Professional pickleball is coming to the Chicagoland area, but it's not what you think: Meet the NPL

Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in America and this week the National Pickleball League is coming to the Chicagoland area.

But, it isn't the pickleball you're thinking of. 

It's fast, strategic and competitive. Palatine's Liz Chaplinsky was drafted to the National Pickleball League this year. It's a professional league for the best professional players 50 years and older.

"I actually wished I tried out last year," Chaplinsky said. "After watching a friend and teammate participate last year. she built a lot of connections, a lot of great competition. Sometimes you go to these competitions and you're 2 and out. Now you travel, play more games and hopefully build relationships to partner up for other tournaments."

Rick Witsken and Beth Bellamy are two of the top professionals at their age level. They co-founded the NPL in 2022 and have seen it grow already in a short time.

"We had two national tryouts this year. One in Florida, one in Texas, where players could come and show their skills," Bellamy said "Twelve team owners and GMs would scout everyone. Just like the NFL football combine."

There are 12 teams in the NPL this year, with seven to eight men and women per team.  

To know this league has taken people who worked hard for 30 years in their profession, raised kids for 30 years and now they can go back to their athletic ways of pursuing their best on the court, that really gives me chills," Witsken added.

That holds true for Chaplinsky. As a standout high school and tennis player, she started playing pickleball nine years ago, and quickly shot up the ranks, to becoming a pro.

"I've always been a competitive person, I loved to compete in athletics as a kid, then you watch your kids compete, cheering them on from the sidelines," Chaplinsky said. "It's something, especially if you have any kind of racquet background, start it and very quickly see yourself improve. And the improvement is fuel to the fire. And it's fun to compete for yourself again."

Witsken believes the NPL will have 30 teams in the next five years due to the growing popularity and support. The NPL event takes place at Pickle Haus in Algonquin, Saturday and Sunday.


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