is their racket
At a club in Westfield, the competition is
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
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
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 (USATT.org), 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 (www.lilyyip.com). 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
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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