This is serious business

Members of the Columbus Area Table Tennis Association meet weekly inside the dining room of Donner Center, in cooperation with the Bartholomew County Parks & Recreation.

Recently, the club completed its annual spring doubles tournament.

It’s serious fun for regular members, but visitors must be careful how they refer to the sport.

“We don’t call it pingpong here because we play it as a sport,” veteran CATTA member Earl Baute said. “When you just play in it in your basement, you can call it pingpong.”

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Until weekly games begin, the door to the dining room at Donner Center remains open. It’s a reminder that players of all ages, background and skill levels are welcome. The weekly fee is just $8 for a regular session and $10 for a tournament session. Members are always eager to welcome new faces or welcome back old friends.

Longtime club members know table tennis can create lasting friendships, and it is a vital part of their lives.

“We cater to all skill levels,” CATTA president Pilar Rivera said. “We don’t turn anyone away, and we’ve grown the past couple of years because of international players from Cummins. If you’ve been away from sports for a while, this is a good place to start back up.”

Baute looks forward to playing table tennis each week. After 40 years, it’s still his favorite activity.

“It’s an excellent sport for people as you age,” he said. “I’m 64, and I still can compete because I practice a lot at it. It doesn’t require a lot of dexterity, and I love the people I meet here.”

Several participants even bring their own paddles to club meetings.

“Some types of rubber have a better grip to it and they stick to the ball better,” Baute said. “Some paddles weigh more than others. It’s just like a baseball player bringing his favorite glove or bat to the baseball or softball diamond.”

At 81, Larry Clark is the oldest regular player. He keeps his game sharp by using a table tennis robot in his basement that serves him balls at different frequencies.

Clark’s goal is to play until he’s 100, as long as his reflexes remain sharp. He’s qualified for the Senior Olympics in table tennis several times, and it took a broken wrist to keep him from qualifying again this year.

Mike Pegram uses the sport as a stress reliever.

“It feels good to execute a slam after a hard day at work,” he said. “There are lots of styles you can play the game. You can play up close to the net or further away. You can choose to put spin on your ball or not.”

The action and strategy is so fast and furious that one can begin to understand why the Soviet Union banned it in the 1930s — because government officials were worried that the sport might damage the eyes.

If you blink, you might miss seeing a subtle backhand flick of the wrist that counteracts a wicked forehand smash.

“I wish we would put on a youth tournament,” Pegram said. “This sport is so fast and fun, but there might be some misconceptions among young people that it’s just a sport you play in your basement.”

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What: Columbus Area Table Tennis Association

Where: Donner Aquatic Center (dining room)

When: May 4 (practice), May 11 and 18 (singles tournaments); all sessions 7-10 p.m.

Cost: $8 for regular session, $10 for tournaments