I recently met Willy and Shelly at the America's Team Championships in Chicago. I hope you enjoy getting to know them!
Quick facts about Willy:
Highest USATT rating 2098
President, National Collegiate Table Tennis Association (NCTTA) (2005 - Current)
I was 14 years old when my dad brought home a table tennis table and put it in our carport (Floridians know what this is), and we all started to play "ping pong" as a family. We used wood paddles; we didn't know any better and honestly, we (my brother and I) thought we were GODS in the sport. I entered college at Florida State to discover players using rubber on their paddles and was introduced to the sport of table tennis and fell even more for the sport than previously before!
2. What equipment do you currently use?
Blade: Yaska Gatien Offensive (blade from the 1990's that not too many have heard of)
Forehand rubber: Just switched to Tenergy 05
Backhand rubber: Tenergy 05
3. How often do you play?
We do lots of multi ball training 3-4 times a week.
4. You mentioned that you are changing your style of play from lobbing to attacking? How hard is it to make that switch after years of playing a certain style?
It is incredibly difficult and frustrating, but a necessary evil. I have made it to almost 2100 as a lobber/fisher, but have realized that the older I get, the less agile and mobile I am, and so the reality is that attacking is the next "new me". Old habits die hard however, and learning something that does not come natural, is quite a hard thing to pull off. I will be better off though; what doesn't kill you, will make one stronger for sure. I am looking forward to relearning table tennis as an attacker with a penchant for defending :)
Let's talk college table tennis ...
5. How did you end up with the reins of NCTTA?
The then President of NCTTA in 2004 resigned half way through the year because it was too much work for a student, and the then Board of Directors made me the interim President. I was only a Division Director at the time. I won the election in 2005 and in subsequent years, and I have been the President since. President though, doesn't mean too much when it comes to NCTTA since we are all equals in getting work done to further college table tennis.
College table tennis a decade ago wasn't as big in my opinion. It was a small sub-section of table tennis, but with the addition of different social media areas, it seems that our population has grown. Now I see outside organizations in university student life and campus recreation re-tweeting a college table tennis practice session, facebooking our events, or even, on instagram. Our teams are fitter, more serious, and more motivated to be the best team possible.
I would like to see more scholarship schools for college table tennis. I'm so excited that SCAD in Atlanta is finally coming forward with a scholarship table tennis program. My hope is that new schools join into college table tennis/NCTTA and current schools that are already involved with NCTTA, become scholarship programs!
7. What would you say is the biggest challenge that college table tennis faces, and do you have suggestions on how table tennis enthusiasts can make a difference?
Surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges for us is our growth. Sometimes we grow bigger and faster than we can handle, so having enthusiasts, graduates, and alums give back would be the best help. By virtue of it being a sport that is super fun to play and be a part of, we will grow, but the issue is that we are growing faster than what the few NCTTA volunteers can handle. We have about 50 volunteers running NCTTA, which translates into 37 tournaments in a span of 5 months. All are pure volunteers; no one gets paid, and we all do the work on our days off from school and work.
8. What would you say are the best perks for volunteering for NCTTA?
College table tennis has been my passion since I started with table tennis in 1998, and so getting the opportunity to give back in such a way, gives me a great friend network, the chance to ride the "wave of progress," and be a part of something that is bigger than me and than all of us. Look at our collegiate table tennis National Championships - we recruit 80 some volunteers to run this 3 day event, and we ask people to work 12 hour days to take time off work, school, their lives to join us at no pay. They always come back, year after year. There is something to say about all of the passionate people that you meet along the way that are just like I am. It is nice to know that I have company :)
I just can't name one! In 2011, Rochester, MN at the NCTTA Champs, in the Men's singles final, seeing Mark Hazinski show some emotion (he was typically quiet) when he beat out Pierre-Luc Hinse in the finals was an amazing match and amazing to see Mark win it. It meant so much to him, as it was his last year in college table tennis (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5A8fkztE60).
Seeing Mississippi College in 2015 at the NCTTA Championships in Eau Claire, Wisconsin beat out Texas Wesleyan in the final doubles match of the team tournament was something that I will never forget. Mississippi College did the impossible and beat the College Table Tennis Champ Texas Wesleyan who had won it for over a decade.
Now on to some personal questions ...
Yes, it is a funny story actually. I met Shelly for the first time in 2012 at an Association of College Unions International (ACUI) Table Tennis Championship tournament. ACUI used to sponsor college table tennis singles tournaments, and I was their tournament director. Back in the day, ACUI did singles and NCTTA did teams only. Interestingly enough, about a week before this, ACUI Table Tennis Championship tournament in Indiana. I was on the verge of quitting ACUI, and I didn't even want to attend this tournament in Indiana (I have some differences of opinion with ACUI about their direction in table tennis). The then ACUI Recreation Director, Michelle Jones Smith, convinced me to attend, and thank God she did because that is how I would meet the love of my life! She was the number one player from her school and in the tournament, and she made quite an impression on me during that tournament.
