Wednesday, July 09, 2008

AC, Champion

... but no Spark Plug

Without great speed or endurance or balance I am certainly not a gifted athlete. However, I seem to possess one ability that has helped me to scrape through — decent (note that I don't say great) hand-eye coordination. That's why I could be moderately successful at tennis in my group of peers: an untrained middle-aged guy playing with other untrained middle-aged guys.

I also won a tennis tournament once — sort of. I wasn't much interested when the club had a tournament. I was happy enough to play whom I played at the friendly level. But a friend had entered and had advanced to the consolation finals before his partner became unavailable. So he asked me to take his partner's place. Being an obliging sort of fellow, I acquiesced against my better judgement. John and I played a pair of kids, and we won handily. I don't think anyone expected that from a substitute player, and I got the impression that the club muckymucks weren't too thrilled with the result. But since they hadn't expected much, they also hadn't objected to my participation and had permitted me to play.

My decent hand-eye coordination worked for me in ping pong (er table tennis) too.

One day, a fellow teacher arranged to have a ping pong table brought into the staff room. With many of us being in our twenties or early thirties, the staff was young back then and took to the game with great enthusiasm. At lunch time we'd bolt our food and queue at the table. After school we'd often hurry to the staff room for a few quick games.

Maybe it was simply because I played more than most, but as time unfolded, I became one of the better players.

After a few years of this, someone had the bright idea of having an actual tournament, and, somehow, I emerged from my side of the draw. In the best-of-seven finals, I faced Don who had a great backhand. In fact, I learned my backhand partly by watching and copying his. He was a good tennis player, and that's where he learned his his technique. It wasn't great table tennis technique, I suppose, but it worked well enough for both him and me at this level.

But he only had an average forehand, so I devised a winning strategy. I decided to play to his strength to some degree. I'd draw him into his backhand with a short ball. You see, he couldn't do much damage with the short ball and it had the advantage of leaving him in bad position for his forehand. I exploited it mercilessly. Shame on me.

The upshot is that I won that match four games to nil and became the champ of the teachers. There were other players who, had they got through the draw, would have given me much stiffer competition, but as it happened, my game was well suited to defeat Don. It's strange that: I would have had more trouble defeating some of the players that he defeated than I did playing him.

But it gave me bragging rights that, not being a braggadocios kind of guy, I didn't actually exercise. However, I was able to mention my past table tennis prowess in my retirement speech more than twenty years later. And again now. :)


mreddie said...

I'm not much of a tennis player but I have enjoyed many ping-pong games in the past and have played at times to exhaustion. And I have noticed over the years that better players can be picked apart when one plays to their weaknesses. Still like the game but haven't played much in several years. ec

Amanda said...

Congrats on your ping pong win!
Gosh, i have not played table tennis since i was at school!

ChrisB said...

You are very good a bringing back old memories. When I was around 12 or 13 my parent's had a table tennis table put up in our attic~ I think it might have been a Christmas present. We were thrilled~ however, it was not a large attic and they had to cut off all the corners of the table and there was not much room for movement. They meant well but it was not as much fun as we originally anticipated!

Pam said...

I used to play a little tennis but was rather mediocre. I did better at ping-pong but no champion I.

Your adorable little granddaughter sure has taken off since she started walking. She'll keep you young!

Ginnie said...

I agree with Pam. Your little one will keep you hopping. I am at my daughter and son-in-laws house as I write this and they've just beaten me in a game of horse shoes. I'm exhausted.

womaninawindow said...

It's fun to know that our bag of tricks remains full even years later. One day I'm gonna dig deep and find something that I had almost forgotten about and wield it like a sword - even if only just a very pretty sword, not too sharp.

Anonymous said...

Years ago my cousins and I used to have great ping-pong competitions. I never excelled at the sport but I do remember the laughs.