Table tennis (ping pong) is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, as well as in the United States. To show you how popular the sport is, table tennis has been in the Summer Olympics since 1988. (Sports such as squash, racquetball, pickle ball and platform tennis are not.) Asian countries have dominated the competition, with China having won an unprecedented 24 gold medals in the last seven Olympics.
Last week I had the opportunity to visit two table tennis clubs in Western New York that are generally considered to be the finest in this area. The Greater Buffalo Table Tennis Club is located in St. George Church, on the corner of Nottingham Terrace and Amherst Street, across from Nichols School.
The other club is the MatchPoint Table Tennis Center, at 789 Gilmore Ave., North Tonawanda. It is located inside the Christian Academy of Western New York, formerly Gilmore Elementary School.
Both clubs are run by individuals who have a great love for the sport and have done an outstanding job of recruiting new players and keeping the game alive in the area. The Greater Buffalo Table Tennis Club is headed by Lou Bystrak. He has been in charge of running the club for the last 20 years. In 2008, he was looking for a place to play in for eight to nine months of the year.
“I called a meeting of other players who were greatly interested in table tennis and many enthusiasts showed up,” he said. “We decided that the Nottingham site was an excellent choice and we have six top-of-the-line Joola table tennis tables. Presently, we meet Monday and Wednesday nights from 6:30-10:30 p.m. The price to play is very reasonable and we have players of all levels at our club.”
Ray Nagel is the MatchPoint Table Tennis Center founder.
“I had been a member of the Greater Buffalo Tennis Club for eight years and felt that there was a need for another club in the area,” he said.
Last August he opened the new club and it has been a great place for players to practice, train, take lessons, and play tournaments.
“We are open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights from 6:30 to 11 p.m. We currently have six tables and will be getting four more shortly as the game continues to grow,” Nagel said.
Nagel is also the only coach in Western New York certified by USA Table Tennis. He gives private lessons and helps newer players get involved in the sport. Nagel hosts a monthly tournament once a month on Saturday for all skill levels and has modest cash prizes for the top division.
I had the good fortune to watch the two best players in the area. Yong Ren and Sunny Lee, play a mesmerizing match for about half an hour at Match Point. The skills that they possessed were incredible. Rallies (keeping the ball in play) seemed to go on forever, with both players making miraculous shots time after time. However, I soon found out why they were so talented.
Ren, who was ranked 40th in the Open Division in the United States a few years ago, has defeated players who were on the U.S. Olympic Table Tennis Team. In 2004, he finished third in the USA National 40 and over division. Lee was the National Men’s Open Singles Champion of Singapore more than 25 years ago. He also represented Singapore in the World Championships. When asked how he did, he replied that it was “a humbling experience.”
How to play: A match is played as best-of-five games. The first player to reach 11 points wins the game. However, a game must be won by two points if the score is tied at 10-10. Each player then gets one serve until someone eventually wins by two points. Players also switch sides after each game. If the match goes to a fifth game, players switch sides after every five points.
Equipment at the top level such as Joola and Butterfly tables and paddles can be quite expensive. However, you can go online and get them at reasonable prices.
Both Bystrak and Nagel agree that anyone who takes up table tennis will be pleasantly surprised by the great workout that the game provides, how it helps your reflexes, the sportsmanship that is involved, and how it keeps you mentally astute.
They both related that there are quite a few players in their 60s and 70s who are still playing and moving remarkably well.
For further information as to prices for playing at the two clubs (very reasonable) and other pertinent information, call Lou Bystrak at 895-7920 or email him at GreaterBuffaloTabletennis.com. Ray Nagel may be reached at 400-1041.