MILL CREEK, Wash. - A day after Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill naming pickleball as Washington State’s official sport, we met with the players who have been advocating for this moment since last summer.
"I get such joy from playing," said Kate Van Gent, USA Pickleball Ambassador. "I made so many new friends from playing, and I want to share that with other people."
Van Gent said she picked up a paddle for the first time the summer of 2020 when she joined a women’s league in her neighborhood.
"I had no familiarity with pickleball at the time. In fact, I was a little intimidated to join," said Van Gent who said the group of women is all beginners and learned how to play together.
The game itself was invented on Bainbridge Island in 1965. Many describe it as a mixture of tennis, badminton and ping pong.
"The sport tends to be infectious, and you want to share the empowerment, the joy, the friendship and new community bonds. It’s amazing what it does for people," said Van Gent. "I lost 12 pounds in two months, my heart rate went down to normal, my blood pressure went back to normal. The health benefits for me were just phenomenal. I was sold."
Van Gent said by coincidence, she ran into State Senator John Lovick (D) WA-District 44. "He said, did you say pickle ball, and I said yeah," said Van Gent.
"Nine months ago, a good friend of mine, Chuck Wright, we were out walking one day, and he asked me if we had a state sport and I said, ‘not to my knowledge.’ He said we should make pickleball a state sport," said State Sen. Lovick who sponsored the bill. "I don’t know of a bill that I’ve sponsored yet that has generated so much fun, so much attention, it’s just so much goodwill in our community. We have a lot of great teams here. The Zags, the Seahawks but pickleball is the official state sport."
Wright said his love of pickleball started decades ago, and he even installed a court at his home in Mill Creek when he moved there in the early 1990s.
"My kids then were in high school. They would contact their friends, and they’d have tournaments. Four, five hour tournaments and I said, ‘oh wow, that’s really good.’ It gets me involved with my kids and at that time I was playing too," said Wright. "To my pleasant surprise, I found out that we didn’t have [a state sport]. I said, ‘John, why don’t we have pickle ball because pickleball is born in Washington. Pickleball is Washington and Washington is Pickleball."
Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the U.S. and last year there were nearly five million players across the country, according to USA Pickleball Association. The association attributes the sports rapid growth to its popularity within community centers, PE classes, YMCA facilities and retirement communities.
State Sen. Lovick and local players are now working to grow youth programming, build designated pickleball courts and even grow pickleball tourism in the state.
The CEO of USA Pickleball Stu Upson was on Bainbridge Island for the signing of the bill. Upson shared there are plans to bring pickleball to the Olympics with hopes of having it as an exhibition sport in the 2028 games.
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