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New table tennis venue is a smash hit

Published March 9, 2011 1:56 pm

Ping fling • Oft-overlooked sport comes out of the basement and into the spotlight.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

West Valley City • With knees poised, 13-year-old Kenny Majors swiped his arm upward in an aggressive arc. Smack!

An orange ball curved over the net, striking the opposite side of the table, where Daniel Lukic, 12, moved to meet it. Smack!

The two boys weren't swinging paddles over a basement ping-pong table. Instead, they were competing in a newly opened table tennis hall in West Valley City that ranks among the largest in the Intermountain area.

"It's kind of fun," said Kenny, still clutching his paddle, particularly when "you get in a good rally."

Ronald Mills, founder of the upstart Table Tennis Training and Event Center, hopes the complex will rally fresh interest in a sport that has been largely overlooked in American athletics. With 16 competition tables and three robotic ones, Mills hopes to make his facility an Olympic-recognized training venue.

It's a venture that might seem ill-fitted to Mills, who has spent three decades as a retirement planner. Although retirement planning and table tennis have some tenuous connections — the sport supposedly helps prevent Alzheimer's disease — Mills' love for ping-pong balls and paddles goes back to childhood, when he would play with his brothers at an Appleton, Wis., YMCA.

He was getting exercise — and having a hoot at the same time.

"We consider this an onslaught against video games," said Mills, who is pitching table tennis to corporations as an add-on to their healthy-lifestyles programs. "Where can kids play around here, other than in their basements? Once you beat your brothers, your sisters or your parents, what do you do with the sport after that?"

Although the sport has a long way to go in Utah, the Table Tennis Training and Event Center filled to capacity on a recent Thursday evening. With the building popping with plastic balls that bounced from tables and paddles at sometimes-blurring speeds, dozens of players paired up for league competition.

Matt Pugmire, who works for the table-tennis supplier Joola, swatted balls against an opponent who stood in a wide stance about 6 feet from the table.

What makes the new facility especially attractive to Pugmire are the hours. Salt Lake Valley has had table-tennis venues before. But none offered the hours seen at the West Valley City center, which operates 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

"That kind of regular competition is going to help the sport grow in Utah," Pugmire said.

William Todd, general manager of the Table Tennis Training and Event Center, is counting on that growth. He has entered into discussions with eight schools — and soon more — about partnering to field table-tennis teams.

"We need to build from the bottom up," he said.

The Table Tennis Training and Event Center already is staging higher-level competitions, such as an NCAA event last month that included athletes from the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, Westminster College and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

Todd, who as an 8-year-old was named the nation's top table-tennis player for his age bracket, is exploring the possibility of having the center recognized as an Olympic training venue.

But Mills wants his facility to cater to novices, too. He has enlisted the help of a certified coach, Thomas Maddux, to evaluate new players and offer lessons. He arranges matches, without a cost, for players of comparable skills. He provides robotic tables for players aiming to improve their game without a competing face on the other side.

The point, he said, is to get people to "come out of their basements" and enjoy the game that entranced him as a child.

jstettler@sltrib.com —

Table Tennis Training and Event Center

Where • 3572 S. 1950 West, West Valley City

Hours • Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Cost • $6 for adults, $4.50 for students; children play free on Saturdays between 2 and 3:30 p.m.






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