Koala-themed sports league reconnects Northwest Miami-Dade community

A sports league named after a cute marsupial has taken the Northwest Miami-Dade County area by storm and is connecting the local community.

Koala Sports started in 2015 at PSN Park near Hialeah and Miami Lakes under the name Koala Kickball, hosting only 100 members in its first season. After overcoming challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, the league now offers kickball, volleyball, basketball, pickleball, softball and flag football.

Why koala?

“Women like koalas,” said Rene Medina, the league’s chief operating officer. “Our strategy was if you’re able to bring women to play, the guys will follow.”

Medina and his friends were inspired by a South Miami kickball league they had participated in, praising its ability to draw residents together. He saw an opportunity to bring this attraction into his own neighborhood and started Koala Kickball. Originally, the alliteration and mascot were enough to keep participants engaged in the league.

“The Koala Sports change really was out of necessity,’’ Medina said. “COVID hit and all parks were shut down, and we weren’t able to operate.”

Even with social distancing restrictions lifted, Koala Sports was still limited to only using PSN Park. In need of turning a profit, it was time for the league to consider expanding.

“We saw people playing volleyball one day, just putting stakes on the ground, and we thought, ‘If they’re doing it, why can’t we?’” said Medina.

Thus, Koala Sports was born. After volleyball proved a hit, the league branched out into other sports such as basketball and pickleball. Today, Koala Sports boasts over 10,000 members since it was founded, Medina said.

Bringing the community together is no simple feat. At Koala Sports, no two days are ever the same. This pushes Medina — along with his team of referees, commissioners and volunteers — to stay on top of every sport, every season and every game.

“There’s never a dull moment,” said Medina. “You’re always going to have certain customers who have different questions, different needs, different problems that arise, different opportunities and different compliments.”

Koala Sports’ mission is to foster an environment where all adult age groups feel safe, comfortable and keep coming back.

Payments are collected individually, rather than by team, to avoid the hassle of collecting payments from players. Early registration specials that differ from regular pricing incentivize teams to sign up as early as possible.

For example, the kickball league’s early registration price is $59 for eight weeks of play. The fee includes a team t-shirt, a playoff tournament and weekly deals at Miami Lakes’ Sports Grill.

If someone is looking to sign up as an individual, or free agent, as a way to make new friends or be more present in the community, the team they choose to join is the least of their worries.

“The process of getting a season started and making sure everyone is on their team is a very complicated puzzle,” said Medina. “We try to figure out where to place players who were unassigned and match them to the right team, or people they can have a good time with.”

Teams go all out for their season and wear themed gear. (Photo courtesy of Koala Sports)

The Koala Sports management team considers age, personality traits and even skill level when assigning people to teams.

Daniela Mora joined Koala Kickball without high expectations. But after playing her first game, she found a new hobby that helped her stay active, socialize with friends and provided some friendly competition.

“Koala Kickball gave me something to look forward to every week,” said Mora. “I loved seeing families come out with their loved ones to not only play but support those who were playing.”

The pre-season is tricky because it sets the stage for the remainder of the season. To ensure this process goes smoothly, staff members attempt to know both the games and players as best as they can. This allows for conflicts to be managed before they occur.

Like any other professional or recreational league, Koala Sports has a conduct code that players, attendees and staff must adhere to.

If violated, consequences can range from a game or season suspension to being banned from participating in the league.

Luckily, this doesn’t happen often thanks to the careful planning of staff members.

Medina and the city of Hialeah are currently working on a plan that establishes Koala Sports as the area’s official softball and kickball provider.

“The neat thing is they are very cooperative with us and are very excited with this partnership,’’ Medina said. “It could increase the size of the company and could bring in a whole new set of customers, faces and players.”

To learn more about Koala Sports and sign up for a sports league, click here.

Gabriela Salinas is a bilingual student journalist at Florida International University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Digital Journalism on a pre-law track. She has gained experience in the legal and communications field through internships at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce.