On most Sunday afternoons, the sound of sneakers squeaking on the gym floor and dozens of ping-pong balls in play reverberates through SMC’s Pavilion Gym, as table tennis enthusiasts of all levels test their skills.
Julie Dole March 5, 2019
On most Sunday afternoons, the sound of sneakers squeaking on the gym floor and dozens of ping-pong balls in play reverberates through SMC’s Pavilion Gym, as table tennis enthusiasts of all levels test their skills. Hailing from both on-campus and the local community, players compete weekly in friendly matches with friends, as well as competing in earnest for that day’s round-robin title.
Some weekends, the SMC team hosts college meets; next weekend the Corsairs are headed to Fountain Valley for the West Coast Regionals, and they have a decent shot to reach the Nationals, in April.
An Olympic sport, table tennis ranks as SMC’s longest continuously-run sports team. Founded over 45 years ago by Professor Emeritus Josephine (“Jo”) Kidd, the weekly Sunday open play and tournaments welcome new players, while nurturing and challenging national- and international-level talent.
Since its inception, the College’s team has successfully attracted and trained elite talent: in 1971, student Glenn Cowan (SMC ‘72) played on the first U.S. table tennis team to go to China; they competed in a series of exhibition matches there, which were followed by a Chinese table-tennis delegation who visited the U.S to play in 1972. Nick-named “ping-pong diplomacy,” the matches preceded then-President Nixon’s first official trip to China, helping to reopen diplomatic relationships between the two nations.
Current coach Kamran Khairzad competed for SMC in 1992 under Professor Kidd, and has remained with the team ever since. “I think the whole thing started because of one person, and that is Professor Jo Kidd,” said Khaizad. “She started this whole program with four tables, funded with her own money, and she built an empire.”
Khaizad continued: “Ping-pong is when you play in your garage with family and friends, and table tennis is an Olympic-recognized sport… We had a player from SMC at the 1992 Barcelona Para-Olympics, and we have a current Para-Olympian right now, [Ari Arratia].”
Arratia has played since age 11, won the U.S. (Para)Open twice, was a finalist at the Pan-American Games, and competed at the ParaOlympic Games. “I’ve been less active lately,” said Arratia, “but competing with the SMC team reminded me how much fun it is to compete in table tennis.” Referring to his place on SMC’s varsity team, Arratia said, “I play fourth, which means when we play a team match, I play against the 4th strongest player on the opposing team.”
According to Khairzad, “We’re pretty much known as a kind of table-tennis super-power in Southern California.” SMC recently continued their high-caliber play by taking this year’s team title at the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association’s (NCTTA) West Division tournament on February 9, beating other Southern California teams UCLA (2nd) CSUN (3rd), Cal Poly SLO (4th), Pepperdine, and USC. SMC was the only community college competing.
SMC also placed second to UCLA in that day’s Singles Division.
With their February win, SMC now advances to the West Coast Regional Championships. About the Regionals, Arratia said, “I think we’re going in with a decent chance at making Nationals. It’ll be tough, but we could do it, if things go our way,” adding, “There are teams whose players have been really deep in the elimination rounds in the men’s singles of the National Championships – so we’re just going to have to rely on the depth of our team, and get points off of their other team members in the doubles matches.”
In the run-up to the Regionals, on March 1 – 3 SMC hosted the Golden Western Open and the 2019 Pan Am Games Team Trial & 1st Adult National Ranking Tournament. The Open served as a qualifier for the upcoming Pan-American Games, and the level of play attracted top talent, including four-time national women’s champion and two-time Olympian Lily Zhang.
After Regionals, SMC plans to head to the National Championships, April 20-22, 2019, in Round Rock, Texas.
But Coach Khairzad emphasized the weekly open play too, saying, “I really encourage the SMC students, especially the girls, to come play – just like the local community that plays here now. Our goal is to have a girls’ varsity team, but also to have a lot of students come and participate, to have a junior varsity, and have many teams. It’s a great life-sport, you can play this until you’re 90 years old.”
Come cheer on the Corsairs at the West Coast Regional Championships, March 9th and 10th. The event will be held at the Orange County Table Tennis Academy, 16035 Brookhurst St. Fountain Valley, CA 92708.