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Kansas City is getting its first professional pickleball team this year: 'I want to win this thing'

Julie Gibson and Daryl Wyatt, owners of the Kansas City Stingers, at SW19 Tennis and Pickleball in Leawood.
Alyssa Broadus
Julie Gibson and Daryl Wyatt, owners of the Kansas City Stingers, at SW19 Tennis and Pickleball in Leawood.

The Kansas City Stingers is one of six U.S. expansion teams joining the National Pickleball League this year. The team is owned by Julie Gibson and former tennis pro Daryl Wyatt, who also owns SW19 Tennis and Pickleball in Leawood.

Pickleball has given former professional tennis player Daryl Wyatt a new lease on life, he shared, and now he’s hoping to ace Kansas City’s serve into next-level pickleball.

The Kansas City Stingers — one of six U.S. expansion teams — is joining the National Pickleball League in 2024, under the ownership group of partners Julie Gibson and Wyatt, who also owns SW19 Tennis and Pickleball in Leawood.

“Everyone’s caught the bug,” Wyatt said of the fast growing sport. “Kansas City shows up for sports anyway. They’re very loyal to their sports teams. And I just think that a professional pickleball team is something people will really, really support.”

The National Pickleball League — launched in 2022 for Champions Division professional pickleball players (age 50 and older) — played its inaugural season in 2023 with six teams in Indianapolis; Austin; Boca Raton, Florida; Naples, Florida; Denver; and Oklahoma City.

Kansas City; Houston; Seattle; Columbus, Ohio; Coachella Valley, California; and Princeton, New Jersey; will join the league for the second season.

Players in the league include co-founders Beth Bellamy and Rick Witsken, Pickleball Hall of Famers Jennifer Dawson and Scott Moore, and NFL veteran and former Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel.

“The NPL’s growth from six to 12 teams is a strategic move toward creating a more dynamic and competitive league,” said Paul Bamundo, CEO of the league. “The demand for growth across the U.S. has been remarkable, and 2024 will be a groundbreaking year for our league. It reflects our dedication to providing fans with a thrilling, high-quality pickleball experience and ensuring the NPL remains at the forefront of the sport.”

Wyatt connected to the NPL first as a potential player and then inquired about bringing a team to KC, he said. The season begins in March with two combines for potential players to show off their skills to team leaders. Then in April, each team will draft 14 players.

“We’ll get some KC players, but they will be — by and large — from all over the country,” Wyatt added.

Starting in April, he continued, all 12 teams will get together one weekend a month for six months to play against one another, with the first five tournaments being league play and the last one the playoffs.

Kansas City will host the tournament in August at the Convention Center, in conjunction with “PickleCon” and select matches throughout the season will be televised on CBS Sports Network.

Kathy Nelson, president of Visit KC and the KC Sports Commission, speaks during an announcement event for Picklecon 2024 at Chicken N Pickle.
Channa Steinmetz
Startland News
Kathy Nelson, president of Visit KC and the KC Sports Commission, speaks during an announcement event for Picklecon 2024 at Chicken N Pickle.

Wyatt — who participated in the combine last year — noted he is hoping to play the role of player/coach/co-owner.

“I’m competitive, I want to win this thing,” he explained. “I really want to go in and field as good a team as we can, while at the same time keeping some Kansas City folks. We have a lot of good 50-plus players in Kansas City, as well, who have done well in national tournaments. So it’s going to be a little bit of a balance.”

A more accessible sport for Kansas City

Wyatt — a native of Washington D.C. — played collegiate tennis as an All-American at the University of North Carolina before turning pro in 1993 and playing as a ranked player on the ATP Tour. After an injury cut his career short, he shared, Wyatt — who first landed in the Kansas City area while rehabbing his wrist with one of his coaches, who was at KU — started focusing on coaching tennis.

About two years ago — when he took over ownership of SW19 — Wyatt saw the demand for pickleball in Kansas City and started to understand the craze behind it, he noted.

“There’s not been one day where I’ve not seen new members sign up,” Wyatt explained. “Even with our programming, our leagues, and everything, we’re almost at full capacity with court times. And there are plenty of clubs (in the area).”

“Just the sheer numbers of people that will play pickleball here, it’s amazing,” he continued. “I’ve never seen a sport grow like this. I’m 50, so I’ve been around a little bit to see racquetball and table tennis and all those sports grow, but nothing like this. Nothing like this.”

As a tennis purist — who still coaches tennis at SW19 — it took Wyatt a bit to get on board with pickleball, he said. He finally gave in after months of being asked if he coached.

“I just got really tired of saying no and just money walking out the door,” Wyatt added.

After starting to play more and earning his certification as a coach, he said, Wyatt started to enjoy it, especially once the competitor in him kicked in and relished the challenge of a new sport.

“I just developed that love over that time,” he explained. “But initially it was not that way. I was a staunch tennis supporter. I’m tennis to the heart. I’ve done it my whole life. But now when it comes to the end of the day, when I’m finished coaching tennis, what do I play? Pickleball.”

Compared to tennis, Wyatt noted, pickleball is more accessible to all ages and abilities with a much more welcoming, broader community.

“Tennis is a little snobby sometimes,” he added. “It has that kind of feel to it. You make a lot of friends in pickleball. You meet a lot of different people because of the nature of the game. It’s speedy and it’s so close. Tennis, you’re so much farther away.”

Wyatt has a vision to bring pickleball to a broader community in the Kansas City area, he shared, and he’s hoping the new national team will be a catalyst.

He’s planning to host pickleball clinics and open houses with other top-tier players for youth in areas of Jackson County that don’t have access to courts and expose them to the game and the potential of future college scholarships.

“That’s one of our missions,” he explained. “By having a team, now we can start introducing it to some of the younger kids. This just gives us the visibility to be able to do it and to get a lot of momentum behind us, so that we can get some support for that.”

This story was originally published by Startland News, a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.

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