A former semi-pro football player creates a national league for pickleball

Semi-pro football has teams and leagues around the country and its own mini-Superbowl. A retired football player hopes to create a similar system for competitive pickleball players.

Mike Barker, a former semi-pro football player and veteran entrepreneur, is launching several pickleball ventures aimed at boosting competition among amateur pickleball players.

Barker has created 1) MyGOPR, or Global Official Pickleball Rating, a free player rating system to help players figure out their skill level, 2) Xtreme Pickleball League, a national league for individual amateur players and 3) Amateur Pickleball League, a national league for pickleball teams.

RELATED: Video of interview with Mike Barker

Barker splits his time between Upstate New York and Naples, Fla, where he fell in love with pickleball while spending winters there. In pickleball, he found an athletic pursuit where even after turning 50, he can grow and improve.

He and and his partner Corina Gabriel are the driving force behind pickleball in Gloversville, a Fulton County city. Barker and Gabriel lined tennis courts for pickleball – with their own money and paint – at the Gloversville tennis courts at Darling Field. They taught people to play, held open play sessions and organized ladder leagues. In a short time, they cultivated an energetic pickleball community in Gloversville. Barker is now working with the Gloversville mayor to build dedicated pickleball courts.

Barker played for the Glove Cities Colonials, a semi-pro football league that was part of the Empire Football League. He retired from football at age 39. Barker worked in construction and then began building gyms. He founded Fit Happens and the 60 Minute Fitness gym franchise. He also founded and still runs Order My Eats, a restaurant delivery app that is branded to individual restaurants.

His business experience exposed him to the software development behind databases, particularly with Order My Eats. Barker has an agile software team that is building the ratings database and systems for tracking league play and tournaments.

MyGOPR is a playing rating system similar to DUPR. Players enter their game scores into the system and start building a rating. Barker’s system heavily favors the point differential in games over wins and losses.

Barker hopes to help amateur players figure out ratings before they enter their first tournament so 3.5 players don’t end up in playing in 3.0 divisions and demoralizing all their competition.

” I’m creating GOPR to help the average player have a more enjoyable experience,” he said.

Barker’s semi-pro football background was the inspiration for the Xtreme Pickleball League (XPL). The Glove Cities Colonials played other local football teams like the Hudson Vikings, Binghamton Jets and Scranton Eagles and the top teams earned spots in regional and national contests.

The XPL will work the same way. Barker hopes to see XPL grow in regions across the country and culminate in a national championship.

Barker said XPL gives pickleball organizers an alternative for tracking player ratings and a low-cost platform for encouraging competition among pickleball players across the nation.

“It’s going to help more competitive play in my mind,” Barker said.

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