Table Tennis Hits an Upswing
By Georgetta Lordi Morque
These days, table tennis, or the recreational version, ping-pong, is looking more like a proud uncle than a distant cousin in the racquet sports family. Tables are popping up in unique venues, juniors are training with professional coaches, George Clooney and Justin Timberlake are playing, high schools and junior high schools are sporting teams and table tennis stars are appearing on shows like Ellen DeGeneres. Plus, rumor has it that ping-pong might be coming to the White House.
There’s a buzz about the game, thanks in part to Spin, the new club in Manhattan, opened last fall by actress Susan Sarandon, where a combination of lounge and serious ping-pong is courting celebrities, as well as top players. But there’s more than just a cool factor.
“The stars have aligned in a lot of areas,” says Michael Cavanaugh, CEO of USA Table Tennis, the national organizing body for table tennis in the U.S. The economy has been a factor, according to Cavanaugh, which has resulted in a rediscovery of the game for families looking for inexpensive quality time. Other factors include the women’s team’s fifth-place finish in Beijing, a growing and active college program, and junior sensations 15-year-old Michael Landers from Long Island and 14-year-old Ariel Hsing from California, both national champions, making headlines as paddling prodigies.
And it doesn’t hurt to have doctors touting ping-pong as good brain therapy because of the hand-eye coordination and rapid eye movement the game demands. Some medical professionals are even saying the game could help slow Alzheimer’s disease. Another selling point for the game was last year’s Hardbat Classic in Las Vegas, a one-of-a-kind table-tennis tournament and lifestyle event, the largest ever assembled in the U.S. ESPN broadcast the event and players received unprecedented prize money.
“Every time table tennis gets on TV, it floats our boat,” says Cavanaugh, adding that the USATT supported the event.
In New York’s Westchester County, ping-pong proved to be a huge hit for one sporting goods retailer who took advantage of a nearby vacant store and transformed it into a ping-pong parlor for six months. Mel Siegel, an owner of Sportech in the Rye Ridge Shopping Center in Rye Brook, N.Y., couldn’t have been more pleased at the outcome. After collecting as many as 900 email addresses from customers who expressed interest in playing ping-pong, Siegel worked with Butterfly to set up four tables in the space.
He rented out court time and organized tournaments and clinics with Robert Roberts, an international champion from Barbados who now coaches in Westchester. Proceeds from the tournament entry fees went to the new Westchester Children’s Museum. “People would walk by, take a quick look and then walk back to look again and smile,” says Siegel, who believes everyone has had ping-pong somewhere in their past. Parents were happy to get their kids off the couch, the activity was good for Sportech and the shopping center, and the museum received more than $3,000.
“Ping-pong draws a wide range of people,” says Siegel. “It’s generational, men and women can play, parents and kids can have fun, and people feel better and healthier afterward.” Soon after the parlor opened, Siegel received requests for birthday parties, sweet 16 celebrations and adult cocktail parties. He even discovered some excellent players he never knew who lived in the area. But a significant outcome of the venture was a senior citizen who was able to beat depression by playing a favorite game from the past.
It seems like the sport has been a win-win on all fronts.
See all articles by Georgetta Lordi Morque