Table tennis is a sport indiscriminate of age, gender or background.
Take a recent example seen at the Oklahoma City Table Tennis Club's new facility at 1604 N.E. Eighth: An aged man breathlessly hobbled to one side of a table, paddle in hand, and looked across to his opponent, a lithe and athletic young man. The kid darted back and forth, jumping for shots and smacking them back at the old man with added style for emphasis.
The old man's game was more efficient, much slower and lacking much of any style, yet he matched the younger player's boundless energy by steadily edging him out of position before finally smacking a perfect kill shot.
Britt Salter, club president, and David Hash, vice president, both smirked as they watched the battle.
"There are so many levels of table tennis, you can be a garage-style player all the way to a professional," Hash said. "A 5-year-old to a 90-year-old man " anybody can do it, and the nice thing about competing at Ping-Pong, you can have an inexperienced 15-year-old in a tournament play older people at the same level. A 12-year-old can play a 44-year-old, as long as they are rated at the same level."
Salter said the club has been around since the 1950s, but has bounced around from facility to facility until finally landing a permanent home. It took the club years of fund-raising to secure the new space, purchase 10 tables (at around $1,600 apiece) and three table-tennis robots, and fix up the building so it was fit for players.
"We renovated the building when we got it," Salter said. "It was really dark and dingy, so we put in some lights, painted the walls, cleaned up and painted the floor. We put in air conditioning and some bathrooms."
He hopes the club will help stir up more local interest in the game, which, according to the Web site of the Olympic movement, has more participants worldwide than any other sport. That diversity can be seen as players from all nationalities converge on the club.
Salter said champions from all over the globe " including former Olympian from Ghana, Winfred Addy " belong to the club. That kind of skilled membership draws enthusiasts from across the region to get lessons and pit their game against the best.
One migrating player is a quiet teenager who shuffled into the club with a headband, track shorts and a gym bag full of equipment. Salter said the kid has driven from Weatherford regularly for the past year, and his game has improved dramatically.
The key to becoming a good player is to diversify one's skills, Salter said. To help get new players up to speed, the club holds tournaments for beginners on Monday nights. Entry into a tournament will initially be the entry into the club, which is $5 for adults and $3 for full-time students and those under 18. Playing in tournaments is beneficial, because it forces players to face unfamiliar opponents.
"A lot of people will come up here with a buddy and stand six feet away from the table and loop back and forth," he said. "Problem is, when they go to a tournament, they will have problems when they run up a guy who won't give them a ball to loop, and they can't make them because they don't know how to do that."
That's why older players who may have lost a few steps physically might still be able to top young guns with loads of energy. A seasoned vet can recognize and exploit one gaping hole in their game.
"There are a lot of techniques and clever ploys a player will use," Salter said. "Table tennis is a strength-versus-weakness game. If player A is playing player B and beats him every time, and then player B plays player C and beats him every time, that does not mean that player A will beat player C. It's not algebraic, because there might be one thing that player C does that does not bother player B, but just tears up player A."
And just as the young man hopped around the table, lunging in desperation to save shots as he got worked over by the older man, Salter recalled his own introduction to the club years ago via an 80-year-old man named Wally.
"Wally had rubber (on his paddle) that looked like Moses played with his paddle while parting the Red Seas. It was that old," he said. "So I walked up to the table, thinking I was getting really good. Wally beat me like a drum about 40 or 50 times. And when I finally figured out how to beat him, it was a proud moment for me." "Charles Martin