While growing up, my family had a ping pong table in our basement — my brother and I would often play during the summers, when we had a lot of time during our summer vacations and when it was nice and cool. I eventually played competitively, once at the Bay State Games and played a little at my university’s table tennis club.
Table tennis has never really gotten a lot of respect or been taken seriously in the United States, and is often referred to as “ping pong.” Until most recently, all American table tennis players who have represented the United States have been naturalized Chinese-born table tennis athletes and often, American table tennis athletes go abroad to train competitively. But in the heart of Silicon Valley in Milpitas, California, the country’s largest youth table tennis training program and facility has recently opened, run by the India Community Center, according to reports in the New York Times:
“…the India Community Center’s Ping-Pong facility was started last year with seed money from two Indian entrepreneurs and has already become an influential hatchery for Olympic hopefuls, most of whom banter in Hindi or Mandarin at home… The program started small in 2005 with five Indian players. “The Chinese people didn’t want to learn table tennis from some Indian,” as Mr. Sheth put it. Winning 16 medals the following year at the Junior Olympics helped persuade the Chinese of the India Community Center’s serious intentions. Today parents have nicknamed it “the India-China center.”
I was surprised to discover that table tennis was invented in England, and not in Asia, even though Professor Min Zhou, a UCLA professor of sociology is quoted in saying that table tennis “is a sport where [Asians and Asian-Americans] have an advantage because of cultural affinity.” 80% of players age 14 and younger are Asian-Americans, according to USA Table Tennis.
The professor also cited that there is a perception amongst Asian American parents that their children would not excel at football or basketball — thankfully, Jeremy Lin is helping to break that stereotype — and that table tennis is a sport that their kids can be active in and overcome the stereotype of being nerdy. Hello? Most Americans don’t consider table tennis a sport. In fact, I think most would think of table tennis the nerdiest of all sports. Maybe more nerdy than badminton (though if you’ve ever watched competitive badminton, it is very demanding physically.) And as much as I enjoy playing table tennis, personally I’d rather have more Asian Americans playing football or basketball so we can see more Jeremy Lin’s on the basketball courts.