You may have heard the pat-pat-patting of a pickleball court in your neighborhood or local park. You may even play regularly yourself, or complain about the noise. However you feel, pickleball is being taken to the next level across the Front Range.
Enter the Denver Iconics. They are the metro area’s new professional pickleball team, one of just six teams in the National Pickleball League (NPL). Just like any other pro team, the Iconics’ lineup is made up of imports: 18 players from several different states. Nine are men and nine are women.
Other teams in the NPL include the Boca Raton Picklers from Florida, the Oklahoma City Punishers, and the Indy Drivers from Indianapolis.
The league’s inaugural season is currently in full swing. Steamboat Springs residents Chris and Amanda Montgomery and Mario and Jen Boschi share a passion for the sport of pickleball, which led to their purchase of the team in March.
“Pickleball is growing rapidly, and this is a chance to be in on the ground floor in bringing team pickleball to the Champions Pro (ages 50 and older) scene,” said Chris Montgomery, who has played the sport recreationally and in tournaments since 2014. “I’ve always dreamed of owning or being part of a sports team, and this is our opportunity. It is also important to me that we have a team in Colorado.”
Not only is pickleball growing rapidly, it’s the fastest-growing sport in the country. As reported by CNN, the number of people playing pickleball grew by more than 150% in three years to 8.9 million in 2022, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
Mario Boschi said it’s almost like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” The sport has grown out of interest from older audiences, and that interest has trickled down to younger players in recent years.
“I’ll go back 10 years,” Boschi said. “The (average) age group was maybe 62. You go back five years, it goes down to about 42. Now, the age group from a year or two years ago, you could be looking at anywhere between 28 to 35. Give it another couple years, you’re going to see this thing go down to anywhere between ages 20 to 25.”
Montgomery recalled the first time he played. He was an avid basketball and racquetball player and missed being able to compete like he used to. A year after moving to Colorado from Austin in 2013, he said he just assumed racquetball would still be around like it was in the 70s and 80s.
“I saw an ad in the paper for, ‘Hey, come out and play pickleball at the tennis center,’” Montgomery said. “I wasn’t a tennis player, so I just jumped out there and said, ‘I don’t know what this goofy sport is but I’ll give it a shot.’ I just got hooked right away.”
The youngest guy there, other than Montgomery, was 65.
“I jumped in with them anyway and they were like, ‘Oh, you’re the young guy!’ And I’m like, I’m 47,” he said. “Now, we go out there every day and there’s another group of people in their 20s and 30s trying it for the first time.”
After that match, the rest was history. He began playing tournaments in 2014, and when the opportunity came up to play professionally, representing the place he found his new passion, it was a no-brainer.
Boschi said the reason it’s becoming so popular so quickly is because it is easy to learn, is accessible and inexpensive like disc golf, and it’s simply fun. He holds a Level II IPTPA (International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association) certification and teaches pickleball in Steamboat Springs and Denver.
Boschi’s only been playing for about two years, after trying out the sport on a whim when invited by his friends.
Now, he’s hooked, and playing at a high level. But in the Champions Pro scene, that’s the only option, he said.
“The level of competition, I have to say, is way better,” Boschi said. “I mean, it is 10 times better than the competition I played when I used to play in tournaments. Now you’re playing against the best of the best in the nation.”
The season runs through September, and will culminate in October with a championship weekend at the Chicken N Pickle indoor complex in Glendale, Arizona, with $100,000 in prize money on the line.
Pickleball is often played outside recreationally. But the NPL holds indoor events to avoid the elements and ensure a proper schedule, considering the teams’ heavy travel load.
As for the Iconics, they are struggling so far this season. They are currently sitting in last place with a 2-6 record, but with three different competitions left before the championship weekend, there is time to turn it around.
Pickleball combines elements of sports like tennis, ping pong, and badminton. The game can be played in solos, but the NPL teams, like the Iconics, play in doubles. The ball is volleyed back and forth until a point is scored or a fault is made.
Like the sports listed above, there are certain ways to hit the ball, certain amounts of bouncing allowed before and after hits, and out-of-bounds zones. The court is badminton sized: 44 feet long and 20 feet wide. Pickleball is generally played to 11 points, and you must win by two points.
For a better breakdown of the specific rules, visit www.usapickleball.org.
The team is working on gelling together, tweaking rotations and tier levels internally. Results have been slow at first but promising.
“The difference is that it’s a team sport,” Boschi said. “Anyone that has played team sports will understand the concept. We are supporting everyone, and they are supporting us and coaching us and supporting us at the same time. Everyone is supporting everyone whether they’re on the court or off the court.”
Simply having a team representing Colorado is a big deal, Montgomery said, and will have a big impact on the community.
The name Iconics comes from the iconic nature of Champions Pro players being iconic, and as a nod to Colorado’s Ikon pass, he said.
“Long term, we want to build a team that people can rally around and have fun supporting,” Montgomery said. “People who come out to watch the Champions Pro play will be able to identify with the players and the game, while being impressed with the level or skill and quality of play.”
The next regular season competition will be held July 29-30 in the Dallas-Grand Prairie area. There were no events in Colorado this season, but the Iconics owners are hopeful and excited about potentially bringing events to Denver next season.