By May S. Ruiz
Morning assembly at Clairbourn School, a pre-kindergarten to eighth grade independent school in San Gabriel, was more animated than usual this Tuesday morning when students and parents arrived in the multi-purpose building (MPB). That’s because they were getting a special demonstration on table tennis after all the announcements are over.
Table tennis originated in Victorian England as a ‘parlor game’ when lawn tennis players moved the game indoors during the winter. It got the name ‘ping-pong’ at the end of the 1800s when the English firm J. Jacques and Son started manufacturing high-end equipment for the sport and trademarked the brand. It was later trademarked in the U.S. by board game company, Parker Brothers.
On April 24, 1927 the English Table Tennis Association was created with a membership of 19 leagues; it has since grown to its present 300 members, with approximately 75,000 registered players. In the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea, table tennis became an Olympic Games sport for the first time.
While it had seen widespread popularity in the western world, it was China which took table tennis to new heights when Communist Chairman Mao Zedong declared it as the country’s national sport. Today a reported 10 million Chinese play competitive ping-pong regularly and 300 million who play it occasionally. It won the gold in all four table tennis events at the 2016 Summer Olympics; it has taken home 28 of 32 gold medals since the game was introduced as an Olympic sport.
Recognizing that Clairbourn has a large Asian population, Dr. Robert Nafie, headmaster, decided to acknowledge Chinese pride in their excellence in this sport and share it with the school community as well. Through Clairbourn parent, Harry Tsao, he found the California Table Tennis Club, an organization established four years ago by Gao Jun, a world champion who went to the Olympics five times in her career and currently an Olympic trainer. In its location at 2727 Stingle Avenue in Rosemead, it holds classes every Saturday and Sunday, as well as private lessons, for its 60-80 students aged five to 86 – some coming in for competitive training while others simply looking for a sport to enjoy.
The team from the California Table Tennis Club – Gao Jun; coach Candy Tang; international table tennis player, Ryan Wu; club managers, Kevin Yu, and Lydia Zu – came on campus and set up their table for this morning’s assembly. Jun, acting as facilitator, invited students to play against the coaches to show the different positions, strokes, and moves.
There wasn’t a shortage of volunteers as several students raised their hands. First up was fifth grader, Kelly Tsao, who demonstrated the ‘forehand’ when she played against Coach Ryan. Eighth grader and Student Body president, Nick Polen, showed how the ‘backhand’ is played.
Sixth grader, Piper Kibbe, who followed up was clearly new to this game but Coach Gao took her hand to demonstrate how the paddle should be held to play table tennis properly. Kibbe quickly picked it up and had great fun using the ‘forehand’ and ‘backhand’ strokes. Second grader, Jason Qi, was a good sport and got the hang of it too.
To invigorate the game with faster strokes Jun called upon fourth grader, Madeline King, who lived up to the challenge with some fancy footwork and the more advanced ‘loop’ and ‘chop’ strokes. She clearly isn’t a stranger to this game.
Mac Cole, eighth grader, wasn’t to be bested – he showed some very quick moves. But it was when second grader, Atticus Williams, went up to the table that all the students fully erupted to life. With all the kids chanting “At-ti-cus! At-ti-cus! At-ti-cus!”, he demonstrated that while he wasn’t as adept at the game as the students who preceded him, he undoubtedly possessed an unmatched confidence at playing. Not to be outdone by his students, PE coach, Luke Ball, performed admirably.
When the facilitator asked for a parent volunteer Li Feng came forward and showed everyone how graceful this game looks when played by someone who knows it well. She held her paddle in ‘penhold’ position, she had her eyes firmly peeled on the ball, she was fast and fluid, and she knew exactly when to crush her opponent.
To end the demonstration, the table tennis coaches and Clairbourn’s Coach Luke played Doubles to everyone’s delight. A great time was had by all. With an obvious spring in their walk, parents left to go to work, run errands, or stretch at the gym. Students and teachers headed to their morning classes unmistakably energized.
Dr. Nafie has once more found another interesting experience for students that may not necessarily relate to their learning. But as he says, “I want to make sure the school is alive for the kids; that it’s not all drudgery.” Mission accomplished.