This is a feature story on a table tennis club that I wrote for the Western Front. It won 1st place in the “Editorial/Commentary, Features” category of the Washington Press Association’s 2012 Communications Contest. The original story can be found here at The Western Front’s website.
A bright orange sphere travels back and forth over a field of blue, striking every surface it touches with a click or pop decidedly in line with the rhythm of Snoop Dogg’s “Drop it Like it’s Hot” playing in the background. It’s all part of a recreational meeting of the Table Tennis Club, a group at Western dedicated to recreational play of a sport commonly known as Ping-Pong.
The club’s director, Western junior Ethan Batson, said the Table Tennis Club is a sports club, not a club sport because they neither host nor enter tournaments. He said he started the club with his friend Roy Sears — who is nationally ranked in table tennis and no longer attends Western — after they had success with a table tennis club at Mercer Island High School.
“Let me take my jacket off for this,” club attendee and Western freshman Austin Jennings said with a smile when Batson invited him to play during a club meeting Monday night. Jennings proceeded to remove his pullover and serve the ball to Batson while two other players rallied on a second table nearby and the rest of the club watched.
Batson said the club meets at 6:30 p.m. on Mondays in Fairhaven’s game room, with about 10 to 20 people. Publicly accessible tables to play on are scarce at Western so this is a good number of attendees for now, he said.
“We just work with whatever the campus has, and the most tables in one place on the whole entire campus is two tables in Fairhaven with not all that much space,” Batson said. “If we get much more than 10 or 20 people, the majority of the people are sitting out most of the time.”
Half an hour into the club’s meeting, Batson and Jennings ended their game with a handshake and Batson announced to all players to keep all games to a winning score of 11. By that point, nine club members had entered the room, and space was running short.
“Who wouldn’t want more tables?” said Shawn Avilla, who does not attend Western but is friends with one of the club members. Avilla said he knew of few table tennis tables on campus, but the current location wasn’t good because of the shared space with other pool tables.
“It gets cramped, you know?” Avilla said.
Batson said a reliable table can cost about $400. Tables need a place to be stored when not in use, which has made the purchase of more tables difficult. He said he was wary of requesting more money because of the size of the club; he wasn’t sure it would be consistently used.
Even though many club members expressed a desire for more tables, it doesn’t seem to deter them from coming to weekly meetings. At about 7:30 p.m., Batson announced they would begin doubles games, a game type he warned removes 80 percent of the skill from the game because players don’t need to be as nimble. They only need to hit balls flying to half the table.
The club continued to play with a constant rotation of players throughout the evening, and players slowly dropped in and out of the meeting.
By 8 p.m., the number of players dwindled to about six, and almost no other students were present in the room, which freed up space for some faster and more intense games. The small space seemed to become less of an issue for these club members who show up for love of the game and the simple enjoyment of recreational sport.
This was a difficult story to write. I’d covered so many straight news stories up to that point that a feature story definitely put me out of my element. I had to focus less on facts behind an issue or conflict and more on the stories and personal interest side of a group of people. But once I interviewed enough club members and took enough pictures, a story started to form in front of me, and the article practically wrote itself. My editors sang my praise to the entire class at the end of the quarter, saying how on a difficult night before the printing deadline, my table tennis story stood out because it was already so well composed and polished that it didn’t need any touching up before publication.
The award I received from the WPA was just the cherry on top for me!