Steamboat Springs residents buy Denver team in National Pickleball League debuting this year

From left, Steamboat Springs residents Mario Boschi and Chris Montgomery are the co-owners of the Denver Iconics, the third team announced as part of the National Pickleball League, which debuts this year.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

As the world of professional pickleball grows, Steamboat Springs will have a prominent place in the history books as two couples from the ski town purchased one of the original teams in the National Pickleball League, which is debuting this year. 

Steamboat residents Chris and Amanda Montgomery and Mario and Jen Boschi have purchased the Denver Iconics, which is the third team announced in the league that will have six total teams in its first year. The other two teams revealed so far are based in Florida. 

“For me, it was really wanting to be involved in shaping what pickleball looks like for the senior pros,” Chris said. “I’m also just a sports junky. … I love the idea of owning a team, being involved. Owning a larger sports team was never a possibility for me.” 

Chris grew up in Steamboat and was introduced to pickleball when he moved back in 2013. He started playing competitively the next year at the highest level and professionally about five years ago. 

“Now, it’s booming. You see it everywhere. It’s on TV. It’s in the movies. The younger league, Lebron James has bought a team and Kevin Durant and Brené Brown,” Chris said. “On the champions tour with MPL, it’s not about celebrities. It’s just people passionate about pickleball.”

Despite the Montgomerys living full time in Steamboat and the Boschis splitting time between the Yampa Valley and Denver, the owners opted to base the team in Denver, a more recognizable city. 

Still, Chris and Mario are both excited to bring NPL events to Steamboat Springs, but that won’t happen until at least 2024 after the Steamboat Tennis and Pickleball Center finishes its massive renovation and expansion project that will erect a pickleball center. 

The National Pickleball League separates itself from the existing Major League Pickleball by being only for Champions Division professionals, or players age 50 and older. 

The league was founded by professional players Rick Witsken, Beth Bellamy, and Michael “Hammer Mike” Chen in December, and regular people passionate about pickleball will own and manage the teams, in contrast to the MLP, which has celebrity owners.

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“We want to enthusiastically welcome the Denver Iconics to the league,” Bellamy said in a news release. “Chris and Mario possess a deep passion for the sport, and their commitment to bringing our exciting brand of pickleball to a wider audience aligns perfectly with our mission at NPL Pickleball. We have no doubt they will be a fantastic addition to the league.”

The Iconics’ name was derived from two ideas. First, every player will bring something different to the team and will make the squad special individually, and the team, well, iconic. The name is also a play off of the Ikon Pass, as a nod to the mountain community where Chris and Mario live. 

Later in March, there will be a combine at Chicken N Pickle in Oklahoma. Following the combine, the Denver Iconics will draft its 16-player roster April 12-13 in Naples, Florida. Each team will have eight women and eight men, and six teams of two will play at each tournament. 

Having 12 people play at one time is another big difference between the new league and MLP, which only has four people playing. Chris and Mario will serve as co-owners and players on the team, but might bring in more staff members later.

“I expect it to grow very strongly,” Chris said. “I think we’ll have new teams each year for the next several years.”

Mario said the Iconics are the western-most team right now, but he knows the league is advocating for West Coast states to hop on board. 

The season will run between June and September and culminate at the Chicken N Pickle complex in Glendale Arizona with $100,000 in prize money. 

Boschi said the prize money doesn’t begin to compare against the existing pickleball tournaments people can sign up for online.

“It’s getting more people out there and it’s big winnings for the gold, silver and bronze medal-match teams,” Mario said.

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