The popularity of table tennis has grown exponentially since it became a sport in the Summer Olympics for the first time in 1988.
Local proof of that trend is the recently expanded Westchester Table Tennis Center in Pleasantville.
In April, its neighbor at 175 Tompkins Ave., Kids U, closed shop and its space became available.
“We were planning to take over the space and then the pandemic hit and Kids U left,” said Westchester Table Tennis Center owner Will Shortz. “We started construction at the beginning of May but because of state mandates, we only had a few people working at the facility at a time. The expansion took over two months to complete.”
When the club originally opened in 2011, the entire space was over 14,000 square feet; today, the newly-expanded space is at more than 21,500 square feet. According to Shortz, the center is the largest dedicated exclusively to table tennis in the Northeast.
“There are other spaces that are larger, but they are multi-sports spaces that include things like badminton,” he said.
Shortz and his manager Robert Roberts opened the enlarged facility on July 14, adhering to state mandates limiting the number of people in the building at one time. That means a maximum of 50 people, including patrons and staffers. Since reopening, the club has extended hours of operation to Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 12 to 11 p.m.
Prior to expanding, the center had 19 tables but can now accommodate 30 tables. However, due to COVID-19-related limitations, there are only 15 tables in use. Shortz said there have been about 25 to 30 players throughout the day since the expansion.
“Honestly, people are cautious about coming back,” he said. “Even our most devoted members are being cautious.”
At the height of the pandemic the table tennis center extended memberships for their existing members by four months. Memberships can still be extended for those not ready to return. For non-members, the daily cost is $10 for adults and $5 for those under 20 and for anyone on Thursday before 3:30 p.m.
Westchester Table Tennis Center has held competitive table tennis tournaments since its opening and awarded cash prizes. Two weeks ago, it started hosting Thursday Night Live: T2 Challenge, a new national live competition that takes place in clubs across the country for the next few months. The T2 Challenge started at the center, which will hold matches that are streamed live for four weeks.
“Because we are limited to 50 people we are asking spectators to call ahead and reserve seats,” said Shortz.
The upcoming T2 Challenge tournaments at the center feature matches between professionals and members of the U.S. National Table Tennis team, including Juan Liu, Sharon Alguetti, Amy Wang, Adar Alguetti, Jennifer Wu and Tahl Liebovitz.
Its regular monthly tournaments are slated to return the last weekend in August.
“People are excited,” Shortz said.
One competition that has been canceled for this year at the facility is the Westchester Crossword Puzzle Tournament. The tournament, typically held in the fall, was the brainchild of Shortz, who has been the crossword editor of The New York Times since 1993 and puzzle master for National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition Sunday” since 1987.
Crossword enthusiasts from the tristate area have flocked to Pleasantville to vie for the crossword trophy. Proceeds from the event have gone to the Pleasantville Fund for Learning.
“The crossword tournament is not happening. I don’t think people are ready to come back into an enclosed room,” Shortz said.
Shortz is also known for playing table tennis every day for nearly eight years. As of Sunday, his consecutive playing streak stood unofficially at 2,879 days. The last day Shortz failed to play was Oct. 3, 2012.
“I am playing more than ever and haven’t missed a day,” he said. “These days, with concerns about the virus, table tennis is about the safest sport you can play because you are naturally spaced from the other player and because the tables are spaced out from other players and tables. You get great exercise and improve your stamina as well.”
For more information about the Westchester Table Tennis Center, visit www.westchestertabletennis.com.