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Table tennis tournament spins thorugh Hagerstown

September 23, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Table tennis balls were hit back and forth at amazing speeds Saturday during a weekend tournament at Hagerstown Community College.

Spectators and other players watched from the stands at the Athletic, Recreation and Community Center as players used spins and strategies in a game that is much more complicated than it sometimes appears.

"It is like chess on amphetamines," said Alan Williams, marketing director of North American Table Tennis. His father, Jim Williams of Frostburg, Md., said the balls often reach a speed of more than 100 mph during tournament play.

More than 200 American players, paddles in hand, are competing through today for $5,000 in prize money in the tournament. The tournament is the fifth and concluding event in a national pro tour that began in San Diego, Calif., in May.

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The tour, organized by NATT, is in its third year of operation. The event this weekend is the first in the Hagerstown area.

Tour President Richard Lee said Hagerstown was selected because of the quality of the HCC facility and its proximity to major hotbeds of table tennis activity in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Terry Bell, president of the Hagerstown Table Tennis Club, said he showed the college facility to tour officials and they were impressed.

Having a touring event in Hagerstown is quite a coup, he said. It may help with efforts to increase the size of the local club, which has about 20 to 30 members, he said.

Jeff Savage, a club member from Mercersburg, Pa., who competes in tournaments, said he liked having the tournament here because it is convenient.

Some of the major players in table tennis are moving to Maryland, especially in the Rockville and Gaithersburg area, because that is where other good players and clubs are, Bell and others said.

Brian Pace, 30, who has been competing in tournaments for about 16 years, said he is moving from Miami to Rockville to be closer to some of the better players.

When he competes in San Diego he is seeded third, but when he competes in Maryland he is seeded 13th because there are more skilled players in the area, he said.

It is possible to make a full-time living at table tennis, he said.

How?

"Win," he said.

What if you don't win?

"Start winning," he said.

He joked that he has chosen the game over having a girlfriend.

"Table tennis is my number one girlfriend," he said. "It doesn't talk back."

The weekend tournament, the Matthew Murad Memorial Championship, is dedicated to the memory of Murad, a table tennis player from Germantown, Md., who died in a car accident following the North American Teams Championship in Baltimore in 1999.

There is no admission fee to watch the tournament, which drew top members of the United States and Canadian Olympic Table Tennis Teams and top amateurs from around the nation. Players competed in 30 categories.

Marilyn Foote of Pittsburgh watched from the stands as her husband, Ed Foote, 61, played in his first tournament. Nearby sat Foote's next opponent, Nathan Hall, 9, of Carroll County. Nathan's father, Marty Hall, was competing in other categories.

"This is a very nice facility. It's definitely a good choice," Marty Hall said.

Among the 16 competing for the open singles title Saturday afternoon were Fan YiYong of Seattle, Wash., the top-rated U.S. men's player and defending tour champion, and Mark Hazinski, 16, of South Bend, Ind., the only native-born American to have defeated Fan.

The top eight will continue to the quarterfinals beginning at 1 p.m. today with the semi-finals at 2:30 and the championship match at 4.

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