On Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, Barney McCallum was known as a handyman. So two of his neighbors, Joel Pritchard and William Bell, asked him to help refine a game they invented in 1965 as a diversion for bored children. The game was akin to tennis, but with a smaller court, wooden paddles and a plastic ball. Mr. McCallum used his bandsaw to make better paddles for what came to be known as pickleball. He later headed a company that made pickleball equipment.
Mr. McCallum, an envelope printer by trade and the last survivor among the three friends, died Nov. 18 at his home in Seattle. He was 93.
To his surprise, pickleball became a fast-growing sport world-wide. The underhand serve is easy to learn. Little arm strength is required. Finesse in aiming the ball can make up for a lack of speed.
Long popular with people over 60, pickleball now attracts younger players as well. Its name remains a source of confusion. Many articles say it was named after Pickles, a dog owned by the Pritchards. But Frank Pritchard, a son of Joel Pritchard, said the dog was named after the game. He said his mother, Joan Pritchard, derived the name from “pickle boat,” a term that can refer to the slowest boat in a race.
About 3.3 million people in the U.S. played pickleball in 2018, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, up from 2.5 million in 2014. There were about 17.8 million tennis players in 2018, a total that has been roughly level in recent years.
David Brace McCallum, known as Barney, was born Sept. 3, 1926. He grew up in Davenport, Wash., where his father was a lawyer. The family spent summers at a vacation home on Bainbridge Island. During World War II, Barney McCallum served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific. He later earned a business degree at the University of Washington.Early in his career, he was an envelope salesman. He began printing letterhead and business cards and branched into making envelopes designed to be tucked into catalogs to facilitate mail orders. He designed some of the equipment used to make those envelopes.
His pickleball equipment firm was called Pickle-ball Inc. It initially sold boxed sets of four paddles along with plastic balls and a net for $29.95. Today a single paddle typically retails for between about $20 and $150. Pickleball rules evolved through “a series of arguments as to what was right and what was wrong,” Mr. McCallum said in a 2017 oral history
recorded by the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum. “But no one said, ’This is no fun.’”
In creating the first paddles, he decided they should be “bigger than a ping-pong paddle but not too big.” Pickle-ball Inc. never became a big moneymaker. “None of us were in this for money,” Mr. McCallum said.
The family sold the business three years ago. Mr. McCallum’s wife, the former Carol Sylliaasen, died in 2011. He is survived by three children and two grandchildren.
Joel Pritchard is often called the father of pickleball, said his son, Frank Pritchard, but he was diverted by other interests, including politics. A Republican, he served in the U.S. Congress in the 1970s and 1980s and later was lieutenant governor of Washington state. As for pickleball, “Barney really was the guy that drove it,” said Frank Pritchard. “My view is that he should get most of the credit.”