Table Tennis by Lily Yip
1992 & 1996 US Olympian

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USATT's First Family of Table Tennis by David Fullen

Star Ledger 

Table tennis is their racket

At a club in Westfield, the competition is fierce


By Peter Genovese

Thwack . . . thwack . . .thwack . . .

The hollow sound echoed in the fluorescent-lit room, which smelled of damp socks and sweat.

Thwack . . . thwack . . . thwack . . .

At one Ping-Pong table, Lily Yip and her doubles partner, a man in his 50s, were making quick work of their opponents, the ever-competitive Yip, a former U.S. Olympian, announcing every point with a smile.

At a nearby table, Yip's 10-year-old daughter, Judy, served with a flourish, dipping her shoulders so they nearly touched the table, flipping her paddle like a short order cook with a spatula.

Behind her, on a bulletin board, there was news of upcoming tournaments and events, and this item, courtesy of the Weekly World News:

Two love-crazed teenagers dueled to the death over a pretty college student, playing Ping-Pong around the clock for seven straight days until one of them finally keeled over with heart failure.

Maybe someone at the New Jersey Table Tennis Club in Westfield should take down the clipping before it gives anyone ideas.

About playing Ping-Pong seven straight days, that is.

"There are 50-60 members who have keys to the club," says Barry Dattel, the club's president. "They open and close it. They can play whenever they want. Back in the '80s, when we were all in college, we'd hang out here until 3, 4 o'clock in the morning." Dattel smiled. "We're all older now."

Older but, in some cases, better. Dattel has won the state men's table tennis championship the past two years. Yip, his wife, is a two-time U.S. Olympian, and is among the top-ranked U.S women. Judy Yip, her daughter, is ranked number two in the country among girls under 12, while Adam, her son, is ranked number one in the country among boys under 12.

They are among the 165 members of the New Jersey Table Tennis Club, which attracts beginners, top-flight players and everyone in between. David Zhuang of East Brunswick, the third-ranked U.S player, is a member, and the club is a must-stop for visiting table tennis players from China, Taiwan and other countries.

The club may look unglamorous -- bare walls, concrete floors, lockers reminiscent of a high school gym -- but members don't care how the place looks, as long as the doors stay open.

"It's not a place you'd want to bring your girlfriend on a date -- unless she plays," Dattel said, smiling.

The club, located above a hair salon on North Avenue in Westfield, has bounced around more times than an errant Ping-Pong ball. Its roots can be traced to a league, known as the New Jersey Table Tennis Association, that was founded in the 1930s. The league moved from Newark to Cranford to Edison to Irvington before finding a permanent home in Westfield, and becoming incorporated as the New Jersey Table Tennis Club, in 1971.

In the club's second-floor space, the windows are covered with blue plastic sheets, and a TV is perched atop an old refrigerator. The tables, though, are top-of-the-line -- eight $1,200 Stiga Expert VM tables, "the best quality tables you can buy," according to Dattel.

Adult club members pay $245 annual dues; student dues are $125, junior dues $83. There are three league nights: Monday, designed for novice players; Tuesday, for intermediate players; and Thursday, for highly skilled players.

Among the members is 80-year-old Daniel Dickel of Bridgewater, who plays twice a week and is quick to distinguish between Ping-Pong and table tennis.

"I started to play table tennis -- really play it -- when I came to New Jersey in the early 50s," Dickel said. "I played Ping-Pong before that." He laughed. "Ping-Pong has no rules. Ping-Pong you can set up on the kitchen table."

In table tennis, there are rules -- more than 20 pages worth. The table tennis table, according to rule 1.2, "shall be made of any material and shall yield a uniform bounce of about 23 cm. (8 3/4 in.) -- when a standard ball is dropped from a height of 30 cm. (12 in.) above the surface."

The racket may be any size, shape or weight, but the blade or surface must be covered with either ordinary pimpled rubber (a single layer of non-cellular natural or synthetic rubber), or sandwich rubber (a single layer of cellular rubber covered with a single outer layer of ordinary pimpled rubber).

USA Table Tennis (USATT), headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo., is the governing body for the sport in this country. According to spokeswoman Vicki Ulrich, there is dispute over the sport's origins. An 1810 color lithograph shows young boys playing a table tennis-like game. In 1900, James Gibb returned to his native England with celluloid balls he picked up during a trip to America. Gibb is credited with coining the term "ping" (for the sound made on the racket) and "pong" (for the sound of the ball hitting the table). In 1901, John Jacques, an English sports manufacturer, registered the name Ping-Pong in America and sold the American rights to Parker Brothers.

According to USATT, there are 20 million recreational table tennis players in the United States; the organization does not have worldwide estimates, but says table tennis is the second most-participated sport in the world next to soccer.

Asian countries, particularly China and Korea, hold a stranglehold in the event. Lily Yip, 36, was born in Canton, China; the 36-year-old Zhuang, the 1999 U.S. men's doubles winner, was born in Guondung, China. The two are among the elite players now competing in the world table tennis championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Table tennis, a full-medal Olympic sport since 1988, will be played at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

On the association's Web site (, one can find listings of upcoming tournaments and rankings of top players statewide and nationwide.

Yip, who met Dattel during a match in Connecticut in 1987 (she trailed him 19-16 in the fifth and deciding game, but rallied to win, 21-19), has her own Web site ( On it, she talks about trying out for the U.S. national team, and about the sport in general.

"I have a dream to promote this sport and make it as popular as it is in Asia and Europe," says Yip, who conducts clinics for junior players. "Clinics are the best way to bring large numbers of 'basement players' into mainstream table tennis. I hope my clinics will get bigger and bigger. I hope my dream will become reality."

The New Jersey Table Tennis Club is well out of the basement, and Yip, Dattel and other members believe the club's and the sport's stature can only grow.

"Some people think it's a wimpy sport -- 'all you do is hit the ball back and forth,' " Dattel says, smiling. "They don't realize it's a highly skilled sport. But it's also a sport anybody can play and have a good time."

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