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The History of Pickleball on Camano Island

A photo of some of the early adopters to pickleball on Camano.  Seen here in this 2016 photo: Al Womac (Pickleball Ambassador) who gave a clinic, with Beau Bailey, Davie Beard, Linda Hadley, Gordy Holmes and others. Back then they still used the tennis nets.

The sport of pickleball dates back to 1965. It began as a sort of amalgam of badminton, tennis, and ping pong. It originated in Washington state on Bainbridge Island, when two guys were looking for something to do one weekend. One of them had an old badminton court with a net on his property. However, unable to find a set of badminton rackets, the two men improvised, using the badminton net, ping-pong paddles they had laying around, and a perforated plastic ball used for wiffle ball.


A third buddy of theirs joined them the following weekend and suggested they lower the height of the net from 60 inches down to 36 inches, essentially the same height it is today. Then they created rules. Little could they imagine that in their backyard they had just launched a brand new sport – one that would take five long decades to take off but which would by 2019 become the fastest growing sport in the USA.


But how did the sport get its unusual name? It depends on who you ask. The wife of one of the three men said she came up with the name Pickleball because the combination of different sports reminded her of “the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.” But according to one of the men, they named the game after the dog of one of the men, whose name was Pickles.


Whatever the true origin of the name, after a very slow and modest start, eventually this sport exploded just within the past five years. As of 2023, there were an estimated 36.5 million pickleball players in the United States, according to the Association of Pickleball Professionals. Pickleball participation has grown an average of 223.5% over the last 3 years. In 2023 alone, participation grew by 52% over the previous year.


But what about Camano Island? How, when, and why did it take off here? You have to go back to 2015 and 2016, when a small group of people including Gordy and Eva Holmes, Beau Bailey, Cecilia “CeCe” Fortino, Diane O’Neill, Meg and Ron LoDolce, Barb and Mo Parabec, and Millie and Darrell Hull started playing informally on the island’s only public tennis courts. They started inviting some of their friends to join them, and within a few months, they had assembled a group of 15 regular players. They soon started teaching each other tips and strategies. Within a year, their membership had grown to 55 people.


Gordy Holmes was one of the initial people who created a formal Camano Pickleball Association in 2017. Every year since, the membership has steadily grown. By 2019, they had 120 members. By 2022 it was up to 200. In 2023, membership topped 300. The CSPA believes its membership will likely reach 400 in 2024.


Gordy shared that before the sport exploded in the Pacific Northwest, it first caught on in warmer, sunnier locales like California and Arizona, where many retirees were playing the sport as a way to socialize and stay fit. And because many of these people returned north in the summertime, they brought their love of pickleball with them. That was a major reason why it took hold here on Camano, where many people go back and forth between our region and the southwest, depending on the time of year.


A key milestone in the expansion of the CSPA occurred in 2021, when Bob Dolan (now the CSPA club president) spearheaded the efforts to get the club approved as a 501c3 non-profit organization. This new status was a game changer for the growth of the organization as it helped to attract funding, sponsorships, and partnerships with local organizations like Coastal Community Bank, the City of Stanwood, the Camano Plaza, the YMCA, and others.


As the club grew, it placed an increasing emphasis on community involvement and giving. In recent years, the CSPA has donated equipment and provided lessons to students at Stanwood middle schools and at the high school level. It has partnered with the YMCA to provide free lessons to its members. The CSPA has held fundraising events for the Stanwood Food Bank, Community Resource Center, and the Stanwood YMCA. And this fall it will host a benefit tournament for regional firefighters. 

Two early members of the CSPA who had a huge impact on our club’s growth were Barb and Mo Parabec. In addition to being the tournament directors for many events, they also helped launch the club’s emphasis on teaching and conducting clinics.


Speaking of tournaments, in 2017, the CSPA held its very first competitive tournament, the Camano Cup, organized and led by Barb and Mo. Since its initial launch, the Camano Cup has grown to a popular regional event hosting nearly 250 competitors and attracting players from all over Washington state. In time, the club has continually added more opportunities for its members to compete, including a Memorial Day Ladder, the Summer Solstice tournament, The Chelan Fall Classic, the Labor Day King & Queen of the Court, and more. None of these events would have been possible without the active support of dozens of volunteers working tirelessly at each of these events.


In fact, the strength of the CSPA has always been the generosity and spirit of volunteerism of its members. And thanks to so many selfless people, the organization has been able to continually improve the facilities, from adding the roll-away nets to installing court windscreens to purchasing a ball machine, and more. As far back as 2018, the club began discussions with the City of Stanwood to build courts in Stanwood, and their efforts became a reality when in 2023 Stanwood installed two new dedicated pickleball courts at Heritage Park.


The club has ambitious goals to expand the number of courts at Heritage Park and is advocating for an eventual expansion of courts on Camano, with a goal of perhaps someday having some covered courts on Camano. (But that’s not certain yet and is most likely a few years away, if it happens.)


The Camano – Stanwood Pickleball Association’s membership continues to grow year after year. A lot has changed since its humble beginnings in 2015. But one thing has been constant over the past nine years, the mission of the club: Sharing the love and fun of pickleball with our community through competitive and recreational play, modeling an attitude of generosity, sportsmanship, camaraderie, and respect for all.


I’d say it has achieved this mission and then some! See you on the courts!

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