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Diverse Generations and Cultures Meet Across the Table Tennis Net

March 29th, 2009 by Temple City Tribune

On Tuesday, March 17, a group of Pasadena middle school youth brought their Table Tennis paddles and balls to the Pasadena Senior Center and the Pasadena Table Tennis Club for a chance to perfect their technique and show off their skills with experienced senior citizen players. fidel2

Part of a pilot program created by one of this year’s Leadership Pasadena teams, the clinic is the last in a series of three clinics designed to introduce youth from underserved communities to a nontraditional sport. Inspired by the cross-cultural, cross-generational and cross-ability play at the Pasadena Table Tennis Club, which meets at the Pasadena Senior Center introduced the youth to the idea of seniors as athletes and to people of diverse backgrounds and cultures who share a love of the sport.

Invited youth from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Pasadena and Washington Middle School were each given their own paddle and balls to keep, and began the program with a visit to the California Institute of Technology and the chance to study with Caltech Table Tennis Instructor and Coach Wei Wang by attending her beginning table tennis class along with her undergraduate students. Ms. Wang is a former US National Champion and member of the US Olympic table tennis team.

Prior to the table tennis class, as part of their Caltech experience, the students toured the Spitzer Science Center, and interacted with the infrared camera. “Because in the infrared, we appear to have a whole other set of distinguishing characteristics, the infrared camera experience was a great fit with the goals of our project, which is to challenge perceptions of age and culture,” explained Project team member James Maloney, who coordinates science in the classroom outreach for Caltech. “Table tennis is played all over the world, although it is more prominent in other countries. Many of the seniors that play at the Senior Center and the Table Tennis Club come from all over the world, and many have played table tennis since their youth,” explained Maloney.

pong The March 17 clinic was the second of two clinics at the Pasadena Senior Center, in which seniors from the Center’s table tennis program, the Pasadena Table Tennis Club which meets there, and from the Senior Olympics and area retirement communities, volunteered to coach the youth.

At the final clinic, Pasadena Table Tennis Club President Diego Schaaf, in addition to coaching the youth, met with them in small groups to talk about his work as a consultant, along with his wife Wei Wang, on Hollywood films such as the recent comedy, “Balls of Fury,” in which they also appeared. He also shared footage from a recent “Battle of the Sexes” table tennis tournament in which a Chinese woman player bested a highly ranked male player. The youth also had the chance to interview some of the senior players on their experiences with table tennis, including how and when they first started learning the sport.

The project will conclude with an invitational tournament on Saturday, March 28 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon at the Boys and Girls Club Slavik Branch on E. Del Mar Blvd, will give the youth the chance to use their skills in a competitive format. The senior volunteers, along with representatives from various community organizations, such as the Pasadena Fire Department and JPL have also been invited to field players for an adult bracket with the senior participants, and to cheer on the youth for the final rounds. “Inviting the community also gives the youth a sense of the diversity of table tennis players, from firefighters and police to scientists,” explained Project team member and Tournament Chair Brett Gibson, a Pasadena Fire Department Battalion Chief.

“It’s our hope that the seeds planted and relationships established with this pilot program will inspire our community partners, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the City of Pasadena Department of Human Services and Recreation, the Pasadena Senior Center, the Pasadena Table Tennis Club, Caltech, the City of Pasadena Fire Department, Washington Middle School, to continue and expand the program in the future,” observed Project team member Kim Kenne. “And with the senior coaches, and even the receptionist at the Senior Center, asking ‘When are the kids coming back?’ we are confident that it will.”

Photos by Terry Miller

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