The ambassadors of the racket sport called pickleball are like pied pipers.

They spread the word about their fun, competitive game with the silly name, and more and more Mainers are stepping in line to pick up the tune.

“I’ve been an ambassador for about eight months,” said Roland Gagne Jr., 75, of South Portland. “Each ambassador kind of has his own venue, keeps it running and makes sure new people are more than welcome. That’s a big part. No matter how (well) you play, you’re always welcome.

This weekend, Maine welcomes 350 pickleball enthusiasts from around the country for the Atlantic Regional Pickleball Tournament at the Portland Racket and Fitness Center. Competitors are coming from throughout the 13-state Atlantic region, as well as from Texas, Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Canada. Maine will be well represented with about 130 players, said Rocky Clark of Portland, regional director for the USA Pickleball Association, which is hosting the event.

“This is going to be the largest racket sport tournament ever held in Maine,” Clark said. “I know the (Betty) Blakeman tennis tournament gets around 200. The largest tournament the Racket and Fitness Center has ever held is in the 100s.”

Clark says the size of the field confirms his “conviction that this is a tremendous sport for all ages. Our youngest player is 11 and our oldest is 84, and we have a lot of players in their 20s and 30s.”

Pickleball has boomed as a recreational sport in Maine.

In 2012, there were only a few places in the state where the sport was played. Now, 68 Maine locations are listed as court sites on the USAPA website.

“And we have an email list of over 900 players, up from 20 just a couple years ago,” Clark said.

Ambassadors like Gagne, and a policy allowing newcomers to walk in and play at most court locations, are significant factors to the growth.

“I’ve probably influenced 30 people to try the sport,” said Gagne, who also runs a website – – and a Facebook page dedicated to the game in Maine.

Pickleball combines elements of tennis, ping pong and badminton. Its court, which is 20 feet by 44 feet, is about one-third the size of a tennis doubles court. The net is shorter and smaller than one used for tennis. The perforated plastic ball (slightly thicker than a wiffle ball) is struck with a wooden or composite paddle. The serve must be underhand. Both the serve and the return must bounce before being struck. Games are usually played to 11, and like most racket sports, a player must win by two points. Points can only be earned while serving.

Winners’ bracket games for this weekend’s double-elimination tournament will use a best-of-three format, Clark said. Losers’ bracket matches will consist of a single game to 15 points.

Pickleball will take over the Racket and Fitness Center for three days, turning the nine tennis courts into 24 pickleball playing areas.

Women’s doubles and men’s singles will be played Friday, mixed doubles on Saturday, and men’s doubles and women’s singles on Sunday. Competition starts at 8 a.m. each day. For a $50 entry fee players can participate in up to three divisions.

Matches are set based on age and skill level.

“We’re able to do that because we have so many players. I think it’s more enjoyable,” Clark said.