Ready to Bounce Back: Looking at SMC's perennial Ping-Pong program.
Santa Monica College has a secret order. It’s not an order bound by blood or a secret that’s been purposefully hidden from view. Rather, they’re bound by a tradition that has existed for over forty years and whose members have held on to them. They’ve become a secret because most students either forgot or don’t know that they exist despite passing walls decorated with their trophies and accomplishments every time they pass through the gym.
And while not religious, they do meet every Sunday.
This isn’t some crazy cult, but rather the SMC Table Tennis Committee. Every Sunday, they meet up from noon to seven to hold a “CoRec” – for Community Recreation - Round Robin tournament. It’s a semi-informal competition between local community ping-pong players kept alive by the ever stalwart Josephine “Joe” Kidd, who founded the meetups over 40 years ago, and Kamran Khairzad, her successor of the program.
“I’ve been here since ’93, every Sunday. I haven’t missed a Sunday unless it’s a holiday” says Charles McDaniel, a former student, baseball player, and coach at SMC. McDaniel assists the Co-Rec Sundays as event coordinator, collecting money at the door for the participants in the Round Robin tourneys. Said McDaniel, “We started off to just keep something in the community, where you can come into the community and play.”
Like most of the long timers that keep the Co-Rec Sundays going, McDaniel is a former student of Kidd, who has been the heart and soul of the organization. She still proudly remembers when SMC’s Table Tennis team was the center of international attention during the famous “Ping Pong Diplomacy” event that helped thaw relations between the US and China in the early 1970’s. The importance of Kidd’s Table Tennis program was sealed into history this last June, when it was inducted into the California Hall of Fame.
"We're going to be celebrating [the award induction], in the March tournament. In the 4th weekend in March," said Kidd. Kidd spoke of the resilience of her creation at length, and on the positive relationship it had to local residents. She insisted that the program was here to stay no matter what, saying "We know that we want the program to go on. As long as I'm living it won't [be canceled]."
These days, the greatest excitement on Co-Rec Sundays is an ongoing rivalry between two star players, Rodney Rodriguez and Vahid Mosaferi. Rodriguez, a health educator at a hospital, drives from Boyle Heights to SMC every Sunday to participate, while Mosaferi is a champion player originally hailing from Iran. The pair have been top contenders at Sunday’s weekly tournaments, trading wins for the top spot since June.
“I like the tables here. The conditions are a lot better than other places” said Rodriguez, who was sure he would win this past Sunday after Mosaferi had to leave for the night. His foresight proved to be correct, and Rodriguez took home his 17th win for the year.
Khairzad, who is taking over the program from Kidd and who manages information technology at UCLA, has been working with the program for 25 years as both player and coach. Originally an SMC student in 1992, Khairzad hopes to bring the program into the larger department of Kinesiology, and expand the number of Table Tennis classes in either the coming spring semester or by fall of 2016.
“We would like it to be more visible to the department” said Khairzad. Khairzad coaches many new players following the training techniques of his former mentor Dr. Isura Hashimoto, and knows there’s definitely potential for the program if it expands. “We’re pretty well known in the Table Tennis community in the US. I have to say it’s one of the best facilities and programs in Southern California.”
Because despite the fact that there is currently only a single class in addition to the Sunday Co-Rec days, the program still hosts three tournaments every year that are officially sanctioned by the USA Table Tennis Association that have featured Olympic Ping Pong champions. With players like Rodriguez, official support from the school, and notice from the student body 2016 could be the year that Khairzad brings a longstanding point of pride for SMC back into the limelight.