petition that received 70 signatures.
“I harassed them long enough until they finally gave,” Price said. “They said, ‘OK, we’ll put in one.’ I said, ‘How about two?’”
“We’re still working on that second one,” he said.
Price feels fortunate that his position as managing partner of Appraisal Group of the Northwest, a Bellevue-based real estate appraisal company, gives him the flexibility to not only play, but to take on a leadership role in the local pickleball scene.
“I can fit it into my work schedule being self-employed,” he said. “I really enjoy the people I meet (on the court).”
Price’s company focuses on commercial appraisals. He has worked some high-profile jobs, including being part of a team that appraised the hotels, cabins, and stage coaches at Yellowstone National Park in 1979, when it was acquired by the National Park Service.
Price travels around the world for work and pleasure and always finds a way to fit his beloved sport into his schedule, even if it means he needs to improvise. For example, he remembers once using bamboo poles to make pickleball lines on an abandoned tennis court.
Currently, the 72-year-old plays three days a week, often against much younger people.
“I hold my own pretty well,” he said. “It’s more about learning the tricks and the strategies of the game.”
Price notes that the game is catching on in different parts of the country and around the world, thanks to the condensed size of the court.
“It uses a third of the space of a tennis court, yet you get plenty of exercise,” he said. The pickleball court size, 20 feet by 44 feet, also makes it more cost-effective to install.
Price also is vice president of Newcastle Trails, a volunteer-led organization dedicated to maintaining and expanding the city’s park system. His wife, Peggy, volunteers by building the trails. Thanks to this group, Price is proud to say that Newcastle now boasts two pickleball courts.
In addition to advocating for new courts, Price also maintains a roster of about 130 avid pickleball players who get together on a regular basis for tournaments and events. He also organizes an Eastside pickleball group online, and has met many players from around the world who work and live on the Eastside.
Price credits his own youthfulness to a lifelong dedication to fitness. In addition to working out at gyms, he cycles and hikes. But pickleball has been his fountain of youth.
Former tennis players often pick up pickleball later in life, he said. The smaller court puts less stress on the aging body. But that’s not to say that pickleball attracts only older people or those looking for leisurely sport. His age bracket, for example, can be wickedly competitive.
“Pickleball keeps you sharper and more limber,” Price said. “You use all of your muscles playing the game. You win, you lose. People usually have a pretty good attitude about it.”
The History of Pickleball
By Shawna De La Rosa and Natalie DeFord
According to the USA Pickleball Association, the sport was started in Washington by U.S. Congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman William Bell in 1965.
One summer day, at Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island, the men found themselves bored and looking for something to do. They had an old badminton court but no other equipment for that sport, so they improvised with ping-pong paddles and a plastic ball.
Over time, they created and modified their own rules and played the game with friends and family.
Legend says the game was named after Pritchard’s family dog, Pickles, but that myth was debunked on several occasions by Pritchard and other members of his family. Pritchard’s wife, Joan, a competitive rower, said the name of the sport was inspired by the crew term “pickle boat,” which was the slowest boat on the water. Pickles the dog came along a couple of years after the sport was invented.
The first commercial activity for the sport beyond a neighborhood game was when Pickle-Ball, Inc. was founded in 1972. Now it is run in conjunction with PickleballCentral, since the parent company acquired it last August. Together, PickleballCentral/Pickle-Ball, Inc., located in Kent, is one of the state’s fastest-growing companies.
Currently, the game is exploding in popularity and played by more than 2 million people in the United States. There are even paid professional players and large sponsored national tournaments. The sport has begun to grow internationally as well. Many of the world’s top pickleball champions reside here in the Puget Sound, including many of the 2016 USA Pickleball Association Nationals medal winners.
Learn more about the sport and its history at usapa.org.
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of 425 Business.