A pair starts a game of Pickleball on the new, dedicated Pegasus Landing Pickleball courts in Brunswick. (Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK — A cross between ping-pong, badminton and tennis, pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the country, and to the more than 300 players who make up Midcoast Maine Pickleball, that makes perfect sense.

“It’s very competitive and collegial at the same time, which puts it apart from tennis” said Ruth Wentzel, an ambassador from the USA Pickleball Association.

According to the association’s website there are 84 pickleball courts in Maine, the newest of which, the Pegasus Landing Courts, opened last weekend at Brunswick Landing. While there are many places in the state to play pickleball, many of them are just tennis courts with a few extra lines added; there are far fewer pickleball-dedicated courts, Wentzel said, naming Scarborough and Belfast as the closest options.

When she and her group received permission from Brunswick Landing Venture to rehab the old, unused tennis courts for pickleball, the group raised more than $3,000 to repaint the courts and buy new nets.

To an outsider, the game looks a lot like a game of tennis being played on a smaller scale, but the dull “thwack” made from the solid paddles which are more similar to those used in ping-pong than tennis rackets. The scoring system uses three numbers, the first representing your score, the second your opponents score and the third, what position someone is serving from.

The 15 players practicing Saturday morning were hitting a small wiffle-type ball back and forth, the “thwack” sounds coming from every direction in the midst of the six small courts.  

Most of those present were older, which Wentzel said was common in the sport, as the underhand serving is easier on the joints than tennis.

“It’s really popular among active seniors,” she said, adding that they also have a few younger players. When the courts first opened they had people of all ages playing, ranging from 12 to 80 years old.

“There are people of all different ages mixing, and there are not too many sports where you see that,” she said.

The sport is easy to learn, and the courts are free to use and open all the time, she said.

Carl and Rachel Akin were in Florida three years ago when they heard a “pong, pong, pong” coming from the rec center and decided to check it out. They were invited to play and, before long, found a new sport. When they moved to Yarmouth, they were excited to find Midcoast Maine Pickleball.

For Rachel Akin, who was never really athletic before, pickleball allows her to build agility and bone strength while also build friendships.

Nancy Pollock, another player, said the sport was “addictive” and that it was something fun to do with her husband that could help relieve stress.

“It’s very social,” Wentzel said, “these people didn’t know each other when they started,” but now they are friends.

One of the most common questions about pickleball is how it got its name. According to Wentzel, three dads in the 1950s took their kids into the backyard to play some games. They lowered their badminton net, took out their ping-pong paddles and a wiffle ball, and before long, the new game had gained popularity in the area. The family dog, Pickles, liked to chase after the balls, and it became known as pickleball.

“It’s a kind of silly name for something that can be so serious,” she said.

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