Fun, Exciting Matches All for a Good Cause at Pong for Harvey

By Richard Finn | Nov. 28, 2017, 8:15 p.m. (ET)

Nearly three months after Hurricane Harvey slammed into Houston with flooding rains and destructive winds causing an estimated $200 billion in damages, the area’s table tennis community came together for Pong for Harvey on November 18-19th at the Houston International Table Tennis Academy (HITTA).

More than 80 players on 12 tables in all levels of competition participated in a fun filled weekend of spirited play and civic pride and rebuilding according to Manny Velazquez, the Director of Competition and Tournament Committee at HITTA.

“What can you say?” wrote Velazquez in a recent email to USATT officials. “All events had great play, great fun and everyone enjoyed their participation.”

As the city of Houston struggled to its collective feet after the devastation of Harvey, the area’s robust table tennis community came together to find a way to be part of the renewal efforts.

“The idea for Pong for Harvey came from the Houston International Table Tennis Academy's generosity and efforts in developing a sense of community among members and associates and the community in Texas in general,” explained Velazquez. “

“Hurricane Harvey hit Texas hard, and though the flood waters subsided 3 months ago, many victims are still struggling to rebuild and recover.”

The generous support and $6,000 contribution from Mr. Kong Ghee Lee of Singapore and an anonymous club sponsor and the services of the HITTA’s world-class facility provided the building blocks to launch the event.

The response from the table tennis community was huge with players of all levels, including 10 over 2500 rating and a total of 25 all ranked around 2000 headlining the fields.

Tournament highlights were many according to Velazquez.

“It was difficult to decide which matches to watch,” wrote Velazquez. “At one point we had Bruno Ventura vs Hangyu Li, Diwei Shi vs Sara Fu, Yichi Zhang vs Hector Berrios, Zixian Meng vs Li Kewei and these were only the preliminary round. The atmosphere was electric and play was animated across all divisions, with the finals of the Open on Saturday, and the Women's Finals and U2200 Finals on Sunday.

“The Open was a battle of wills and determination as the players advanced, with former National China Team member Li Kewei and 8 time Puerto Rico National Champion Hector Berrios moving into the finals without a loss. In the end, Li Kewei prevailed in 3 sets.

“Sunday play continued in spirited manner. The Women's Open had a small draw but very capable players. In the end Sara Fu went undefeated and prevailed in the Final over Ana Aleksandric from Texas Wesleyan U.,” continued Velazquez. “The U2200 event provided exciting matches all the way into the semis. The match of the night, 10 y/o Daniel Tran vs 14 y/o Evan Lai went the limit until Daniel Tran prevailed. On the other semi, Jayson Lai overcame Arman Zhumagaliyev. Daniel Tran won the final over Jayson Lai and Evan Lai finished third with a thrilling victory over Arman Zhumagaliyev.”

At the end of the day, however, the big winner was all Houstonians and all of the event’s players.

“A donation will be made in the name of all table tennis players who participated to selected charities that continue to provide support to hurricane Harvey victims,” wrote Velazquez.

“We need our communities to be supportive of our passion, table tennis and we wanted to show them we are a part of the community by giving something back to them in their time of need.”