Plus a little creative non-fiction about the invention of the sponge table tennis paddle, starring the great Marty Reisman and a suitcase full of stolen gold.
The US Table Tennis Association is holding their national championships in Virginia Beach this week, after 30 years in Las Vegas.
According to Dean Johnson, chairman of the local organizing committee, there are potentially over 100,000 recreational table tennis players in the area, not to mention some 3,000 USATT members within a day’s drive. Plus, we’ve got that state-of-the-art convention center.
Few people in the States realize the international popularity of table tennis. The USATT considers it to be the second most played sport in the world, behind soccer. As of a few years ago there were 40 million competitive table tennis players worldwide, meaning Ping Pong Nation is roughly the size of Poland. That’s a whole lot of plick-plock over the tiny net.
I’ve personally been to two USATT national championships through the course of producing a documentary on the sport. What you’ll find is a roomful of kind, energetic, intelligent characters sprinting the 152.5 centimeters from one side of the table to the other, sweating, laughing, with the intensity of professional athletes, but none of the ego.
Through table tennis I met some of the most interesting people that have ever graced my life. The player that left the greatest impression is a former champion named Marty Reisman, a New York City hustler and international man of mystery. You really have to meet him to believe him. One of those guys. I wrote a story about Marty’s role in the advent of the sponge table tennis paddle, his gold smuggling, and what it was like to be the Don Juan of the table tennis world of the 50s. Click here to check it out.
You get a chance to meet the legend that is Marty Reisman in the flesh tomorrow evening (Tuesday). He’s taking part in An Evening of Table Tennis Talent, Techniques and Tricks at the Virginia Beach Convention Center at 7pm. Last time I hit balls with Marty he had me set up a cigarette on the table, and then he cut it in half with a serve.
Ping pong. Hell yah.
For tournament schedule and more information, click here.
Wanna play? Here’s info on local clubs: For the Tidewater Club at the Kempsville Recreation Center email Tom Manley at firstname.lastname@example.org. For the Newport News Table Tennis Club, email Morris Abraham at email@example.com.