SMC Ping Pong Prevails Largely Unnoticed

Ping pong, table tennis, whatever you wish to call it, is one of the most popular sports in the world, but to most Americans it's merely a curiosity.

Table tennis isn't a large part United States history. Who can remember their grandfather recounting tales of a tempestuous match of table tennis against their rival school?

Table tennis in the U.S. amounts to a serious endeavor for very few, a pastime for some and a beer drinking competition to the many fraternity houses.

That is not to say the sport isn't growing in prominence. Table tennis has been receiving an increasing demand at Santa Monica College ever since it began classes in 1987. Also, every Sunday at the SMC gymnasium, anyone is welcoming to come and get a taste of the growing table tennis craze for a small price.

Jo Kidd is the coordinator for the Sunday Co-Recreation organization. "It provides a place where we can have community participants. It has been going on for 40 years, nine to nine. It's pretty amazing," said Kidd. Beyond the co-recreation, SMC offers two table tennis classes and will soon add a third.

On the outside, looking in, it would appear that anyone with an interest for table tennis has plenty of opportunities to enjoy the game and improve their ability. For those enthusiastic about table tennis, the amount of time they have with their table tennis class and the Co-Recreation on Sunday just isn't enough time.

The table tennis coordinators on campus have seen a growing demand for table tennis being followed up with no increase in gym time. Dr. Ichiro Hashimoto, a table tennis instructor at SMC, commented on the current conditions. "I would say they are never going to be perfect, because the facility is limited," he said.

Regardless of their limitations, Kidd and her colleagues have arranged for SMC to compete in Association of College Unions International's (ACUI) sponsored tournaments since 1990. However Kidd finds putting together a team to be a challenging task. "They don't know about [ACUI] because we haven't been able to get the gym to practice. We have the gym one day a week.

How do you get a team to compete against these teams that have a gym and funding?"
Last year SMC was unable to form a team for the ACUI tournament but this year several dedicated volunteers are trying to make it happen. Kamran Khairzad, a former SMC student is serving as co-chair of the table tennis advisory committee, is donating his time to help prospective table tennis athletes get ready for the upcoming competition.

Khairzad was a champion in mixed doubles at the 1994 ACUI Championships. Khairzad and his colleagues believe there is a bright future for competitive table tennis at SMC. "The last time we played was in 2006 at Cal State Long Beach. We ended up losing to USC, and they're very strong, they win it every year almost. According to [USC] we give them the biggest competition," said Khairzad.

SMC's extramural table tennis team, which amounts to a varsity equivalent, hopes to host an invitational in November and December followed by a championship in February, no exact dates have been agreed upon.

However the extramural team has yet to be selected. This year it appears a team will be formed, a few very talented table tennis students have already expressed interest. "I'm trying for it and I'm practicing. At this stage I would hope to make it," said SMC student Mosadiq Atifmal, who is trying out for the team alongside his brother Moqadas.

The table tennis students feel they would have a better chance in competitions if they had more time to practice in the gym. "There's too many other sports competing for the gym, [such as] basketball, they bring in more spectators and money," said SMC student Lynn Chang, who is also trying out for the team.

The table tennis students are complacent with their terms for now. They are mostly thankful to the devoted volunteers who make table tennis at SMC a reality. "Kamran has been real inspirational to us. He's the one who introduced table tennis to us. We saw him competing at an event, and we really enjoyed it. He has been very supportive, and basically if it wasn't for him we wouldn't be playing," said Moqadas Atifmal.

"We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Jo's tenacity or perseverance. We are all grateful for her. It's fun, we have a great time, and we get to meet people from all over the world," said table tennis advisor, Bill Greenblatt, who will help select the extramural team.

This underdog story may one day be looked back upon as a peculiarity. Ping-pong wasn't even declared a national sport in China, where you can find it virtually everywhere, until 1950. All new sports, inherently, must go through an incubating period before they are fully embraced.

Just this past Friday, on Oct. 17, marked the first meeting of the SMC Ping Pong Club. The club took advantage of the new Friday activity hour from 11 a.m. to noon. when they can use the gym after the table tennis class. Secretary of the club Carol Li encouraged players of any skill level to attend their meetings. Li herself claims she "doesn't know how to play."

"We want to set up a club that lets everybody play. We can make a lot of friends here," said Li.

Kidd plans to work with SMC's Inter-Club Council to host intramural tournament for all the clubs to participate in. Kidd wants to invite every SMC club to gather a team of four players to compete at the tournament, which she hopes to have on Dec. 5.

Over the last 21 years, table tennis has made many small strides at SMC towards reaching the recognition it wants. Perhaps the club will open the floodgates for student interest in the sport. "Nobody hears me, but maybe they'll hear the students," said Kidd.

"It's an Olympic sport, and it's the only sport you can play from 8 years old to 80. It's a good mental sport and aerobic sport. So for those reasons I think we should recognize it as a sport here in our varsity program and I hope it happens before I take my trip to the next dimension," said Kidd.