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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Table Tennis Society: Up the creek with a paddle

Published: April 1, 2007
Section: News

As yet another ball shot off the ping pong table and whizzed passed my ear, I recalled what I had foolishly bragged to friend just a little earlier: When it comes to ping pong, Im pretty damn good. I had played on an occasional basis against family members and friends had fairly capable control over the ball, but apparently my opponent had much, much more.

When I first heard about Brandeis Table Tennis Society from my friend Mike Weil, I had figured it was a chance to play other good players such as myself. It turned out to be a chance for fantastic players to whoop my sorry ass. They had an advantage that I didnt: training from a coach currently ranked as within Americas 100 best. When the club, formally known as BUTTS (Brandeis University Table Tennis Society,) was established in 2005? (No one persent was sure), the goal was to allow people with an interest in ping pong to advance their game. The club hired coach Vincent Liung when it heard of his reputation and status as a local. Ever since, members have had the opportunity to spend every Tuesday night (and starting recently, Wednesday night too) from 9PM to 11 PM to learn new skills and play against one another, just for fun.

Coach Liung learned the game from his father, also a reputable ping pong player. Unfortunately, he had a defective vaccination against polio and contracted the disease. Although he recovered, he has a severe limp and therefore plays officially in designatedStanding Handicapped tournaments. Currently, he ranks within the top 100 overall in the U.S. and within the top ten in the Standing Handicapped division. He became involved in ping pong professionally out of a love for the sport, which is currently the worlds second-most played after soccer. His most thrilling moment was when he defeated a top 20 player as a rookie. I was like…WOW!! The crowd was cheering.

Coaching is another aspect of his career that he loves. I just love the game…it doesnt matter what skill level someone is, I love showing him how to make his game better. Everybody has to start somewhere, and anyone can become very good if he plays on a consistent basis, he explained. Of course, its up to the player to improve. I can teach the technique…but any person has to play to make use of it.

In addition to coaching, Liung also builds paddles in his spare time and sells them for between $20 and $200, depending on the level of the player the paddle is for, and thus the quality of the materials used. Not everyone needs an expensive paddle. Its like a computer, he said. You can have the top model, but if you arent good with computers then its worthless. The process of making one is quite simple. One simply uses a blade to shape the wood, then attaches two layers of rubber, one on top of the other, to each side. The bottom layer is known as a sponge, the top a top sheet. The rubber determines the spin of the ball, the wood determines the feel of the paddle. Different paddles have different weights, which contribute to the feel. Even ten grams can make the difference between hitting the corner and missing the table if a player isnt accustomed to the paddle. One side has pimples, designed to help spin the ball, the other does not.

Club members learn this and more, and they love it. The coach legitimately teaches us. He invites us to play M.I.T. on the weekends and he addresses the actual problems that I have., explained Amanda Claire 09. Its a great place to relax and relieve stress added Daniel Weisz 09. You get great games every time, it challenges you to play better.

The only complaint is a lack of tables, which leads to people just standing around if they arent involved at one of the two present ones. In the beginning we had a lot of people, but coach spends a lot of individual time with each person…[if we had more tables] then a lot more people would come. Nevertheless, at Table Tennis, everyone is on the ball.