Table Tennis by Lily Yip
1992 & 1996 US Olympian

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New Jersey Table Tennis Club - 2000

By DEBORAH MADISON

Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times


The members of New Jersey Table Tennis Club (NJTTC), located in Westfield, prefer to call the sport table tennis, not pingpong. Watching the athletes compete, the difference is obvious. Members of the club, many of whom are national champions, describe pingpong as a recreational hobby and table tennis as a competitive sport.

The paddle makes a loud thwack as it slams the pingpong ball across the table, a white blur at speeds exceeding 125 miles per hour. The players jump from side to side with the reflexes and agility of tennis pros. The best players have leg muscles like Olympic gymnasts. In fact, table tennis has been an Olympic Sport since 1988 and some of this club’s members are Olympic champions. With roots that go as far back as the 1930s, according to club president Barry Dattel, the New Jersey Table Tennis Club has about 150 members in three leagues, beginners, intermediate and advanced. Mr. Dattel is a two time New Jersey State Champion.

Professional table tennis players come from far and wide to experiencetable tennis in what many members describe as “ideal conditions” at the Westfield club on North Avenue. Proper lighting, a level floor and enclosed table areas make the club one of the best in the country, players say. Members hail from as far away as Pennsylvania, Connecticut and South Jersey. There are other table tennis clubs in those areas, but none with the same ideal conditions as the club in Westfield.  “That’s why we get top worldclass players here,” Mr. Dattel said. According to the USA Table Tennis Web site at (www. usatt. org), table tennis is the second most popular sport in the world, second only to soccer. It is estimated that there are 20 million table tennis players worldwide. The sport is most popular in China and Korea. “Increasingly, more women and children are taking up the sport in this country,” Mr. Dattel added.

At the NJTTC, young and old, male and female, compete against each other in leagues and tournaments, as well as for recreation and fun. Beginners play on Monday nights, intermediate players on Tuesday nights and advanced players on Thursday nights. Tournaments, played 10 times a year, are opento both individual players and doubles teams of both sexes. The club also hosts school exhibitions and a variety of special tournaments for the police and fire departments.

Twotime Olympic Gold Champion and Woman’s National Champion, Lily Yip, who also happens to be Mr. Dattel’s wife, is one of the club’s best players. Mrs. Yip won Gold for the PanAmerican team in the ’92 and ’96 Olympics. Originally from China, Mrs. Yip learned the sport as a young girl. “In China, we practiced six to eight hours a day to be the best,” Mrs. Yip recalled. “That was grueling.”

Other members of the club, like Mrs. Dattel’s son Adam, who is the national champion in the under 13 age division, practice one to two hours a day to stay on top of their game. Mrs. Dattel’s daughter, Judy, is the woman’s national champion in the under 12 division.  Adam, who is 12, attributes his success to the great coaching of his parents. “A small part of it may be inherited talent, but more importantly, I had the best teachers in the world,” he said. Adam has only been playing table tennis for three years and said that anyone can learn to become really good at it with hard work and practice. Adam said that he hopes to one day compete in the Olympics like his mother. “It’s important to be in good condition all around and especially to have strong legs,” Adam remarked. He strengthens his legs by working out on a trampoline.

Other members include twotime Olympic champion and threetime National champion David Zhang and Junior Olympic champion Alex Groyzburg from Brooklyn. Alex, who is 17, won second place in the Junior Olympics and first place in the team doubles for the under 18 division. Alex has only been playing for five years and practices one to two hours a day. Watching a tournament match between Mrs. Yip and Alex is an exhilarating experience. The ball moves faster than the eye can see, and the two Olympic champions put spins on the ball that seem to defy the laws of physics.

Club member Larry Bavly from Somerset said that being good at the sport requires speed and focus. “You have to have the competitive drive to win,” he added. Mr. Bavly is ranked number five in New Jersey and has been playing for 13 years. But not everyone at the club has hopes of Olympic glory. Table tennis enthusiasts also come to the club just to enjoy the game and to compete against themselves.

Brian Farkas of Lawrenceville has been playing table tennis for 20 years. He enjoys playing for the sheer fun of it. “Table tennis is very popular in Scotland, where I’m from,” he said.

Ray Arditi drives two and a half hours from Winwood, Pa. just to get lessons from Mrs. Yip, his coach. “The level of competition here makes the drive worth it,” he remarked.

Mrs. Yip and Mr. Dattel hope that the sport catches on more in the United States as it has in many other countries. “We invite anyone to come down to watch and try out,” Mr. Dattel said.

The club relies solely on membership fees to survive. Membership fees run $245 for an adult, $125 for students and $83 for Juniors. Anyone interested can call the club at 908 6549009. They are open seven days a week from 7 to 11 p. m. Or you can visit their Web site at: http:// members. aol. com/ ustabletennis.

The Web site contains links to the 20 pages of official table tennis rules as well as tournament and club locations