Table tennis is alive and well in the Alamo City, thanks to the San Antonio Table Tennis Club.
The club occupies 2,500 square feet— two large playing rooms and a small office — in the Alamo Gymnastics and Fitness Center at 16675 Huebner Road.
“The serious players are out there,” said club president Loren Williams, indicating the club’s main room, where five tables were occupied, and the ping-pong sounds of paddle on ball formed the constant soundtrack.
Members pay monthly dues, but nonmembers are welcome to the tables for an hourly fee. The club has about 50 associates, both family and individual, and the same number of regulars who are not on the rolls.
Weekday evenings are usually the busiest, and there’s a popular beginner’s night every Friday. The club is open for play seven days a week, thanks to the volunteer efforts of a board long led by Williams.
Although Williams is stepping down as president this year, incoming leader Norm Everston insists on giving credit for the club’s vitality to his predecessor, whose work transformed the nonprofit from a group that met just a few hours a week at the Barshop Jewish Community Center to a lively, full-time gathering spot and training facility.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Everston and Williams played a deceptively low-key game in the smaller back room of the club.
While the club has existed for about 60 years, it wasn’t until 2009 that it expanded to a full-time facility.
Dr. Navid Saigal, a local nephrologist and avid player at the JCC, said he helped connect Williams with the fitness center owner.
“The team in the club did all the work,” Saigal said one day at the club. He was taking a break from a fast and furious match with fellow member Artie Sanders.
Sanders, a muscular, powerful hitter, was getting in some last-minute practice before flying to Las Vegas the next day to take part in the world’s largest table tennis tournament, the 19th World Veteran Championships, in late June. About 5,000 players, in age categories from 40-44 to 80-plus, competed this year.
Sanders said he thought he was a good player until he discovered the San Antonio Table Tennis Club.
“I won the Joint Base San Antonio championship,” he said. “Then I came here, and everybody beat me. I used to play pingpong. This is table tennis. There’s underspin, side spin, funky spin, paddle craft, medium pips, long pips, strategy….With coaching I’ve improved from 1300 to 1668. My goal is 1900. When I get there, I’ll start playing golf.”
In the table-tennis point system, 2500 is considered the top rating.
Davorin Kvesic, a top USA Table Tennis-certified coach at the club, has helped many players improve. That’s not surprising, given his 40-year coaching history, including leading many national championship teams in Europe. He also coached Olympic table tennis medalist Jasna Fazlic Rather, who in turn has led Texas Wesleyan University to multiple national titles.
Club member Deven DeLeon started fairly young, and is already making his mark. A San Antonio native, DeLeon said he’s looking forward to the school year, when he’ll be playing with the University of Texas at San Antonio’s nationally ranked table tennis team.
“I already have a spot locked up,” DeLeon said – and for good reason. He spent the last two years as a top player with one of the best-known national champion collegiate table tennis teams in the United States at Texas Wesleyan.
“There’s a pretty good chance that UTSA can make the nationals this year,” he said, noting many of the team members often practice at the Table Tennis Club.
While DeLeon is a top player, with a point rating close to 1900, fellow UTSA student Nicolas Alvarez, a Colombian-born computer-science major, is in a league of his own with 2170 points.
“I’m trying to stay a little bit competitive, so I practice here (the gymnastics center) three to four days a week for a few hours at a time,” Alvarez said.
Incoming club president Everston, a retired Army colonel who served in the Rangers, played tennis for years before a leg injury led him to take up table tennis.
“This is a hard game,” said Everston, who also is a longtime high-school teacher. “There’s some crossover with tennis, but the spins are very different, the technique is different.”
Williams said he’s looking forward to spending a little more time focused on his game.
“At 83, this game is great for my fitness. It’s recreation, it’s hand-eye coordination, it’s mental agility, footwork, cardiovascular, muscle tone all rolled into one. It’s pretty low risk – you don’t need a helmet or pads,” he said. “It’s a lifelong sport. And most of all, it’s fun.”