Two special visitors to the Westchester Table Tennis Center in Pleasantville last week hailed the facility as a venue that has contributed to the growth of the sport in the United States.
Gordon Kaye, CEO of USA Table Tennis, the national governing body of U.S. Olympic Table Tennis, paid a visit to WTTC on Dec. 9 along with former Olympic participant Sean O’Neill. The visit was Kaye’s fourth to the center, which he referred to as a “Mecca” for the sport, since he became CEO. He joked that he practically ran from the Pleasantville train station to the Tompkins Avenue venue so he could start playing.
“You walk into a facility like this and you just say ‘Wow,’” Kaye said. “Everything from the paint colors to the lighting to the environment to the activity, it’s just a fun place to be.”
Last Tuesday marked the first visit to WTTC for O’Neill, who played for the U.S. Olympic Table Tennis Team in the 1988 and 1992 Games and was a member of the national team from 1983 to 1995. Having played in table tennis facilities around the world, O’Neill said the problem with many clubs in America is that operators often try to cram as many tables as possible into the available space while limiting memberships to professionals. He said neither of those obstacles exist at WTTC, which is co-owned by Pleasantville resident and New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz.
Kaye and O’Neill noted that part of what makes the facility unique is that it’s open to players of all levels–from novice to professional–helping to spread the sport’s popularity. Kaye said table tennis can be played by people of any age and gender, making it accessible to a large portion of the population.
Table tennis is also one of the few sports in the world where a young girl has a chance to defeat a grown man because problem-solving and reaction is key as opposed to strength, O’Neill said.
“There are so many benefits to this sport–brain development, fighting obesity, social skills. There are so many positive pieces that are a part of this sport,” Kaye said.
O’Neill, who has been playing Ping-Pong since he was eight, noted that it’s a good sport for families to play together and hopes that in the future parents will be as enthusiastic about signing their children up to play as they are for soccer and football.
Kaye, who described himself as a mediocre player, said that since he began playing a few years ago, he has developed a passion for table tennis. A New York City native, Kaye recently moved to Colorado, near the USA Table Tennis headquarters in Colorado Springs. When he learned that the previous CEO of the organization would be stepping down, he sought the position.
Kaye has worked in professional sports marketing and management for most of his adult life, including 10 years with the NHL. He knew the position would mix his past experience with his new passion.
“It’s a perfect blend of my passion for the sport of table tennis and my experience as a sports marketer. The opportunities for this sport are endless,” he said.
His job is to help develop and grow table tennis throughout the country, providing more opportunities for players to go to clubs, compete in tournaments and even become professionals.
Kaye said there are more than four million Ping-Pong players in the country but USA Table Tennis has only 8,000 members. He hopes to “bring the sport out of the basement” and encourage people to patronize facilities like WTTC.
Once the business side of the sport is addressed and facilities are able to stay open year-round while making money, Kaye hopes to focus on programming, offering more opportunities for youngsters to compete on the world stage.