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Weekend edition November 04, 2023 | Katelyn Keenehan

The problem with pickleball in Knoxville

Mickey Napier has a passion for pickleball, but she sees a problem with the lack of competitive tournaments in East Tennessee. Her innovative start-up idea could change that!

The best start-ups solve a problem, and Mickey Napier identified a big problem on the pickleball courts of Knoxville this summer.

Every weekend, she picked up her pickleball paddle to play at one of the city’s several public courts. She played with her friends, family, and even joined a Sunday league.  For people, like Napier, who have a growing obsession with the budding sport, there seems to be a common complaint: not enough local competition.

“During the summer I wanted to enter into as many tournaments as possible, but I found that I’d have to go out of state to do so,” Napier said. ” I realized there are many pickleball players in Middle and East Tennessee that share this same frustration.”

Over the course of the last three years, Pickleball has been the fastest-growing sport in America. There are more than 35 million players nationwide, and thousands of those players are in Knoxville.

Vol Court Funding

Mickey Napier

Napier is a senior marketing major at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). In early October, she proposed a solution for the lack of tournaments at Vol Court (read article here). The Vol Court pitch competition is an initiative through UTK’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Napier placed second in the competition and secured $1,000 in funding to begin bringing her vision to life.

She pitched ‘Napier Pickleball,’ which is a plan to host a network of tournaments in Tennessee. Napier said she would charge players a small fee to participate in the tournament- and use those funds to bankroll future tournaments.

“Eventually, I would like to use some funds from tournaments to open a pickleball training facility in the Middle Tennessee area,” Napier said. “This would create a space for the community to learn, train, and grow with expert coaches and staff. It would also have indoor and outdoor courts.”

While the idea of opening a fully-functioning facility may be a few years down the line, Napier sees community benefit in her short-term goals, too.

“Hosting these tournaments in Knoxville would attract pickleball players from all over the region. The guaranteed playing time coupled with competition, community and exercise will cater to the tourism growth that this city has been seeking,” Napier said.

Next Steps for Napier Pickleball

  1. Host monthly tournaments in various parts of Tennessee.
  2. Take the funds to open a pickleball training facility in the Middle Tennessee.
  3. Push for pickleball to be included in middle and high-school sports.

Napier isn’t lagging on getting her start-up off the ground. She said she is using her $1,000 prize to incorporate her LLC, secure insurance and pay for legal fees.

“Once this process is complete Napier Pickleball will kick off with its first tournament in Knoxville, stay tuned!” she said.

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