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Meet retired executive Skip Egbers — you can just call him the Godfather of Pickleball

By Andy Furman
NKyTribune reporter

OK – maybe he didn’t invent what has become the fastest growing sport in the country. But he was the first to bring the game to the Commonwealth.

And, it’s time to recognize the man with the vision.

Yup, it’s really about time.

The game – Pickleball.

Skip and Marti Egbers with son Joe on the first pickleball court in the state of Kentucky. (Photos by Andy Furman)

And the local visionary — Skip Egbers, now retired president of Bat-o-Ray and a long-time corporate executive. Today — he plays pickleball.

But, first, a little history:

The year was 1965 – after playing golf on a Saturday during the summer, Joel Pritchard, congressman from Washington State and Bill Bell, successful businessman, returned to Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island, Wash. – near Seattle – to find their families sitting around with nothing to do.

The property had an old badminton court so Pritchard and Bell looked form some badminton equipment and could not find a full set of rackets. They improvised and started playing with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. At first, they placed the net at badminton height of 60 inches and volleyed the ball over the net.

As the weekend progressed, the players found that the ball bounced well on the asphalt surface and soon the net was lowered 36 inches. The following weekend, Barney McCallum was introduced to the game at Pritchard’s home. Soon, the three men created rules, relying heavily on badminton. They kept in mind the original purpose, which was to provide a game that the whole family could play together.

And, the first permanent pickleball court was constructed in the backyard of Joel Pritchard’s friend and neighbor, Bob O’Brian in 1967.

But how did pickleball arrive in Kentucky?

A special place for fans.

Glad you asked.

Some 34 years ago – 1989 to be exact – Skip Egbers built what is known to be the first pickleball court in the Commonwealth. In his backyard. In Ludlow.

“Back then,” the 84-year-old Egbers told the Northern Kentucky Tribune, “Five Seasons Sports Club wouldn’t let us inside to play pickleball. They told us it was too noisy and would interfere with tennis. They did say we could play outdoors.”

My oh my, have things changed.
“Five Seasons has 18 indoor and six outdoor pickleball courts today,” Egbers said.

So, Egbers and friends – after being shut-out at Five Seasons – decided to build his own court.

Today he usually plays-five-days-a-week.

What attracted you to the sport, Skip?

“Easy,” he answered, “Once you try it, you become addicted.”

He’s not the only one addicted to pickleball.

“We’ll have 25 of our immediate family over on Sundays for pickleball and dinner. The entire family plays – boyfriends and girlfriends as well.”

Oh, did we mention, The Egbers Court has lights for night play.

In fact, Egbers said a friend asked him to teach a group of 14 girls to play the game last month. “Those ladies wanted to pay me,” he said. “The money they gave me I donated to The Point/Arc in Covington.”

Egbers has a residential home in his name – The Egbers Home – one of 16 operated by the non-profit Point/Arc. His son Marc, who helps run the company’s Bat-o-Ray business in Ludlow, is a special needs individual. His son Joe is now president of Bat-o-Ray which is also adjacent to the pickleball court.

The official pickleball court in Egbers’ backyard was an easy decision.

“The blacktop was already here,” he said, “We painted the court on it.”

And Egbers is not only a player – but a teacher of the game.

“I taught pickleball at St. Henry High School, Calvary Christian School, and the President of the Ft. Mitchell Country Club asked me to teach their members.”

Egbers remembers when he started playing, the wooden paddles sold for about $19 – today, he says paddles made of graphite are as high as $250.

As for the game itself, Egbers does admit, “Singles pickleball is murder.”

So, what makes the game so popular?

“Everyone can play – you can be 12 or 13 or an 84-year-old guy like me,” he said.

You wouldn’t expect The Godfather of Kentucky Pickleball to say anything else.

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