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Major League Pickleball launches in Austin

(Shutterstock)

The first-ever major league sport to be founded in Austin launched today as Major League Pickleball was announced at Dreamland Dripping Springs on Tuesday morning.


The league will feature the world's 32 best male and female players in eight co-ed teams and will kick off at Dreamland, 2770 US-290, in a tournament dubbed the Pritchard Cup (named after pickleball founder Joel Pritchard) on Nov. 5-8. The grand prize will be $150,000, nearly the highest prize pool in pickleball history.

For pro pickleballer Jesse Irvine, the new league is a chance to get back on a court after injuries kept her out of professional tennis.

"When I started playing pickleball, initially I was a little skeptical, but then once I started playing, I was immediately hooked," Irvine told Austonia at the announcement of the major league sport. "I'm appreciative of the sport because it has given me that second chance, and I think there's a lot of players out there who feel the same way...it's good for your soul, it's just a great sport all around."

Jesse Irvine found a love for pickleball as an adult after playing tennis at a younger age. (Claire Partain/Austonia)


The league has some prominent Austin figures behind it, including Founder Steve Kuhns, owner of both Dreamland and bottled water company Richard's Rainwater; and President Mellie Price, a renowned entrepreneur and University of Texas at Austin professor who founded Front Gate Tickets before it was purchased by C3 Entertainment and C3 Events.

"The launch of Major League Pickleball is a proud moment for everyone in the pickleball community," Kuhn said. "I fell in love with pickleball six years ago and ever since I started playing, I've dreamt of building an elite-level pickleball league... Equally important for me, MLP is going to bring new people into our sport. Pickleball inspires joy, passion and a true love of the game among everyone who picks up a paddle, and MLP is going to showcase the sport to new audiences, helping build a long, healthy and sustainable future for our sport."

Other famous figures involved in the leadership process include former U.S. professional tennis player Jenny Klitch, who will serve as the team's commissioner and pickleball pro and marketer Dave Fleming as the brand ambassador. Austin City Limits co-founders Charles Attal and Charlie Walker; podcaster and researcher Brené Brown; former No. 4 world-ranked men's tennis player James Blake; and Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry will also be part of the eight-member Team Owner group.


If you're late to the pickleball scene, the sport is a mixture between ping-pong, badminton and tennis played on an indoor or outdoor badminton court with a slightly adjusted tennis net. The paddles are pickleball-specific but resemble ping-pong paddles, and a pickleball that resembles a wiffleball is used to play the game.

While pickleball rose as a prominent sport for older people looking to get active, it's now embraced with people of all ages that can agree on one thing: once you start, you can't stop.

Pro pickleballer Irina Tereschenko boils it down to a few factors: it's easy to learn, easy on the joints and easy to form friendships on and off the court.

"You can have no racquet sports background, or no athletic background for that matter, walk on the court and be playing within 20 minutes," Tereschenko said. "And that's exhilarating. People say after they play for the first time they become addicted, and that's a fact."

Austin has an appetite for pickleball with sites like Dreamland, which hosts three live-in professional pickleballers, Austin Pickle Ranch, the world's largest pickleball fields set to open in late 2021, and popular hangouts like Bouldin Acres that feature the rapidly-growing sport. Now, the city will play a key role in elevating the "world's fastest-growing sport," according to the Economist, into a household name.

Director of Operations Brooks Wiley who has gotten himself on the pickleball court more than a few times since he first caught wind of the sport from Kuhns himself a few years ago, said that the pickleball community is already well-established in Austin.

"Austin is a very outdoorsy lifestyle community," Wiley said. "Whether you're going out in the lake, paddle boarding, or running... and also just the community. I have friends that I've met through pickleball that were business associates and are now my legit friends that I go on vacations with."

After Tuesday's official launch, the leagues' first draft will be livestreamed in Rockwall, northeast of Dallas, from 7-9 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 1. Four players will be selected to compete at the inaugural tournament on Nov. 5-8 in womens' and men's singles and doubles and mixed doubles competitions.

Read more about pickleball:

Where and how to play pickleball in Austin(USA Pickleball/Twitter)


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