Gloucester Table Tennis Club

Gloucester Table Tennis

Last year’s champion, Fouad Abdullah of Westbrook, left, poses with Sonu Bhatia, also of Westbrook, between matches Saturday.NEW GLOUCESTER — It takes hand and eye coordination and lightning-speed reflexes to excel at table tennis.

It also takes eye coordination to follow a doubles table tennis match, as players dart back and forth, taking alternating whacks at a ball that turns into a neon orange blur at top speeds.

That may explain why a small but dedicated crowd stayed glued to their seats as the top three doubles teams vied for the title at the Maine Table Tennis Association’s Arthur Lekousi Maine State Championship at the Pineland YMCA on Saturday.

The tournament is named after a longtime state champ and retired French and German teacher at Portland High School. Still playing at 89, Lekousi is an inspiration to the roughly 150 serious players in Maine.

“He is kind of my hero. He is a hard player and a real gentleman when he plays, ” said Bob Westhoven of Cumberland.

Table tennis – also known as pingpong – was invented as an upper-class, after-dinner parlor game in Victorian England. It was recognized as an Olympic sport in 1988.

The Maine association is the only statewide group to hold an organized tournament for a handful of table tennis clubs around the state. Coordinator Irena Stepan said the association has been around for decades.

Taylor Pancoast concentrates. The tournament is named for Arthur Lekousi, a former champ and retired Portland High School teacher.Stepan, who hosts table tennis matches in her Gray basement on Sundays, said it is difficult to find space to play, since the association and local clubs all operate on shoestring budgets.

Right now interest in the sport is rising because of the recent arrival of Fouad Abdullah, 20, of Westbrook on the state’s table tennis scene. Since he came to Maine with his parents and younger brother and sister via Turkey last year, Abdullah has raised the competitive bar for table tennis in the state.

Abdullah was a member of the national table tennis team in his native Iraq before his family fled and the team fell apart. He was Maine state champion in 2014 and went on to play at the USA Table Tennis-ranked tournament at Westchester Table Tennis Center in New York in January.

Abdullah now practices twice a week with a fledging table tennis club at the Westbrook Community Center, with other top-notch players, such as Sonu Bhatia of Westbrook, who learned to play in his native India, and Svet Kirtchev of Westbrook, who learned to play in his native Bulgaria.

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