Players compete in a doubles match at the 2018 Atlantic Regional tournament in Portland. Nearly 400 players will gather at Apex Racket and Fitness this weekend for this year’s tournament. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The USA Pickleball Atlantic Diamond regional tournament makes its return to Portland this weekend after a four-year hiatus, with nearly 400 players ready to compete in one of America’s fastest growing sports.

The field is predominantly made up of players from the northeast and eastern Canada, with some coming from as far as Florida and Nevada.

“It’s going to be some of the highest-ranked players in New England,” said Rocky Clark, director of USA Pickleball for the Atlantic Region.

This marks the first Atlantic regional tournament since 2019 – and first in Portland since 2018 – after a two-year break because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s an opportunity to play against people I haven’t seen and it’s an opportunity to play a number of (doubles) games with someone I do know,” said Kevin Moquin, 49, of Portland, who will team with fellow city residents Adam Bebient and Julie Brooke in men’s and mixed doubles.

There are 390 players, ranging from age 14 to 82, who make up the field at Apex Racket and Fitness. Players will compete in men’s singles and doubles, women’s singles and doubles and mixed doubles, organized by age and ability, Clark said.


“We have to combine some brackets, but generally want people of the same age and skill playing each other, in increments of five years,” Clark said.

Women’s doubles and men’s singles champions will be crowned Friday. Saturday will feature mixed doubles championships, with men’s doubles and women’s singles championships decided on Sunday.

In past years, regional tournaments served as qualifiers for the USA Pickleball Nationals, which includes pro players. This year, players who finish first or second in a division will qualify to compete in the inaugural Diamond Amateur Championship from Dec. 1-7 in Holly Hill, Florida. In addition, gold medalists will earn preregistration status for the 2023 nationals in Indian Wells, California.

Created in 1965, pickleball is a racket game similar to tennis, played with a plastic ball much like a whiffle ball.

“It’s a very easy game to pick up. It’s a slow plastic ball to make contact with,” Clark said. “At the same time, it’s a difficult sport to master. I learn something new every day about how to hit the ball or how to attack an opponent. It’s just an amazing sport. It’s very addictive. It’s very social.

“I think the name almost helps (the sport). It’s kind of a silly name. It’s hard to get too wound up about it.”


Pickleball’s popularity has soared over the past decade. The number of players in the United States nearly doubled to 4.8 million from 2014 to 2021, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Most are considered “casual” players who play the sport seven or fewer times a year. The “core” players, who play more frequently, total 1.4 million. Also, the average age of all pickleball players has consistently dropped over the past several years (38.1 years old in 2021), and the fastest growth rate among casual players is among players 24-and-under.

When LeeAnna Lavoie, 42, of Jay and her husband, Art, started playing pickleball eight or nine years ago, the former tennis players were quickly at the top of the New England competitive list.

“Now, younger kids are coming up and it’s a whole different level,” Lavoie said. “More people are playing in general and younger kids see that. And the pickleball community is really nice and welcoming. The people we’ve met are amazing.”

Lavoie’s son, Jaziah, 14, is an example of the growth among younger players. In April, he became the first youth player from Maine to place at the U.S. Open, taking third in the 15-18 age group (ages are based on a player’s age as of Dec. 31 of the calendar year).

The growth of players has fueled an increase in places to play. The Southern Maine Pickleball group’s Facebook page lists 31 locations where pickleball can be played from Brunswick to Sanford, Cape Elizabeth to Fryeburg. Most locations have multiple courts. USA Pickleball reported an increase of 789 new locations in 2021, bringing the national total to over 9,500.

Another indication of pickleball’s growth – and acceptance – occurred earlier this month when Ben Johns, the sport’s No. 1 ranked player, appeared on the cover of Tennis magazine and, Clark said, 42 of the magazine’s 65 pages were devoted to pickleball.


The numbers of entries in this year’s Atlantic regional were capped at 390. The last tournament in 2019 had 550 players.

“I started in 2012, I think we had 30 or 40 players in the state. I think we’re over 4,000 now. In the country, it’s gone crazy,” Clark said. “I went to nationals in 2013. I think we had 400 participants. Now it’s over 2,500. You used to be able to pay an entry fee and get into a national tournament. Now you have to qualify for it. The prize money has gone from zero to $10,000 an event (at nationals).”

There is no prize money on the line in this weekend’s tournament, Clark said.

Moquin said his reason for competing is “really to have fun doing it. That’s the main goal. But also to be competitive and play as well as I can. The social aspect is really fun. I’ve made a lot of great friends that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise. It is a blast.”

With parking limited at Apex Racket and Fitness, the tournament is not open to spectators.

“We’re going to have a hard enough time finding parking for our players. We really don’t have much viewing (space) there. It’s not ideal for the spectators,” Clark said.

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