You play table tennis? I play ping pong

Patrick Newell

So I slipped out of New York for a week earlier this month, a stealthy exit perhaps unbeknownst to local readers.
Let’s just say that local sports are on the down low from the midpoint of March until early-April. It is an ideal time of year to take a breather from the longest of our three high school sports seasons, and I decided to vacation in Florida and visit my best friend in the world, Aidamarie Rull. Aida and I spoke on the phone frequently discussing a to-do list for my seven-day stay. Hearing about her routine, my interest immediately piqued when she mentioned her ping pong games three times a week at the local YMCA in Navarre. Aida grew up playing the game frequently with her family, but had not played regularly in years. She made the acquaintance of two retired gentlemen, John Lawlor and Grant Urquhart (sounds like “Erk-hart.”), who had their own high-level table stored at the YMCA’s facility. Aida befriended John and Grant, and she was soon joining them along with others in round-robin type matchups. She recounted her daily experiences of table tennis, and I admitted to some envy. I, too, grew up playing ping pong recreationally, but had played sparsely since my college days almost 18 years ago. (Note my flip-flopping use of ping pong and table tennis depending on who I am talking about. My pointed usage will be explained later).
We resolved to make ping pong a part of our morning regimen after working out in the YMCA’s fitness area. Sidenote: Aida is a certified personal trainer and children’s fitness specialist, and she trains and teaches classes at the YMCA.
I was so hyped up to play ping pong, two days before I took my flight out of Syracuse, I resolved to buy the absolute “best” paddle Wal-Mart had to offer. After dispensing a tad over $6 after tax, I was ready to take on all comers.
Early in my stay, Aida and I purchased some ping pong balls so we could play on the weekend before I actually met John and Grant for their thrice-weekly games on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It was a nice tuneup for the both of us, and a heck of a lot of fun. Doing some research for this blog, I learned that table tennis is one of the world’s most popular games. Considering how I have never met anyone who didn’t enjoy the game upon trying it, I should have assumed that in the first place.
Monday, I was introduced to John and Grant, and therein, the differences between ping pong and table tennis were laid before me. The YMCA’s dynamic table tennis duo usually do a warmup in the YMCA fitness room before embarking on their ball striking fun. Within their duffle bag contains multiple paddles protected with their own form-fitted cover, a buffing and cleaning instrument to wipe the surface of their paddles clean, and multiple balls that are of tournament-level caliber. These two gentlemen come to play table tennis with paddles that cost possibly 10 times what I paid at Wal-Mart. In comparison, I am a hack who has never invested a penny in the game, and the Wal-Mart paddle is the first piece of table tennis equipment I ever purchased.
Summary: Table tennis is not just the formal name for the game, it also describes – in my opinion – the caliber of player. I, Patrick Newell, play ping pong – an informal name for the sport adopted some time ago, and an accurate allocation for informal/novice players.
I learned some nuances of the game during the week (keep your serves low or they will be smacked back at you down your throat was lesson numero uno) I also picked up on rules changes that were implemented a few years ago to increase fan interest among world-class players.
For instance: Games are now played to 11 instead of 21. Two serves are awarded for each player and rotated until someone reaches 11 points. Players must win by two points — the same as the old rules — and in the event of a tie, 10-10, each player alternates one serve at a time until a person wins by two points. The second more glaring rules change is that a player can no longer serve out of his hand, thereby hiding the ball until striking the ball. A ball toss of at least six inches is required before serving. I would imagine that rules change would presently affect a large number of novice players.
A playing buddy of Grant, John, and Aida, whom I met during the week, Kenny, is just a big ol’ cheater. (Just kidding Kenny). He whistles serves at break-neck speed utilizing the hidden-ball-in-hand technique. Kenny, a retired EMT and firefighter, is another great guy I met, and I thank all of the gentlemen — and Aida of course — who reinvigorated my interest in a game I loved for years.