Give table tennis a shot at Northside Recreation Center

Most of us have played ping pong in a friend's basement and watched the little round ball go back and forth in a leisurely manner.

However, not many of us play table tennis, the fast-paced sport that looks like ping pong on steroids.

Same table, same ball, same paddle. Different attitude.

Young players like Nathan Lovett, 16, and Will Pitts, 18, love to play table tennis.

Under the tutelage of Jerry Klein, 77, Pitts progressed so quickly that after less than a year, he's now a coach.

Lovett said he's loved playing since he was a little kid. He and Pitts were acquainted, playing tennis together. When Pitts approached him about playing table tennis, Lovett didn't hesitate.

He attends Klein's table tennis classes at Northside Recreation Center whenever he can.

All three men say playing table tennis keeps them shape.

"It's very good exercise," Pitts said. "You use your full body."

Klein said table tennis is a "game that is not as physically demanding as tennis. But it's quicker. It's a game of speed and skill and control."

And you can play inside, he said with a smile.

Professional table tennis players can hit the ball at 100 miles an hour.

The paddles used in table tennis are different from those used in ping pong, too.

The paddles appear to be the same shape and size, but the materials are different. The body of the paddle (or blade as its called), can be made from anything from balsam wood to carbon. The rubber, which comes in specialized packages, can also make a difference. They can cost from $60 to $1,000. But Klein said the average price of a paddle is $100.

Klein began playing table tennis when he was 10 in Detroit, where he grew up.

"A fellow came to the rec center where we were playing," he said. "He gave us tiny little lessons. He taught us to have control of the ball."

Eventually, that rec center became the place in Detroit to learn to play table tennis.

By the time Klein was 11, he began placing in tournaments. He won a bronze medal in Toronto in 1968, his first big prize.

A few years later, Klein said he had his best year when he went to the U.S. Open Championships. He was ranked 30th in the country that year.

He's still ranked in his age group at No. 26 in the U.S.

"I'm 77 and I'm still growing," he said. "I refuse to grow up."

Since he moved to Columbus 12 years ago to take care of his ailing mother, he's been giving lessons at various recreation centers.

Besides, "I liked the weather so much" that he stayed after his mother died. He was living in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he was a Realtor. He even ran for Michigan state senate in 1978.

Klein said people of all ages can play table tennis. The smallest competitor just needs to be able to rest his elbow on the table to play, he said.

He wants to see more people pick up a paddle.

"Before they put a tag on my toe, I'd like to do what Col. Sanders did for fried chicken," Klein said. "I want to see children playing table tennis -- everywhere."

Klein said playing table tennis when he was a teenager kept him out of trouble. Today, he still doesn't smoke or drink and doesn't have to take any medication. "It keeps me in pretty good shape. I'm so healthy."

He teaches at Northside, where there are three tables and he's there from noon-3 p.m. Wednesday and Friday.

His dream is to open his own table tennis center one day.

"I know the players are out there," he said.

Klein and Pitts also coach the Columbus State University table tennis team.

"Table tennis is more fun" than any other sport he's played, Lovett said. He plans to play four days a week while school is out for the summer. He'll be a senior at Columbus High School in the fall.

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