Just about everyone has picked up a table tennis paddle at one point or another. Maybe it was a friend’s birthday, a game night or just for fun in your garage at home. But for some, it’s a sport as competitive as any. That includes a group at Oregon State who gather up to twice a week to play each other and improve their skills.
Oregon State’s table tennis team also plays against other schools in the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association. During the 2014-15 season, Oregon State placed first in the Northwest Division for coed play and won the top five spots in singles. The team also ranks fifth among the 32 schools in the Western Region.
Most of the club team members agree that Hongbo Yu is the best player on the team, but the junior from China studying accounting and finance is modest.
“They are all good,” Yu says of his teammates.
At a recent Tuesday evening practice in Dixon Recreation Center, Yu faced off against Corvallis-native Michael Groom. Groom studies mechanical engineering at Oregon State and has been playing table tennis about six days a week for the past seven years.
Groom says his serve is difficult for competitors to read.
“I get a lot of points that way,” he says. “When I play new people, they don’t have time to adjust to it, and they miss the ball a lot.”
The club’s president, senior ecological engineering and French major Jacob Zinsli, says Groom is probably the most competitive of the bunch.
Zinsli originally started playing at home in Portland when his parents bought a home table, but he didn’t get serious until he took table tennis as a Physical Activity Course (PAC) at Oregon State.
“I learned a lot in that class,” Zinsli says. “I picked everything up pretty quickly. It’s something I think I can do well, so I might as well keep doing it.”
The teammates agree that the weekly practices are time to relieve stress and take their minds off their course work. But it’s also good for their studies. Research shows that students who get involved in clubs, activities and sports are often more successful academically and personally. Yu agrees, and says his English skills have improved since he started playing with the table tennis team.
“My teammates are really nice; they always help me whenever I have a problem. Not only about English, also many other things. I keep improving myself and learning new things thanks to the club,” Yu says.
This year, for the first time, Oregon State’s Club Table Tennis Team was invited to the collegiate national tournament in Wisconsin.
“Unfortunately, it was really short notice, and we didn’t have time to raise the funds to go,” Zinsli says. “It was still an honor to be invited though.”
Back at home and throughout the Northwest Region, Groom competes just about every chance he gets. In December 2013, he entered his first U.S. National Championships in Las Vegas. He competed in several categories, winning the title for the under-1,900 player rating class.
Groom invites anyone with interest to come to a practice and learn about the sport, and he’s sure he’ll be playing for a long time to come.
“I just like the sport,” he says. “I’ve still got a lot to learn, and table tennis is the kind of sport you can play at any level, even at 80 years old.”