GARDINER — What started as a way to get out and meet new people turned into a ceremony at the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Last month, Gardiner residents Ken Wells and Mark Gelsinger were honored as the No. 1 doubles team in all of New England in the 45-and-over division of the United States Tennis Association for the 2018 calendar year at the exclusive club in Newport, Rhode Island. But here’s the catch: Wells and Gelsinger both qualify for the 55-and-over age group, too.

“I think it’s kind of funny that we went out and beat the younger people,” Wells said.

Gelsinger, 55, found tennis at an early age. He played throughout high school his his hometown of Woodbury, New Jersey, and continued his career in college at Rutgers University-Camden, an NCAA Division III school nearby. When he and Wells, both retired United States Navy officers, met in 2006, there was something that Wells needed to learn quickly.

“The first thing he found out about me was that I loved tennis,” Gelsinger said. “We started playing then, and we’ve played a lot since.”

Gelsinger was ranked No. 1 in New England at the end of 2017 in the 45-and-over division.

The two play most of their tennis at Maine Pines Racquet and Fitness Club in Brunswick, often hitting balls four to five times per week. Over the last two years, they’ve played the most competitive tennis they have in a decade — traveling well beyond Maine’s borders and its cozy tennis community — in an effort to see new places and meet new players.

During the 2018 campaign, the duo competed in roughly 15 tournaments, most of them out-of-state.

“Sometimes we play in local Maine tournaments,” said Wells, 57, who is the medical director at Gardiner Family Medicine. “I pursued tennis because it’s a lifelong sport. As a doctor, I like to promote an active lifestyle for my patients, and you can play tennis well into your 70s.”

Gelsinger might have the more accomplished tennis career, having been part of championship teams at Rutgers-Camden during his college days, but Wells is a history buff when it comes to the sport.

Each credits Maine’s local tennis scene with helping them improve their own game.

“There are so many good players in Maine, so many good tournament players,” said Gelsinger, a contracting officer at the Togus VA Medical Center. “They don’t all play all the time — people have full-time jobs and families, and it is a big-time commitment (to travel to tournaments). But we both love the game, and we watch tennis pretty much all the time. I feel like the TV is always on the Tennis Channel.”

Competitive fire isn’t a problem for either Gelsinger or Wells. They come by that part of the sport honestly.

“Ken grew up in a family of eight, and I grew up in a family of 16,” Gelsinger said. “There was always plenty of competition for both of us. You’ve got to figure out some way to crawl to the top.”

Gelsinger and Wells spent much of 2018 ranked inside the top five teams in New England, according to the USTA’s ranking system. As recently as late October, they’d moved into the No. 2 spot.

But consecutive wins over a Connecticut team of Carl Brown and Errol Williams to close out the year — first at the Thanksgiving Tennis Classic in Wilton, Connecticut, and then at the Rhode Island Holiday Tennis Championships in Cumberland, Rhode Island — vaulted the Gardiner tandem into the top spot in New England.

Though they’ve slowed their schedule as the summer winds down, Gelsinger currently sits at No. 4 in the USTA’s 55-and-over singles rankings. Wells is 12th. In the age group, only Brunswick’s Ronald Chicoine ranks higher.

They are the only Maine doubles team ranked in the 45-and-over category across New England.

“It was a fun year,” Gelsinger said. “It was fun to play with Ken for the year. We just enjoy playing tennis together.”

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