Ping-pong rally's on students
Sitting at the entrance of the Santa Monica College Pavilion, Charles McDaniel, Recreation Director of Sunday's Santa Monica Community Recreation Sports Program for the past 18 years, greets the many incoming students and table tennis players as they make their way inside to play ping-pong. With exactly 19 Olympic size ping-pong tables perfectly aligned in the middle of the gymnasium, the nearly 50 table tennis partakers of different ethnicities, genders, and ages, rally and score points against one another while badminton takes place on the outer portions of the pavilion.
According to McDaniel, Professor Jo Kidd formed the Santa Monica Co-Rec Sports Program 40 years ago, which consists of table tennis, badminton, and basketball. Kidd is currently both the supervisor and an instructor for the program.
"It's a great program," said McDaniel, "especially for the students that take the class. We've had students take the class, start at the beginning, and now they're at the top of their game playing tournaments."
McDaniel's primary duty is to make sure the program runs smoothly. In addition, he collects fees from those who turn up for the "open play" ($4 for students; $6 for non-students), and takes attendance to those students enrolled in SMC's 1-unit table tennis class.
According to McDaniel, the table tennis classes are made up of mostly Asian, F1 students (foreign students). The class is organized from 12:30 p.m. till 3:30 p.m. Following the time frame, the tables are open for all to enjoy til 8p.m.
"Asian students have an outstanding influence on table tennis here at SMC," said McDaniel. "It's definitely the majority."
As he walked from table to table, Dr. Ichiro Hashimoto, an SMC table tennis instructor, kept a close watch on his students. When he noticed something wrong with a student's form he would demonstrate and constructively explain the proper technique(s).
Hashimoto is a professor and former chair of the Electrical Engineering department at CSUN. During his studies at UCLA, he represented the university, winning numerous table tennis tournaments.
In 1992 he was elected to serve as the USA Table Tennis (USATT) Pacific Regional Tournaments Coordinator. A few years later he established an official affiliation for Santa Monica College's Community Service and Kinesiology departments with the USATT.
Though Hashimoto was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA, his family is originally from Fukushima, Japan (an area greatly affected by the recent earthquakes and tsunami).
Hashimoto feels that the table tennis culture in the United States has its challenges because of the lack of table tennis teams and college varsity programs available. A table tennis program such as SMC's is crucial to building the sport's reputation.
"In Japan you can receive a full education if you happen to be an elite table tennis player," said Hashimoto, "you'll be recruited."
Hashimoto believes most countries take table tennis a lot more seriously, compared to the U.S.'s football, baseball, and basketball teams.
Stated on USA Table Tennis's official website (www.usatt.org), created in 1933, USATT is the national organizing body for table tennis in the United States.
"Table tennis is a really active game," said Bella Livshin a table tennis instructor for SMC. "But, people of all ages can play. It's fun, fun, fun."
Livshin, now in her 60's, started playing table tennis at the age of 14 in the Ukraine. Besides teaching, she's also a national table tennis umpire for the National Collegiate Tennis Table Association (NCTTA) and the #1 table tennis player in her age group in the U.S.
According to Livshin, there are many Asian players from all over - China, Japan, Thailand, Korea, Russia, etc… who attend the table tennis classes at SMC. However, due to its popularity, the table tennis courses attract people from everywhere.
"SMC is the best facility; It has the best tables, equipment, and gym in the whole Los Angeles area," said Livshin. "People enjoy the class and really learn how to play – it's always popular."
The California State Open Table Tennis Tournament will be held June 25 -26, 2011 at the Santa Monica Pavilion. Visit www.smctabletennis.com for details.