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THE NEW JERSEY TABLE TENNIS CLUB IS IN FULL SWING
By Leslie Murray
In an unassuming building in the center of downtown Westfield lives the heart of competitive table tennis in New Jersey. Inside this converted bowling alley, at 226 North Avenue, is the New Jersey Table Tennis Club (NJTTC), in full action, even in the later hours of the evening. The club is buzzing with about 30 members on this night and each of them is holding a paddle poised to play. "It's a very cosmopolitan place.You're here to play," says Elias Al Lisman, a long-time member of the club. Lisman joined the predecessor of NJTTC in 1946 when it was located in Cranford. He later rejoined in 1972 when the club reopened in its current location.
NJTTC currently has about 200 members, all of different ability levels, including two former Olympians.The club, which is outfitted with professional grade, top of the line tables, has three nights of league competition throughout the year and has open play at all times, except during tournaments.The NJTTC has attained such a level in standing that it has hosted the Untied States Table Tennis Open twice.The weekly leagues meet for competition based on the players' skill levels. On Mondays, play is meant to accommodate beginners of any skill level;Tuesdays require a very moderate skill level and ranges to a higher skill level and Thursdays are geared towards the highest skilled players at the club. "This is one of the best full- time facilities in the nation," says Barry Dattel, president of NJTTC, Dattel, who has been president of NJTTC since 1990, and first joined in 1978. His history with tennis both on the court or on a table is long standing. His tennis career includes being the New Jersey State College Champion in 1981.
Dattel's parents met playing table tennis and he and his wife met while playing. Dattel's wife, Lily, plays at NJTTC, and so does the couple's children. "It goes through the generations," Dattel says.The club membership even allows for that, providing memberships for a player and his other spouse. "Our club is one of the front running clubs," Lisman says.Three generations of the Lisman family, starting with Al, have played at this club. Lisman himself began playing table tennis around the age of 8 when he received a ping pong set that went across the kitchen table. He later bought a used table when he was in college for $5 and set it up in his basement. The rest, he says, is history. "We have only two requirements to play in this club; you pay your due and you behave like a gentleman," Lisman says. He also jokingly adds that gambling, drinking and smoking are included in the list of things not allowed in NJTTC. Dattel and Lisman agree that one of the main benefits of a club such as theirs is that it operates full time, allowing members to have access to quality playing surfaces in an environment that fosters a social and fun activity. "This is one of the few full time clubs in the country," Dattel says. In being a full time club, NJTTC allows members who have a specific standing to apply to carry a key to the club. It is with that policy that members have access to the club as long as someone who has a key is available.There are currently about 40 to 50 members who have keys, and that has kept the club open every night for the past 15 years. "We've had international stars come We've had lots of people come," Dattel says. Lisman explains that even for the "old timers," table tennis is a safe activity. The current total of members is nearing so high a number that Dattel is considering putting a cap on the membership.
It's a club that is here for the members, and the members are here to play table tennis," Lisman says. Dattel adds that for information on becoming a member, contact either (908) 654-9009 or (908) 232- 9659.