KENNEBUNK — The screech of sneaker soles meeting the gym floor and the pop of pingpong balls against tables filled Kennebunk Sea Road School on Saturday morning.
Dozens of people of all ages were competing in the Kennebunk Recreation Department’s pingpong tournament. Some players were regulars at the recreation department’s weekly pingpong game night from 6 to 9 p.m. on Mondays at Sea Road School. Others were high-ranked players from other New England states. A few players were testing out their pingpong skills for the first time in open competition.
Seth Oakes, coordinator of the tournament, said pingpong is a universal sport.
“People argue it’s the most-played game in the world because most people have pingpong tables in their basement,” Oakes said.
The rules of pingpong are straightforward. Two or four players face each other over a hard table divided by a low net and hit a light ball back and forth with a small paddle. Except for the first serve, the ball may bounce only once on each side of the table. The first player or team to reach at least 11 points – and be ahead by two points – wins the game.
Although pingpong doesn’t take great physical strength, it requires skill and stamina. Players work up a sweat as they flick their paddles or sprint after errant balls.
People who play the game on the competitive level refer to the sport as table tennis.
“Pingpong is a game. Table tennis is a sport,” Oakes said.
Jeff Scully, executive director of Maine Games, an organization that coordinates sport competitions and helped put on Saturday’s tournament, said table tennis is just beginning to catch on in Maine but is wildly popular in other states.
Players on Saturday competed at three skill levels. Players could also compete using a 44-millimeter ball, which is slightly larger than the regulation ball and makes the game slower and easier, or compete with a partner.
Tom Runge of Saco, who has played competitively for 2½ years, said he started out playing his wife in the basement. Now he plays three times a week – in Kennebunk, at the East End Community Center in Portland on Wednesdays and Spectator’s Sports Bar in Sanford on Thursdays.
What he likes about the sport is that it doesn’t have to be expensive to play. He said the drop-in games in Kennebunk are $2 a session, where tables, balls and paddles are provided.
Chris Piecuch, 21, of Wells was testing his skills Saturday for the first time away from his own table tennis table. Piecuch said he started out at age 8 playing against his father. Now he wants to expand his skills, he said.
“I love table tennis. I play every night,” Piecuch said.
Corey Smith of North Berwick brought along his own cheering squad, including his grandmother Ruth Smith and his father, Andrew Smith, also of North Berwick.
Smith said he loves the sport even though his own skills may not be the best. “I am here to lose weight,” he said.
Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: [email protected]