By Sidney Rosenfeld (Oberlin, Ohio)
Browsing the web one evening last year, I hit on a video with Peter Li, which I watched with special interest. In 1989/1990, when Peter was still a dream, his future father, Ming, was honing his piano technician skills at Oberlin’s conservatory. During that time, I helped Ming with some immigration and work formalities and we sometimes practiced table tennis together. Once, when I asked him to teach me the backhand loop, he begged off with a gentle smile, claiming: “I don’t know how.” Should Ming revisit Oberlin one day, I’ll renew that request. Meanwhile, he’ll surely be able to fulfill it. This year, after all, he coached Peter to the national championship.
On the You Tube video, the distinctive JOOLA lettering on Peter’s T-shirt prompted me to look in on the JOOLA website. There I found an invitation to a prize drawing for a JOOLA paddle. Though I put my chances at nil, I sent in my name. Two weeks later—some 40 years after I had begun to play table tennis earnestly as an ungifted hobbyist—I learned from JOOLA that I had won the prize. My new paddle, a Wing Medium blade with Mambo H rubber, chosen with help from JOOLA’s Tom Nguyen, brought me back full circle with JOOLA. Here’s how it all began:
Back in the ‘70s, wanting to improve my game I enrolled in Dal Joon Lee’s five-day clinic in Columbus. In those days, D-J, five times Korean national champion and six times US champion (and now of blessed memory), offered what has since become unknown: intensive group instruction for beginners like me. At age 42, I was far from his star pupil, but D-J patiently put up with me, all the more as he discovered I was fluent in German. Out of his basement he was running a mail order business as JOOLA’s US distributor, and he set me to work translating the JOOLA catalog into English. In lieu of pay, I accepted D-J’s offer of all the JOOLA equipment I could carry back to Oberlin.
So there I was, learning the basics with a JOOLA paddle, sporting JOOLA shorts and a JOOLA polo shirt (under a JOOLA tracksuit for warmup), and at the end of our clinic packing all that gear—D-J had given me two of everything!—into the green JOOLA gym bag I still carry today. The next summer, in return for further translating and editing D-J’s newsletter, I got to attend the clinic free and this time stay and eat at D-J’s home.
In the mid-70s, three years running I recruited D-J to give a 5-day clinic during the Winter Term session at Oberlin College. The second he conducted with his new bride He-Ja, who was to become 3-time US Closed women’s champion. In 1978, when D-J and He-Ja were playing in the German National League, I returned his and He-Ja’s Columbus hospitality. He-Ja had a tournament near Stuttgart, and I put them up in my apartment there. When we went to dinner at a large newly opened Korean restaurant, the proprietor recognized D-J, and they treated us royally. By that time, the strikingly attractive He-Ja was featured on the cover of the JOOLA catalog, and JOOLA was producing a He-Ja Lee blade.
When D-J and He-Ja moved to Las Vegas, we kept up with one another through occasional phone calls, but my formal pursuit of table tennis prowess ended. Because I lacked practice partners at the college, my JOOLA paddle once lay unused in the green bag for a stretch of six years; and whatever skills I had acquired lay dormant for over two decades. By the time I retired from teaching in 2000, my bones had also become creaky. Little did I imagine that I’d revive them by fostering table tennis at the Kendal Retirement Community in Oberlin, into which my wife Stella and I moved five years ago.
When we came to Kendal, except for a small yearly tournament, organized table tennis was quietly slumbering. Once a week, a small circle met for “ping pong” in a confined hallway space, where we played on a rickety Parker Brothers table, and with dime-store paddles and balls. As best I could with my limited skills, I began teaching a growing number of residents the basic strokes. Step by step, players bought their own customized paddles, the term “table tennis” gained currency in the Kendal community, and the last holdouts against legal serves dropped their resistance. After a year, the original core group had expanded to some 14 enthusiasts. We moved from our hallway into Kendal’s large parquet-floor auditorium and acquired our first good table, soon to be augmented by a second. Today, we play three times weekly with ITFF-approved inverted rubber paddles, dozens of good practice balls, and three ball scoops to spare our tired backs.
Just this past week, on 15 June, we unveiled our new, third table, a tournament-used, but mint condition top-of-the-line JOOLA 3000 SC. To mark the occasion, the father-son duo of Kenneth and Keiran Pinili (from nearby Willoughby) put on a bang-up stroke demonstration and exhibition match. Thanks in good part to JOOLA, then, table tennis at Kendal has gotten another big boost. Our group of avid players, all of us novices and ranging in age from our 70s to early 90s, keeps growing; and we attest that table tennis helps focus our minds, brighten our spirits, pep up our bodies, and widen our social circle, in short, feel younger! Table tennis, it’s safe to say, has enriched the Kendal Retirement Community by a whole new dimension. With all that, I myself have come full circle: from D-J Lee’s JOOLA-stocked Columbus basement in the 1970s, to my JOOLA prize paddle last year, and now our JOOLA 3000 SC table. Maybe there’s hope I’ll still learn the backhand loop.
JOOLA – For The Champion In You!
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