With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the country, I feel odd to be writing a profile of my club, the Westchester Table Tennis Center. It’s closed now, as probably most clubs in the country are.
New York State, where we are, has issued increasingly strict rules about leaving our homes. So not only is the club closed, I worry about how (or even if) I’ll be able to continue a table tennis streak. As of March 22, I have played table tennis for 2,728 consecutive days — every day since October 3, 2012.
Fortunately, I’m hosting a member of the Ghanaian national table tennis team, and local players have offered to help. Every day I drive over to the empty club, five blocks from my house, to make sure everything’s OK ... and the Ghanaian or someone else plays with me.
About the Westchester TTC: We’re located about a half-hour north of New York City. My best friend, Robert Roberts, and I opened it in June 2011. Robert is a three-time champion of the Caribbean and the club’s manager. The club has 19 nicely spaced-out tables, a high ceiling, good lighting, and professional playing conditions. There are three full-time coaches. We have about 200 members. We’re open every night until 11:00.
If you watch table tennis videos on YouTube, you’ve probably seen matches from Westchester. We host a USATT-sanctioned 4-star tournament on the last weekend of every month. There are 18 events with $6,000 in prizes ($2,000 for first). Competitors come from across the country and around the world. Last year our tournaments averaged more than 160 players a month.
Besides the tournaments, we offer several special programs:
• Free group training for beginning and intermediate players, with Ben Nisbet, every Tuesday evening (nonmembers pay $10 to come in, but the training is free)
• Parkinson’s Night, for players with Parkinson’s disease, every Wednesday
• League Night every Thursday
• Handicap Tournament every Friday
• Group lessons for kids every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday
• Intensive training camps every summer and Christmas holiday
It’s a friendly atmosphere, with players of all skill levels, ages, and ethnicities, both men and women. Members were born in more than 35 countries. We’re sort of a mini-United Nations of sport.
Our League Night is unique and something I’m particularly proud of. It costs an extra $3/night to take part. Players’ names appear on a rating ladder, ranked from highest to lowest. At 7:30 pm, after people have signed in, I organize them in groups of four — the top four, the next four, the four after that, etc. Within each group, the highest and lowest players form a team versus the two in the middle. Thus, opposing teams are as evenly matched as possible.
Each player on a team plays a singles match against each opponent. The teams also play doubles. The object is to win at least three of the five matches. A player on a winning team earns merit. At the end of the season, whoever has the most merits wins money.
The results of the singles matches affect players’ League Night ratings. There’s a revised ladder every week.
What’s nice about this system is that it appeals to players of all skill levels. Everyone is challenged at their level, and everyone tries to improve.
It’s social, too, because players are paired with and compete against different people each week.
And unlike other League Night systems, there’s no commitment. Players come when they like, and they don’t come when they can’t. It’s completely flexible. More than 50 players take part each week.
Before closing, I have some big club news: This summer, if all goes well, we’ll expand into adjoining space, with 7,000 more square feet. We expect to add eight more tables, bringing the total to 27. We’ll install permanent bleachers for spectators. And we’ll increase the prize money at our monthly Opens, after which we hope to attract even more high-level players.
By this fall, fingers crossed, the club will be even bigger and better.
If you’re ever in the New York area, we’d love to have you visit.
Will Shortz is the crossword editor of the New York Times, puzzlemaster for NPR, and owner of the Westchester Table Tennis Center. For more information on the club or its tournaments, see www.westchestertabletennis.com.