BAINBRIDGE ISLAND — Washington Governor Jay Inslee sat at a table set up on the world’s first ever pickleball court, with John Lovick and Kate Van Gent standing beside him. As he scribbled his signature on the paper in front of him Inslee shouted, “Everybody plays!”
And just like that, the Snohomish County-led effort to make pickleball Washington’s state sport was complete.
Pickleball, the tennis-like sport played with wooden paddles and a plastic ball, became Washington’s official state sport when Inslee signed SB5615 into law during a ceremony held Monday afternoon at the Bainbridge Island home where the sport was invented.
“Let me allude to some of the founding language that started our nation’s history,” Inslee said during a quip-filled speech prior to signing the bill. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, amongst those rights being the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of pickleball. Hail this sport, sing its praises!
“London can have Wimbledon, Rome can have the Coliseum,” Inslee added. “We have the epicenter of the sporting world today, the pickleball court where it all started on Bainbridge Island.”
Pickleball’s origins are rooted in the state. Former Washington Lieutenant Governor Joel Pritchard, along with his friends Barney McCallum and Bill Bell, invented the sport in 1965 when they were trying to find a way to occupy their kids. Monday’s signing took place on the original pickleball court, which is located at Pritchard’s former home.
The bill put forward by Lovick, a state senator from Mill Creek, was approved by an overwhelming majority. The bill passed the senate 46-1 with two excused on Feb. 2. Then it passed the house of representatives 83-15 on March 4, just squeaking in before the deadline for bills to be voted on during this year’s legislative session.
“My favorite story about pickleball,” Lovick said during the ceremony, which also included USA Pickleball CEO Stu Upson. “Last week I was getting ready to head to Olympia to pick up a few things, and I’ve been sending so many messages about pickleball that when I typed into my phone, ‘Pick up items,’ believe it or not my phone did autocorrect and changed ‘pick up’ to ‘pickleball.’ Go figure.”
The push to make pickleball the official state sport was born and bred in Snohomish County. Chuck Wright, Lovick’s friend and neighbor, put forth the idea last July in a column in the Mill Creek Beacon. Lovick took up the cause, and a chance encounter between Lovick and fellow Mill Creek resident Van Gent resulted in Van Gent becoming the driving force behind the push.
“This is absolutely incredible,” said Lovick, who along with Inslee signed several pickleball paddles to commemorate the moment. “Seven months ago my dear friend Chuck Wright — standing right here — and I were out walking, and he said, ‘John, do we have a state sport?’ Not to my knowledge. He said, ‘We should make pickleball the state sport.’ We did a few things, we ran across Kate Van Gent sitting over here who brought a few people together, and here we are.”
While the atmosphere at the ceremony was light-hearted, adopting pickleball as the state sport is expected to have a positive financial impact. Pickleball, which is played on a smaller court than a tennis court, is a sport that can be played by all ages. Inslee also noted that pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the nation, and by making it the official state sport Washington is setting itself up as a future pickleball hub.
“This is a great day for our state,” Van Gent said during the ceremony. “In addition to honoring the legacy of pickleball’s founders Bill Bell, Barney McCallum and Joel Pritchard, SB5616 has made mental and physical health a priority. This bill will encourage the construction of pickleball facilities on par with those in states such as Arizona and Florida and attract tourists eager to visit the birthplace of pickleball.
“The sponsor of this bill, Sen. John Lovick, has said, ‘We can choose to live in a cave or a cocoon.’ By making pickleball the official state sport, our government has chosen cocoon, and Washingtonians can emerge refreshed and revitalized.”