College Table Tennis, Past and Present
Have you ever wondered where college table tennis got its start? It was a dark and stormy night . . . No, no, that's not right. It took longer than a single night. Or even a couple of nights, or a couple of weeks. In fact, it has taken many decades, through various fits and starts, setbacks and successes to reach the broad national presence college table tennis enjoys today.
Precursors to today's college pong have appeared throughout the United States as long as 70 years ago. Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis makes note of intercollegiate tournaments held around the country in the 30's, with the University of Pennsylvania winning the first National Championship tournament, held over Thanksgiving weekend in 1937. The USTTA (now USATT) has often had college table tennis on its radar, with an Intercollegiate Committee and the Thomas Bradley memorial trophy which was awarded to the National Intercollegiate Team Champion. ACUI began running recreational tournaments at the national level in 1972, and for some time they could be relied on to hold annual singles and doubles competitions in the US.
In the late 1980s Princeton was hosting annual College Team Championships, although its run was rather short-lived. Anderson College in South Carolina and Augusta State University in Georgia established table tennis scholarship programs and demonstrated that it was possible to organize table tennis as a varsity sport. What these efforts lacked was a dedicated organization to coordinate and unite these attempts to develop this college sport.
The Birth of NCTTA
In 1992, a group of motivated students in the Northeastern US took it upon themselves to start a college table tennis league; the League of Northeast Intercollegiate Table Tennis (LNITT) was born. The league had 6 participating schools in its inaugural season: Harvard, Boston, Castleton State, RPI, Stony Brook and Connecticut. Through the devoted efforts of LNITT leaders like Nelson Chin of Boston University and Thomas Hu of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), the league gradually expanded as more schools formed teams.
"Table tennis has always been one of my favorite sports," wrote an 18-year old Robert Lendvai in 1995. "When I go to Dartmouth in the fall, I intend to try to convince them to establish a team." Not only did he start a team, but by 1997 he was LNITT President, and the league had expanded to include 15 different Northeast schools.
Of course, the fledgling organization did experience a few growing pains as it struggled to manage an ever-expanding set geographically distributed schools. "One major problem with LNITT is that there's no effective centralized organization," remarked RPI's Jasper Wong at the time. "Director changes every year, some schools have little respect for the league . . ." Sketching out possible solutions, Wong continued, "as LNITT expands it will need a static centralized governing body to oversee tournament schedule, site arrangement, promotion, finance . . . etc. I believe a non-profit organization should be established to undertake the task."
It took a few years, but in a relatively short period of time, college table tennis had such an organization. Students and alumni didn't wait and expect USATT to do things for them; they took independent action, and in 1999, the LNITT changed its name to the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association (NCTTA) to reflect its expanded reach and mission. Now a government-recognized non-profit organization, NCTTA expanded rapidly throughout the United States, from New England to Florida, to California and Washington State, even into Puerto Rico and Canada!
Later this week, the 2012-2013 season of the NCTTA league will culminate in its National Championships in Rockford, Illinois. A record 209 varsity coed and women's teams competed in regular-season divisional play, which was followed by regional qualifiers and the upcoming national championships. Over 50 volunteers serve as officers, directors, and committee members to make all this happen, along with hundreds of team managers, coaches, and athletes.
NCTTA is embarking on its next phase of college table tennis growth. We're working on a number of other important projects, including expanded scholarship opportunities, alumni development, and support for high school table tennis. This year's national championships will be held in conjunction with a regional high school championship among schools which qualified through state tournaments in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
But we need your help to make it happen. Visit nctta.org/donate.html to make a donation and help fuel NCTTA's efforts to develop college table tennis. Volunteer to work in an NCTTA committee, or help manage or even start a team at your local college.