11. I've seen couples that play together and help each other get better on one hand and others that get so competitive that one of them has to quit to keep peace in the house. How has it worked between the two of you? Any rivalry?
You know ponguniverse.com did a story about us some time ago: http://www.ponguniverse.com/blog/264/the-perfect-match-willy-and-shelly-a-ping-pong-couple/
There is only a rivalry when we are on the table. It is fun to play her and beat her, but we are a team and beyond playing each other she is my best friend in and out of table tennis. My ego is not so big that I would ever have to quit table tennis to "survive" :) Oddly enough, she is a pips player, something that I jokingly talk about with an incredible amount of distaste, so she makes fun of me a bit about that.
12. Do you have a favorite non-NCTTA tournament?
Growing up in table tennis through college table tennis, any teams structured tournament is my favorite. So America's Team in Chicago and the D.C./Baltimore NA Teams tournaments are my favorites. Honestly, I wish USATT did a more club team format, like the LA table tennis league does. Teams are alot more fun than the typical double round robin or giant round robin type tournaments that I normally see.
13. Who is your favorite international table tennis player? Why?
Dimitrij Ovtcharov. His backhand serves are something that seem unique to me; not so many people do it, plus his unorthodox style that has brought him success is inspirational!
14. What do you like to do in your spare time?
Before I got into table tennis, I was big into fútbol (soccer). I played for 12 years and took it very seriously. But now, table tennis consumes my time. However, it doesn't prevent me from yelling at a TV like a crazed lunatic when my favorite team is playing. I guess if you ask some people who have seen me on the table tennis court, my intensity may have translated into table tennis.
15. Anything else that you would like to add?
The sport of table tennis has brought me so much, and I am so thankful for the people like yourselves and others that are involved as players, coaches, managers, and tournament directors. It makes me happy to see that we all fight together (as we fight to loop, block, lob, etc. for the next point in games), but in this instance we fight to make the sport better and more respected. I am happy to just be one of the small components in making this sport that much better. Thank you for the opportunity for this interview.
Currently at highest USATT rating 1874
1. Tell us about how you got started with table tennis.
When I was 10, my dad taught me how to play in the park on a stone table in China. After that, I started to play more in our apartment condo. I didn't play competitively until highschool where I joined the school team and got more training. I used to play penhold before college. In college, I switched to the shake hands grip and began to use pips on the backhand.
2. What equipment do you currently use?
Blade: Yinhe (it is a very hard and fast chinese blade)
Forehand rubber: Tenergy 05
Backhand rubber: Mystery medium pips 563.1 with 1.8 sponge
3. How often do you play?
About 3-4 times a week.
4. Do you have a favorite non-NCTTA tournament?
It would have to be the D.C. Joola tournament because it is a team event. The teammates support each other, and we play different people. It's just a great overall group/team experience.
5. Shelly, you are also an active NCTTA volunteer. What would you say are the best perks for volunteering for NCTTA?
I would say to be able to connect with the friends that you hardly see since everyone is located in different areas of the world. Also, believe it or not, it is a lot of fun to be able to volunteer in something you love together with others. It is like a family reunion, and even though people graduate, you don't feel too sad because it seems people always want to come back to volunteer because I think they miss the friends and family like atmosphere. One of the best perks is the high level collegiate competition that we get to watch!
The level of participation is improving every year. More and more junior players know that they can continue to play table tennis after high school, and I think we are getting a good reputation among girls that play in their junior years and then come to college. NCTTA has really created a good environment for the women players. NCTTA now has a dedicated Women's Committee to help promote the women's college game. So I believe there will be even more women's college table tennis success.
7. Who is your favorite international table tennis player? Why?
Former Chinese National Team Member Yaping Deng is my favorite. She is short, aggressive, never gives up, and is loud...a lot like me! Her fighting spirit inspires me!
We are both competitive. We don't want to lose to each other, so I don't like to play him in the same group because I don't want to show other people how to beat him! When we play club matches, I always try to beat him, and we help each other to get better after we discover each other's weaknesses.
9. What do you like to do in your spare time?
Eat, cook, and work on the garden we have outside that Willy thinks is a big waste of time :). Oh, also I love watching Korean dramas. My job away from table tennis is in hospitality, and so I find sport groups (in table tennis and other sports) to find good price deals. I love my new job!
10. Anything else that you would like to add?
I am so happy to see more and more young individuals getting involved in table tennis, and I would love to see NCTTA graduates come back and help out in the future. I think one day we as a sport will have the same popularity as other sports in the USA. I can't wait for people to be able to see the live game on TV instead of just via online streaming.