Battle of the Paddles: Ping-pong players flex their brains and conquer fear in recent tournament

Kathy Van Mullekom | For The Virginian-Pilot

The ping-pong tables looked fun and innocent enough.

The determined looks on the players volleying at the tables told a different story. Few smiled. Most were serious and focused on the competitive person at the other end of the table. The pings of the balls hitting the tables, or dropping on the floor, echoed everywhere inside the cavernous atrium at Kellam High School.

High school students, most members of ping-pong clubs, were there to win – and practicing an hour before the second annual Battle of the Paddles began on April 29.

And, please don’t call it ping-pong when it’s tourney time.

“Ping-pong is the fun game,” said Brant Manoso, 17, a tournament participant from First Colonial High School. “Table tennis is the sport.”

About 50 students from Kellam, Ocean Lakes, Cox, First Colonial, Tallwood and Princess Anne high schools, as well as Norfolk Christian Schools, signed up for the table tennis tournament. Sponsors include TowneBank and PingPong.Gives, a nonprofit that promotes the mental benefits of table tennis. PingPong.Gives also raises money to students at schools that have adopted the Table Tennis Sports and Education Program, according to founder Ken Lees.

Ping-ponging across generations, countries

Ping-pong - Xie

Michelle Xie and son Mitchell often play ping-pong together, which helps Mitchell prep for table tennis tournaments like the Battle of Paddles table tennis tournament April 29 at Kellam High School.

Kathy Van Mullekom | For The Virginian-Pilot

Mitchell Xie’s mother, Michelle, watched from the sidelines as her son practiced. She grew up in China, where ping-pong is a way of life, so she is happy that Mitchell, 14 and a student at Cox High, has been playing since he was 5 years old.

“In China, ping-pong is cheap to play, and you don’t have to have a table because you can play it anywhere – in the grass or on a wall,” she said.

“There is no need for a lot of equipment or a lot of space like land for soccer. It’s good fun, and it gives me good times with my son. He’s even giving up travel soccer next year to focus on ping-pong.

“That makes me happy because ping-pong is something he can play forever.”

Overcoming the fear factor

Ping-pong - Lutz

For Melanie Lutz, 15, her nervousness was about more than the competitiveness of the day. When she walked in that morning, she was the only girl there — and that made her feel out of place. Even three more girls showing up didn’t ease her anxiousness.Beth Lutz was there to cheer on daughter Melanie, who competed in the

“I’ve played a few times at my grandmother’s house in New York,” she said.

“I’m here to help my hand-eye coordination and because my history teacher said we would get extra credit if we came.”

Her mother, Beth Lutz, smiled in support.

“She is out of her comfort zone, and it’s good to get out of your comfort zone,” she said.

It’s a mental exercise, but it’s fun

Ping-pong - MacMillan and SilvaJohn Silva, left, and Dakota MacMillan compete in the Battle of Paddles table tennis tournament April 29 at Kellam High School.

Dr. Scott Sautter, a licensed clinical psychologist and chairman of The Table Tennis Foundation (now PingPong.GIVES), supports table tennis as a brain-building activity for all ages and abilities, including people in wheelchairs, Parkinson’s patients and anyone with memory issues.

“Ping-pong makes the brain stronger,” he said.

“The eye-hand coordination, rapid movement back and forth, visual scanning and speed of information processed is all beneficial. It’s cross-training for your brain.

“Anyone of any age can play ping-pong. And, when you play ping-pong, you smile.”

Well, in the heat of competition at the recent tournament, not everyone smiled. But there were some, like 18-year-old Dakota MacMillan, who couldn’t help but grin.

The Kellam student faced off with John Silva, 16, from Princess Anne. Animated in play, Dakota hopped, jumped and whooped his way through the two games. But, alas, he lost both games.

“I choked,” Dakota said, smiling and shaking John’s hand afterward. Even so, he loves the sport because he helps his reflexes as a goalie in lacrosse.

“It’s a fun, laid-back sport,” added John.


Players winning in the tournament’s three categories, based on different levels of experience:

Don’t play that often: Reece Shepard, first; Hunter Davis, second

Am a Decent Player: Rei Silva, first; Caleb Ventura, second

Am Really Good: Jack Wu, first; Michael Bishop, second

Thanks to Virginian Pilot for publishing

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