Maureen O’Malia of the Park City Pickleball Club was recently drafted by the OKC Punishers.
(The following article was written by Reporter Parker Malatesta and published with permission from KPCW Radio. To read the original story on KPCW’s website, click here.)
Mareen O’Malia grew up playing competitive tennis, and a few years back, her mother encouraged her to try a new sport.
“She’s like, ‘Oh, come give this pickleball thing a try.’ And I’m like, ‘What? No, no, no, not for me.” She’s like, ‘Come on, just try it one time, come with a group.’ And you know I went out there, within 10 minutes I was like, ‘Oh my gosh this is awesome,’” O’Malia said.
She moved to Park City in 2020 and instantly got involved with the Park City Pickleball Club. Shortly thereafter, she joined the pickleball team at the MARC, coaching at all levels, from beginner to advanced.
“In the meantime also I got to know a bunch of people, began competing — there’s great tournaments in this whole area in Utah,” O’Malia said. “Even during COVID, they were still running pickleball tournaments. And so I kind of got back into my competitive mode from my tennis years, and it’s just taken off from there.”
As pickleball has grown in popularity throughout the U.S., so have professional teams.
The National Pickleball League is starting its inaugural season this year for champion pros, which is specifically for athletes over the age of 50.
A combine was held in March in Oklahoma City for teams to evaluate prospective players, and O’Malia decided to give it a go.
“So they did the combine and they had a draft, just like you’d have the draft for the NBA or the NFL,” she said.
The combine did not involve a 40-yard dash, although O’Malia said that has been a fixture at other pickleball combines.
“We played matches in the morning and afternoon, they kept all the results,” she said. “And they had lots of scouts there, they had all the team owners there watching people.”
O’Malia felt her chances of being drafted were good, and she felt her altitude training in Park City gave her a bonus.
“They ran a draft a couple of weeks later, and I got drafted, which is super exciting. I got drafted by the Oklahoma City team called the OKC Punishers. And so our season starts in about two weeks.”
Just like the big leagues, O’Malia felt the team executives were likely making moves at the draft party in Florida.
“I’m sure there was trading and wheeling and dealing going on,” she said.
In total, 48 women and 48 men were drafted across six teams. Matches will be played across the country this summer, exclusively at Chicken N Pickle, which is essentially a big indoor/outdoor sports bar with pickleball courts. The top two teams will battle it out in Phoenix in October.
O’Malia said she still plays tennis occasionally, but has fallen in love with pickleball because of its accessibility and social element.
“It’s super fun, the court is small, and you can get good at pickleball really, really quickly,” she said. “You can go out there and within an hour you’re doing it, you’re having fun, you’re having success, and there’s very few sports that are like that.”
People can stay updated on O’Malia’s endeavors in the National Pickleball League by visiting the league’s Youtube page.