West Madison High School Table

High School Table Tennis

Bouncing from side to side in a hallway at Barrington High School, senior Will Johnson kept his eyes on a plastic white ball, slamming it hard as he tried to spin it out of the reach of an opponent.

Johnson was one of 19 students who had stayed after school for a weekly meeting of the high school's Ping-Pong club, and like many of his friends, he didn't want to leave. The 17-year-old is a table tennis devotee who lists playing video games, building Web sites and programming computers as other hobbies. But, he said, "Ping-Pong rocks!" because for him, it is an athletic activity without the pressures or expectations of varsity sports.

"I enjoy playing, " he said. "It doesn't require physical prowess. All it requires is hand-eye coordination, a paddle and a ball."

While still largely played in garages and basements at home, table tennis, which experienced its last surge of popularity in the mid-1970s, seems to be experiencing a renaissance at Chicago's suburban high schools.

"Ping-Pong is the hot club right now, " said Peter Geddeis, secretary of the Illinois Directors of Student Activities, a group that tracks student club trends statewide. "It is hot throughout the suburbs. Some of them already have established clubs. Some of them are putting clubs together. Some don't have clubs, but they have an annual tournament that raises money for charity, and those are drawing more and more kids in."

Sales of table tennis equipment nationwide have been on the upswing since the 1994 release of "Forrest Gump, " a film in which actor Tom Hanks demonstrates the lead character's role in the Ping-Pong diplomacy of the 1970s, when the U.S. Table Tennis team visited China.

In the last five years, Ping-Pong clubs have started to spring up at high schools in Southern California, southern Florida, Houston and Baltimore, said Larry Gajderowicz, marketing manager for Escalade Sports, a sporting goods manufacturer that has owned the Ping-Pong brand trademark since the 1960s.

The company, based in Evansville, Ind., receives requests for Ping-Pong equipment from school districts on a weekly basis, he said.

"Overall, there's been a continued or renewed interest in it, " Gajderowicz said. "Video games have gone to such new levels that kids are looking for a way to get back to throwback days, when things were more interactive with people."

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Source: articles.chicagotribune.com
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