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With pickleball starting to make inroads with younger generations, Bob Strommen wanted to make sure the older generation of the sport wouldn’t be left behind.
And with that came the formation of the National Pickleball League, which is set to commence early this summer. Strommen, the managing partner of the Naples Pickleball Center, will be a team owner of the team based in Southwest Florida.
The newly formed league, which will be announced publicly on Wednesday, will feature six teams from across the country with all players over the age of 50. Strommen said to think of it like the PGA Tour Champions League, while Major League Pickleball is more reminiscent of the youth on the PGA Tour.
The Naples Pickleball Center-based team will be called Naples JBB United in honor of the founders of the sport −Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, and Bill Bell.
“This has kind of been an evolvement,” Strommen said. “A year and a half ago, maybe a little longer, a professional league was established called the MLP, Major League Pickleball. I’ll use the analogy of PGA Golf. It was really a league that was geared towards those in their 20s and early 30s who are young and vibrant. Then, all of a sudden, big-name athletes got involved ranging from Tom Brady and LeBron James, and Kevin Durant.
“They saw that pickleball was not a fad. It’s something that has longevity and excitement. The 50-plus crowd of pickleball players that were the founding fathers of the game were kind of getting pushed off to the side, with the concentration being on younger kids and younger people because of age, just like golf. You can’t compete with the 22-year-old when you’re 55. It wasn’t lack of skill, just a reality in age.”
The league will have a nationwide draft sometime before the end of March, with each team having between 12 and 20 players. Prize money will be included, and every tournament will be held at a Chicken N Pickle, which are indoor/outdoor entertainment complexes located in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas.
“All of their facilities have indoor courts,” Strommen said. “They thought this was a great way to assure every team and every match would occur. But also, in an environment that has some excitement. And everyone likes to have a beer once in a while.”
Although matches will not be played locally, Strommen expects "there will undoubtedly be some form of events surrounding NPL at Naples Pickleball Center as the league evolves later the first year or clearly in the second season."
For the players interested who aren’t nationally ranked, there will be a combine, similar to the NFL does.
“With regards to the player selection, it’ll be a combination of both locals and out-of-area players,” Strommen said. “It’ll only be logical that there is a good representation of local players. We also recognize that you want to have a competitive playing pool, and you want to have a national reach with a local emphasis.
“… There’s going to be two pool groups. There’s the ranked pool of players we all know, and there’s going to be the pros that have shown up at the combine that we didn’t know, that are exceptional. It’ll be an interesting collection of local and national players.”
The team will include Strommen, who will serve as the team’s owner, while a pair of Pickleball Hall of Famers will be on the Board of Directors in Jennifer Lucore and Alex Hamner.
“This is a grassroots league,” Strommen said. “Much like other leagues that are evolving to honor the legacy of the game, honor the sport, give deference to those who made the game into what it was today, and to be good ambassadors to the game throughout the community. Any pro athlete only represents the top one percent or the top one-tenth of one percent of those who play the game.
“What this does, it gives national exposure to Naples, Collier County, Fort Myers, this whole region. Naples Pickleball Center, which is just a part of our family, is a destination. Last year, we had 18,000 visitors that came into the facility, primarily to vacation in Naples and play pickleball. This would be another reason to keep Naples pickleball and Naples Pickleball Center on the map of the consumer who says, ‘I gotta get out of the snow. I got to go somewhere.’ And where else to go than Southwest Florida?"
Teams are drafted by the owners at the start of each league year
The inaugural draft is targeted for first quarter 2023.
Each team will play three types of matches (men’s doubles, women’s doubles, mixed doubles).
All teams will play a total of 10 team matches during the regular season.
All six teams will compete in the playoffs, with seeding based on regular season records.
The top two teams will have byes in the first round of the playoffs.
Team prize money will be given to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place teams, as well as to the 1st place team in the regular season.
NPL Competition Dates
June 2 – June 4: Grapevine, Texas
June 30 – July 2: Overland Park, Kan.
July 28 – July 30: Oklahoma City, Okla.
Aug. 11 – Aug. 13: Wichita, Kan.
Sept. 15 – Sept. 17: San Antonio, Texas
Oct. 13 – Oct. 15: Glendale, Ariz. (Championship Weekend)
This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: National Pickleball League to come to Southwest Florida in June 2023