The home of pickleball finally has a home, and this past weekend was a time to celebrate.
The Founders Courts at Battle Point Park have been in use for a little less than a year, but with the eagerly anticipated return of the Founders Tournament the new home of pickleball on Bainbridge Island at last got the rousing, large-scale introduction it deserves.
The sport has come a long way from its humble beginnings at the Pleasant Beach summer home of Joel Pritchard, then a statehouse representative, in 1965. Having 400 participants from not just the Puget Sound region, but all around the West Coast and Hawaii, making the trek up to BI, shows pickleball is quickly spreading throughout the Americas. The inaugural 2019 tournament had players from 14 states and two Canadian provinces.
“For us, it was a huge success,” said Brianna Kosowitz, executive director of the BI Historical Museum, which puts on the tournament as a fundraiser. Pickleball is Great, run by pickleball enthusiast Mike Hoxie, organized the tournament.
The Founders Tournament’s history is short, but each event thus far has had a special attached meaning. The first tournament was fortunate to have its last-living co-creator, Barney McCallum, in attendance and players had the chance to meet him, get an autograph or a photo with him. He passed away just a few months later at age 93.
In contrast with that event, which took place on converted tennis courts at Bainbridge High School, this year’s version was played on courts built specifically for the sport. “The courts were so gorgeous because of the effort put forth by the community and the local pickleball club who helped make the courts come to life,” Kosowitz said.
The four-day event, which featured a wooden paddle classic, mixed doubles, and men’s and women’s doubles tournaments, did have to battle some of the elements. A couple of days reached 90 degrees on BI, and there was some wildfire smoke in the air, though it never reached unhealthy levels for people outside of sensitive groups.
The tournament had over 200 volunteers, most of whom were pickleball players from Bainbridge, on hand for support. They made sure there was plenty of water available, and there were misting tents around the grounds. Hand sanitizer was also readily available as they worked to ensure COVID-19 boundaries and guidelines were respected, and players were comfortable.
“We just tried really hard to caution everyone to be aware of how they were feeling,” Kosowitz said.
The conditions didn’t put too much of a damper on the tournament. Whether playing or watching, participants were constantly engaged, providing cheers for their friends and fellow competitors and some oohs and aahs for outstanding hits and rallies.
It was yet another chapter for a little sport that has made a long march to international prominence, with BI serving as a mecca for this still fast-growing game.
“People who are plugged into pickleball are energized to play where pickleball was born,” Kosowitz said. “That’s a really special thing for people who are into it.”