Bay Area Table Tennis
MILPITAS - For most Americans, pingpong is the fun game played in a basement or garage, often accompanied by frosty beverages. Well, at least until some sore loser breaks the eggshell white ball.
But in a southern corner of the Bay Area, pingpong has become serious sport. In the past decade, a cluster of competitive clubs has opened to launch a pingpong revolution. That's why, as the country's best paddlers are competing in Texas through Sunday at the 2015 U.S. World and Pan-Am Team Trials, 18 players, or one-third of the field, either live or train in Milpitas, San Jose or Fremont.
Aarsh Shah, 16, serves at the India Community Center Table Tennis Center in Milpitas, Calif., on Wednesday, March 4, 2015. This weekend (March 6-8) is the 2015 Pan Am and National Team Trials in Texas. Eight of the competitors are coming from the India Community Center. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) ( Nhat V. Meyer )
"The Bay Area is one of the great table tennis ecosystems in the U.S., " said Gordon Kaye, CEO of USA Table Tennis. "It has become this amazing incubator of both elite and regular players. It's reached a critical mass there, and demographics play a big role."
The region's growing embrace of a sport requiring cat-quick reflexes and chess-like strategy not only is broadening what it means to be an athlete, it highlights the diverse nature of our melting pot community.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 37 percent of Santa Clara County residents and 31 percent of people living in Alameda County are foreign-born. So it shouldn't be surprising that the gusher of top local players primarily are first-generation Americans who have adopted a sport their parents brought with them from countries like pingpong-mad China.
On any given Saturday, 200 kids cycle through the 22 tables at the India Community Center in Milpitas.
"The parents largely are from China and India, and they're high-tech folks like software engineers, " said Rajul Sheth, the center's director. "The kids were born here, but their parents encouraged them to play a sport from their home country. They don't want them playing football."
It's impossible to say just how many people are playing in Silicon Valley. But about a dozen Bay Area clubs are registered with USA Table Tennis. So many new players are being drawn by the game's distinctive clack-clack sound that Sheth's club is moving to a new facility in April that will double their space.
"There wasn't really very much table tennis when I first arrived, " added Stefan Feth, a former German national team player who relocated to the Bay Area in 2006 and runs the World Champion Table Tennis Academy of San Jose. "Now, it's becoming mainstream. And the South Bay is very, very hot."
For the record, if you say "pingpong" to a serious aficionado, they may wince. Sheth even looked like he was poked with a sharp stick.
Krish Avvari, 15, far right, plays with coach Dan Liu, left, at the India Community Center Table Tennis Center in Milpitas, Calif., on Wednesday, March 4, 2015. This weekend (March 6-8) is the 2015 Pan Am and National Team Trials in Texas. Eight of the competitors are coming from the India Community Center. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) ( Nhat V. Meyer )
"When you're playing in the garage, pingpong is a good word, " said Sheth, who competed in his native India. "But when you come to a club like this, it's table tennis. This is a sport."