Journalism Showcase: Sunday’s SportsCenter “SC Featured” Examines Pickleball’s Origins
ESPN producer Jon Fish previews his feature that explains how and why pickleball has become a really big deal as both a recreational and pro sport
It’s been described as the fastest-growing sport in America. People are playing pickleball everywhere, with courts springing up in towns and cities across the country.
But where did pickleball originate? How did it start, and where? And why are so many people playing it?
Those are some of the questions answered in a new SportsCenter “SC Featured” segment debuting Sunday. Producer Jon Fish and reporter Gene Wojciechowski traveled America to get pickleball perspective.
“So, how do you tell a story of a sport?” Fish said. “Multiple other entities have gotten into what’s going on with pickleball now, but the most important thing to me is how did this happen? What’s the origin story?”
He learned that pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Wash., near Seattle. And then he remembered that Jason Jobes, a camera operator he’s friends with and has worked with often, lives on Bainbridge. When he called Jobes, he was amazed to learn that Jobes had played the sport his entire life. He quickly agreed to help Fish with the story.
Fish and Wojciechowski went to Bainbridge Island and to the spot where pickleball was born.
“You can’t shoot hoops on the peach basket that Naismith hung up,” he said. “But when you go to Bainbridge Island, you come off this unpaved road in the middle of the woods, and there it is – Court 1.
“And I had that moment like I’m at the origin of the sport. And they haven’t touched it. It looks like it looked when they invented the game in 1965. For me, as a producer, to find something as it was is just mind-blowing. To go to a place that’s the essence of a sport is incredible.”
Viewers also will hear from 15-year-old Anna Leigh Waters, the No. 1 ranked female pickleball player; Tom Dundon, owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, who also owns the PPA – Pro Pickleball Association; and Steve Kuhn, owner of Major League Pickleball.
“We found out that pickleball has a cool backstory of why it was invented,” Fish said. “And the game means a lot to the people that invented it and the people who play it now.”
And that includes Fish.
“My wife bought me pickleball paddles and balls for my birthday,” he said.
“One Nation Under Pickleball” will premier in the 8 a.m. ET edition of SportsCenter on Sunday, Aug. 21, will re-air in other editions on Sunday and in the ensuing days.
ABC7 Los Angeles recently produced the segment below about the growth of pickleball.