Glenn Jordan plays pickleball with his doubles partner, Hans Gundersen, at the Fort Williams Park pickleball courts in Cape Elizabeth. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Over the course of 37 years in journalism, spent mostly as a sportswriter, I’ve written hundreds of stories.

None changed my life quite the way a 2013 piece did, chronicling the rising popularity in Maine of a curious new activity.

It’s called pickleball – a ridiculous name, for sure.

Perhaps that’s why I initially dismissed it, even mocked a pastime that clearly seemed geared toward the geriatric set. The first time I ever heard the word it came from Mom, who did a lot of work with fitness and aging.

When both parents are steeped in physical education and coaching, you get exposed to a lot of sports. There aren’t many I haven’t tried. And I liked all of them, to varying degrees.

Then, a decade ago, I interviewed several local people about this increasingly popular sport with a name whose etymology remains a bit cloudy, involving either a family dog or a bunch of leftover rowers assembled into a makeshift crew.


Back then, pickleball lines had been added to a tennis court at Sunset Ridge in Westbrook. Someone beckoned me forward and placed a paddle in my hand.

It was love at first thwock.

The soft game came naturally, feathering the ball over the net to force opponents to hit up on their shot. Having played tennis, handball, racquetball, squash and badminton allowed for an easy transition to the hard game.

Dang, this is fun.

Plus, unlike most other sports, size and strength aren’t all that important. Pickleball rewards quickness and finesse more than sheer power, which is why age and gender matter little in recreational games.

Sure, the scoring is a little wonky. You have to call out three numbers before serving. Where to position yourself also took time sink in, thanks to a pickleball rule that both serve and return have to bounce before being struck.


But you quickly fall into the rhythm. Whacking a wiffleball with a solid paddle is not difficult. The barrier to entry, like the net, is low. The frivolity level, however, is high. This is a sport that exudes joy and laughter.

My wife initially didn’t understand why I wanted to go play again after a three-hour session the previous day. Now she’s a pickleball addict herself, and our kids have embraced the game. One son spent a semester in Madrid and instantly found a welcoming community of Spanish picklers. A similar phenomenon took place with middle-aged Midwesterners near his college campus in Iowa.

If you play pickleball, you understand that feeling of delight and anticipation when you step on to a court. If you haven’t tried it, remember back in elementary school when you lined up for recess, so eager to get outside and run around? That’s how it feels.

Glenn Jordan watches the ball while teaching a pickleball class at the Fort Williams Park pickleball courts in Cape Elizabeth in June. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Rocky Clark of Portland is largely responsible for planting the seeds of pickleball in Maine. He has served as an ambassador – that’s an official title in the pickleball world – for the Atlantic Region of USA Pickleball.

Early on, he saw that I had some aptitude and, even though he’s nine years older, invited me to play singles. In our first two games, I didn’t manage a single point. It was humbling.

Pickleball is mostly doubles, however, and games rarely last more than 15 minutes. The close confines of the court allow for good-natured ribbing and easy camaraderie akin to pickup basketball games from my early adulthood.


I fell in with a group that played indoors at the South Portland Community Center and outdoors at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth. A welcoming couple north of Portland converted their little-used backyard tennis court into two pickleball courts, and quickly the Falmouth House of Pickle was home to an advanced game. We all grew together, becoming more adept at trickier techniques such as speed-ups, Ernes and Around the Post shots.

My first tournament came in 2014, the Maine Senior Games, and I left with gold, silver and bronze medals (thanks to five-year age increments and small fields in singles, doubles and mixed doubles).

When Portland hosted the larger Atlantic Regional two years later, I convinced a tennis buddy with a background in squash to join me. Not having any idea what to expect against opponents from Canada and North Carolina, Hans Gundersen and I surprised ourselves with an unbeaten run to win our skill and age group.

Glenn Jordan, right, plays pickleball with his doubles partner, Hans Gundersen, at the Fort Williams Park pickleball courts in Cape Elizabeth. The doubles team won four consecutive Atlantic Region age-group tiles from 2016-19, and have competed together at national championships. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

It would be the first of our four consecutive regional titles, and in 2018, we ventured outside of New England to see whether we could be competitive at the national championships, then held at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California.

To wander among palm trees and 48 dedicated pickleball courts – a day after covering a cold and drizzly soccer state championship game in Bath – bordered on the surreal. A sizable contingent from Maine was there. We saw Holly Steele of Falmouth win a national singles title. Friends from New Hampshire and Massachusetts won a senior women’s title.

Hans and I won our first game, lost our second, but managed to win the best-of-three match. Under the double elimination format, we won again, and again. Maine pickleball, it turns out, plays on a national stage.


We lost in the finals, and proudly wore our silver medals around the grounds. We stopped at a few vendor booths. A representative of a paddle manufacturer offered each of us a backpack and a paddle. We were practically professional athletes!

We returned the next year, 2019, and entered the Senior Pro division. We did OK, went 4-2, but the defending champions handled us with relative ease. Even so, it rekindled a dream that seemed extinguished 45 years ago.

In high school, I played four sports but was a backup quarterback, backup point guard, light-hitting middle infielder and, senior year, barely squeaked into second doubles on the tennis team.

In pickleball, I have won prize money, become a certified instructor and a referee. I teach camps and clinics and give lessons. When a six-team league for senior pros was announced this winter, I registered for the March draft.

And was passed over.

No matter. The Austin Ignite needed a replacement, and I got a call, which is why I’m typing this on a flight to Dallas for the opening weekend of the National Pickleball League.

Undrafted free agent? My 10-year-old self never could have imagined. Admittedly, it’s a stretch to call myself a professional athlete, but with pickleball, all things seem possible.

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