Why Table Tennis (Ping Pong) is a growing sport
Dyllian Gonzalez, 63, learned to play table tennis in her native Puerto Rico and played at a high level in national events until taking a break. Now she’s a regular at Fairfield Table Tennis Club, where she is known for not backing down to anyone when she gets onto a table. “This is one game where women can compete on an equal footing with men. It’s a whole body exercise and it helps keep your mind sharp. You have to react and think quickly,” says Gonzalez.
Ping pong and table tennis are essentially the same game. But table tennis is the game’s original name. Those who compete in the sport and take it seriously refer to it as table tennis. Those who play for fun in their basements, well, that’s ping pong.
David Strang, director of the Fairfield Table Tennis Club, says there’s an even bigger difference between the two. “What we do is take ping pong players and turn them into table tennis players,” says Strang, an avid and skilled player. Nearby several club members were battling one another at the Fairfield Senior Citizen Center gym on a cold afternoon.
Devotees of the game who wanted to meet on a regular basis and engage one another in friendly, albeit determined matches, founded the Fairfield Table Tennis Club in 1994. “This is a perfect venue for the game,” says Strang, a former state champion who coaches the game and makes and repairs paddles, some of which can cost upward of $400. “We have lots of space—enough for eight tables—and it is very well lit, which is critical to playing the game well.”
The club attracts participants of all ages and generally numbers around 20 a session, which are held Wednesdays and Saturdays. The club is open year-round to all, and players pay a fee of $10 per visit to use the facilities and tables. The ages of members vary, from late teens to octogenarians, some of the latter giving the youngsters more than they bargained for.
Seventy-four-year-old Slava Katz has been coming to the club almost since its inception. “I played as a teen and then kind of stopped until my 50s. I wanted to get back into it and I’m still getting better. It’s great aerobic exercise and this is a very friendly group of people.”
“I have been coming here five years for the competition,” says Anthony Capasso, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Connecticut who plays on the school’s club table tennis team. “There are all ages and skill levels and some very good players. I love the game because there is a lot of thinking and finesse to it.”
Table tennis has been around for some time. According to the website ThoughtCo, table tennis probably descended from the game of Royal Tennis (also known as Real Tennis or Court Tennis), which was played in the medieval era. In the 1880s British army officers stationed in India and South Africa took up the game, and it spread back to England where it became fashionable among the upper classes.
According to the International Table Tennis Federation website, the first use of the name “table tennis” appeared on a board and dice game made by J.H. Singer of New York. The earliest existing evidence of an actual table-tennis game is a set made by David Foster, patented in England. The website says that a John Jacques of London introduced a “Gossima” game, which used drum-type paddles, a 50-millimeter web wrapped cork ball, and a 30-centimeter net. By the 1890s, several patents with basic rules had been registered, and around that time Parker Brothers began making an indoor tennis kit that included a portable net, a small ball covered in netting, and paddles.
Here in Fairfield, Strang will try to arrange games for new players to determine their skill level then it is up to individual members to play against one another. The winner of a match usually keeps the table and is then challenged by another player. Think of it as schoolyard basketball with paddles, plastic balls, and a three-quarters to an inch-thick table separated by a six-inch net. The best players will often compete in tournaments staged in Connecticut and neighboring states.
For those who want to play the game at home, a good table will cost you anywhere from $300 to several thousand. A table can fold into a rather modest space, like a basement or a garage. Get yourself a paddle—from $30 to $300—some balls, and you’re in business.
“It’s a lifetime sport,” says Strang, as he finishes making a paddle for a player. “It’s a great sport for both men and women and we hope that more females join the club.”