North Texas Daily

Table tennis club ready for national stage

Table tennis club ready for national stage

March 24
09:42 2016

Alex Lessard | Associate Sports Editor

@alexjlessard

At least twice a week, an upstairs aerobics room at the Pohl Recreation Center is transformed into a table tennis junkie’s dream. Dozens of balls are scattered on the floor under three tables, and the squeaks of sneakers reverberate off the mirrored walls.

The room plays host to the North Texas table tennis club, which takes its craft more seriously than many realize.

“Ping-pong is more for fun. People don’t really care as much,” sport pedagogy doctorate student Alan Chu said. “Table tennis is a legit sport physically.”

The club qualified for the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association Championships this year for the first time in school history. With competition beginning this weekend in Round Rock, Texas, North Texas is hoping to make a name for itself on the big stage.

“It was a great coincidence that it happened that way on the 125th anniversary of UNT,” club president and mechanical engineering senior David Gradinaru said. “It’s nice that it’s this close and wasn’t in Wisconsin or something. It made travel costs lower than they could have been.”

Ever since Chu founded the club in 2011, it has improved each and every year into what it is today. Now, the club has a record 20 active members, many of whom are part of the TAMS program on campus.

Volunteer coach Daniel Rutenberg gives advice to TAMS student Brandon Chow and sports pedagogy doctoral student Alan Chu. Sarah Bradbury | Staff Photographer

Volunteer coach Daniel Rutenberg gives advice to TAMS student Brandon Chow and sports pedagogy doctoral student Alan Chu. Sarah Bradbury | Staff Photographer

“Our attendance rate is the best this year,” Chu said. “Lots of people want to come and do extra work. I have not encountered that in the past.”

Many of its players have decades of table tennis experience and begin training as early as the age of 6. Club members often play at dorms around campus to promote the club, which supports the addition of any new members regardless of skill level.

During matches, players stand five to 10 feet behind the table, whacking the ball at speeds up to 50 miles per hour. Compared to competitive table tennis players, casual participants use just four percent of the amount of spin on the ball, and often times, beginners mistakenly try to hit the ball as hard as they can with their paddle.

Unlike more popular American sports, an ideal table tennis player measures in at about 5 feet 8 inches and 150 pounds. Having swift feet and exquisite technique is vital to climbing the ladder of success in table tennis, and each individual’s overall rating fluctuates based on performance.

Because of its growing size, the North Texas club is split into A, B and C teams. Its five best players compete with the top squad and have helped tremendously with the development of the rest of the club.

“The new players have someone to look up to,” Chu said. “When they first start, if they don’t see someone that can show them skills to get good, it’s going to be hard to motivate them to get better. But now, we have those role models.”

To help prepare team for nationals, former USATT Paralympic national team coach Daniel Rutenburg has made appearances at recent practices to provide tips and pointers. Rutenburg, originally from Venezuela, has been the personal coach for one of the club’s highest-rated players for more than five years.

He said he’s held a deep passion for table tennis for his entire life and is impressed with what North Texas has been able to accomplish as a club, considering what is provided. Only four schools in the United States provide full-ride table tennis scholarships, including Texas Wesleyan University.

“You have a very young team that’s very qualified here at UNT,” Rutenburg said. “It’s a result of investing a lot of time.”

While the club’s top players have cranked up the intensity this week, some of its other members have begun training to become official NCTTA referees. Brought along to help teach them is Scott Ryan, a 1985 UNT alum and former table tennis regional champion. Ryan’s assistance and expertise has benefited and prepared the club on how to handle the frustration and emotion of game action, especially against tough competition.

Doctoral student in sports pedagogy and psychology and captain of the Table Tennis team, Alan Chu serves the ball during practice on Tuesday night. Staff Photographer | Sarah Bradbury

Doctoral student in sports pedagogy and psychology and captain of the Table Tennis team, Alan Chu serves the ball during practice on Tuesday night. Sarah Bradbury | Staff Photographer

With a quality performance this weekend, the club has the potential to get the exposure it needs to earn sponsorships and continue growing at a rapid pace.

Although Ryan won’t let his North Texas roots influence the tournament results, he said the club still can compete with some of the best teams in the country.

“They have a good chance based on their draw to make possibly the top four teams in the tournament,” Ryan said. “If they play really well.”

Featured Image: TAMS students Brandon Chow and Bryan Wu practice table tennis on Tuesday night in preparation for Nationals. Staff Photographer | Sarah Bradbury

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