Ishaka TTC is a part-time table tennis facility typically opened several evenings and an afternoon during the week and weekend when the Coronavirus pandemic shutdown is not transpiring. The club takes advantage of ten tables, and is in Jacksonville, Florida. The club founder, president and ITTF certified coach is the literally larger-than-life Jean-Marie Kanani, standing at a towering 6’ 9”. Originally from East Africa, Kanani played for his country’s national table tennis team for more than 15 years. He had the opportunity as well to briefly train with the Chinese National team in Beijing when he was 16 years old.
According to Kanani, he got his first itch to play table tennis when he was only 9. He would walk with his sister by a huge factory where there were several workers from China and each time school was out, he would hear a table tennis ball hit the table when some employees were on break. One day a player asked if Kanani wanted to hit and with his older sister’s permission he participated and soon fell in love with the sport.
Kanani was of average height until he reached a growth spurt at age 14, and so in addition to table tennis he played semi pro basketball for 7 years on his country’s national team.
He would eventually reach the States in 2007 when his table tennis team was invited to the U.S. Open in Las Vegas. After the event, he flew directly to Jacksonville to live with his sister. Several months later, Kanani would begin to live on his own in Jacksonville and he eventually started creating sports programs in the area.
He founded the table tennis club in October 2010 but it wasn’t until a year later that he would call it Ishaka, which is an African phrase for “You can do it.” In addition to Ishaka TTC, Kanani heads a basketball, volleyball, and soccer program. He clearly devotes his time and energy to the community and the sports he loves.
Kanani coaches members ranging from 6 to 81 years old. His passion rings true in his voice.
The pandemic has hit his club hard, especially after just installing new LED lights right before the virus struck.
Kanani would love to welcome his members back but knows he must acknowledge health and safety first as well as work accordingly with the gym that is home to the club. “I just wait till when they decide me to open the club.” “My program is like a YMCA. There’s nothing I can do with them [the program].” “They [the members] call me every day. I get like 15 calls every day,” Kanani notes.
In addition to the calls he receives, Kanani makes even more outgoing calls to his members to keep their hopes up. “I spend time motivating them not to quit.” With over 200 members, that keeps him busy.
Kudos to Coach Kanani for staying so involved with his table tennis community and best of luck reopening the club when the time comes.