Play Ball: the history of certain games

Published 5:24 pm Tuesday, August 23, 2022

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This past Sunday morning, while enjoying the day’s first cup of coffee, I stumbled across a story on ESPN Sports Center about how Pickleball was born.

Personally, I don’t indulge in the sport – it looks more like a cross between tennis and ping pong – but I do have a few friends who play and seem to enjoy it.

The Sports Center story revealed that the game was founded in 1965 near Seattle, Washington by two friends who wanted something for their kids to do. Using ping pong paddles, a ball similar to a Whiffle Ball but a tad smaller, and a badminton net, Pickleball was born. It is now hailed as the fastest growing sport in America, complete with tournaments for amateurs and even a professional circuit backed by Tom Dundon, the owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.

But what the story failed to address is how Pickleball got its name. There is a ball, but no pickles are involved. One theory is because the combination of different sports that the Pickleball founders used in developing the sport reminded the wife of one of the founders of the pickle boat where its where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of the other boats.

That got me thinking to how other sports got their names.

Basketball is very easy to explain. According to, on or about Dec. 1 1891, James Naismith unveiled the game he invented. He was an instructor at the International Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Training School (now Springfield College) in Springfield, Massachusetts. He erected two elevated peach baskets (half bushel in size) at opposite ends of a rectangular court where two teams of five players each would shoot a ball at those baskets.

Baseball is another sport from where the name makes perfectly good sense as it involves hitting a ball with a bat and then running (and touching) three bases positioned the same distance apart.

While it appears that the game sort of mimicked two 18th century games founded in England (Rounders and Cricket), it was developed into what it is today thanks to a group of men in New York City.

According to, the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club was founded in September of 1845 by several men. One of them, volunteer firefighter and bank clerk Alexander Joy Cartwright, tinkered with the rules that would form the basis for modern baseball, calling for a diamond-shaped infield, foul lines, and the three-strike rule. He also abolished the dangerous practice of tagging runners by throwing balls at them.

In 1846, the Knickerbockers played the first official game of baseball against a team of cricket players, beginning a new, uniquely American tradition.

And then there’s football. In the United States, football is the brainchild of Walter Camp. In 1880, he tweaked what were then rugby-style rules into two teams, of 11 men each, and used a line of scrimmage and an exchange (snap) from the center to a quarterback.

Along the way, changes were made to scoring (did you know that, back in the day, a field goal was worth more points (4) than a touchdown (2), as well as the introduction of safety equipment (the Army-Navy rivalry was once suspended for four straight years due to crippling injuries).

Elsewhere in the world, football is known as soccer, which traces its roots to 12th century England. It’s make perfect sense to call it football, as that is how the ball is advanced towards the goal (or struck with a player’s header, which is known as a “header”).

Hockey is a sport from where its name is linked to the French word hoquet, which is a curved shepherd’s hook. Using a ball rather than a puck, the game was initially played in a field, but eventually made its way to frozen ponds.

Ping Pong (aka table tennis) traces its roots to the 1880s in England. It was adapted from the sport of lawn tennis as a way to play indoors when the weather was too cold.

After seeing the game become so popular, J. Jaques & Son Ltd, a British manufacturer, trademarked the name Ping-Pong worldwide. This meant that other manufacturers had to refer to the game as Table Tennis (or a different name) on any products they produced to avoid infringing on the trademark. The same happened in the US where Jaques sold the trademark rights to the Parker Brothers who made sure that other companies and associations weren’t referring to it as Ping-Pong. (

The sport of lacrosse was invented by Native Americans who referred to it as stickball. Their rules were very simple, the ball was not to be touched by a player’s hand and there were no boundaries. The ball was tossed into the air to indicate the start of the game and players raced to be the first to catch it.

French Jesuit missionaries working in the St. Lawrence Valley in the 1630s were the first Europeans to see lacrosse being played by Native Americans. One of them, Jean de Brébeuf, wrote about the game being played by the Huron Indians in 1636 and it was he who the named the game “lacrosse”. (

It took a while, but the sport eventually gained interest in Canada, which led to the founding of the Montreal Lacrosse Club in 1856.

Tennis traces its roots to France in the 12th century. There, monks used their hands to strike a ball over the net…yelling “tenez” (which means, take heed) in the process. It took until the 16th century for the invention of a racket to replace the practice of using one’s hand to strike the ball.

I do not excel at any of these sports. My athleticism is limited to how fast I can make it to the dining room when Deborah lets me know that supper is ready! As of this writing, I own the world record (1.2 seconds)!

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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