The two challengers faced off from each side of the pingpong table.
Olympic Festival gold medalist and female pro Kim Gilbert wore a serious look and an “I Win” T-shirt. Greek national pingpong champion – and model – Ioanna Papadimitriou sported a coral tennis dress and a perfectly swishing ponytail.
The ball volleyed back and forth, faster than the eye could follow.
“We’re just warming up,” Papadimitriou said with a smile.
And then a woman from Mid-Atlantic Roller Derby challenged Gilbert to a match – on skates.
That was the scene Friday night at the Virginia Beach Field House during astar-studded kick-off for Ping Pong for Charity. The Slamfest included exhibition games by 84-year-old table tennis Hall of Famer Dean Johnson, and former Duke and NBA basketball player Christian Laettner.
The event is in its eighth year. It’s hosted by PingPong.GIVES, a nonprofit foundation that raises money and awareness for charities that focus on mental health issues. It also promotes ping-pong as a healthy activity for any age.
The pros were there Friday night to play all comers in the name of charity and to show the benefits of pingpong – from burning calories to brain power.
“I believe ping-pong helps you in so many ways,” Laettner said of a sport he’s played nearly as long as basketball, he said.
“It’s a chess game,” said Gilbert, who battled back to her sport after shattering her right arm.
Last year, the tournament raised more than $70,000 and donated almost $50,000 to charity. People in Need, a local nonprofit that aids the homeless, Vanguard Landing and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s associations are this year’s beneficiaries.
Friday night, folks played on available pingpong tables and socialized with food and cocktails while a DJ played Prince and Britney Spears. Spencer Kane, 7, scurried around the pros’ feet as their self-appointed ball boy.Papadimitriou wasn’t much older when she got her start in ping-pong, she said.
The fun continues today as the tables are turned over to local players of all levels for an amateur tournament that runs from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Registration is closed, but spectators are welcome and admission is free.
Victoria Bourne, 757-222-5563, firstname.lastname@example.org