The Kings of Pong

An early-morning victory with an East Side ping-pong league


Ping-pong is not just for garages, basements and the Olympics. If you’re an early riser, you can join a dedicated cadre of players at the East Side YMCA who man tables from 6:30-8:00am three mornings per week. It all started when Y patron Peter Thornton and friend Alan Bernstein “dug out an old ping pong table because we were looking for something to do.” The pair got the table in working shape, and Thornton recalls, “for a long time, there were only three or four of us that played, but people would stick their noses in on the way to some other activity. We didn’t push it at all, no advertisements... people just showed up. It’s quite an organic growth story.”

Now an average morning sees nine to 15 players cycle through, says Thornton, “a diverse group from a seventh grader to age 73. It’s an international game, so we’ve had players from India, Iran and Africa. It’s mostly guys, but we do have some women and I wish there were more. There are various levels of fitness, some people are in good shape and some are not. But overall it’s just a really good group of people.”

As the demographics vary, so does skill level – though competition has helped talent converge: “In the beginning, there was a definite division of skill level. But the people in the lesser group got better and the gap shrunk. Time on the table is a big part of it.”

Gameplay will get the heart pumping, but ping-pong has mental benefits as well. “It improves your hand-eye coordination, forces you to react and make decisions quickly. It’s a real cerebellum strengthener. You don’t have to be physically fit and you can still get an excellent mental stimulus.” Thornton also describes the effects of competition: “Once you achieve a certain level of skill, competitive advantage comes in reading your opponent. Everyone is aware of the pecking order, and you learn other people’s tendencies. Your strategy hinges on outsmarting and outwitting the other guy, and it’s more fun as you get to know their game.”

Of course, there’s an important social element as well. “It’s a perfect Y activity and a great community builder. People can stop in, play a few games, enjoy each other’s company and then go off and swim or something. It’s competitive, but we have fun and kid each other too.” Curious folks who aren’t YMCA members can check out the group with a guest pass. Thornton encourages people to try it out: “We love when new people come. You have to really want to play when it’s early on a cold, winter morning, but it’s a cool way to start your day.”


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here