NCTTA Feature

Interview with Khoi D. Than:

What is table tennis to you? Talk about it from past (developing your skills), present, and future (career) aspects of it.

For the past several years, table tennis has been my main extracurricular pursuit. At times, it seemed as if table tennis was my life, the only thing that I talked and thought about. I started playing pong in 1995 as a 14-year old freshman in high school. In the spring of that year, I entered a regional tournament of the Oregon High School Table Tennis Championship and, expecting to win without practice, instead finished in dead last. Rather than quitting right then and there, my defeat motivated me to practice and learn as much as I could. I started by playing in my garage with my father or my friends, but this wasn’t enough. So, in 1996 I founded the Westview High School Table Tennis Club. My club started out as just a handful of friends playing on two rundown tables, but by the time I graduated in 1999 it was the largest high school table tennis club in the country with more than 70 members playing on four professional-quality tables. This success was in large part due to the help of the Portland Table Tennis Club (PTTC), with which I was pretty involved. Through the PTTC, I took clinics and private lessons with Fan Yi Yong, one of the best players in the country. By the time I graduated from high school I was probably a 1200-level player.

In college, I continued to practice at the Johns Hopkins University Table Tennis Club (JHUTTC) and take advantage of the many coaching and tournament opportunities that the club provided. I really love the club at Hopkins. Especially during my first couple of years, I could always count on practicing with several 2000+-rated players on the team. Through practicing a couple of times every week; coaching from the likes of Richard Lee, Sean Lonergan, and Brian Pace; and extensive tournament play I was rated higher than 1600 at the time of my graduation in May 2003.

Today I am a first-year medical student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. I am not practicing as much as I used to, probably just once a week, but I still feel like I can compete and plan to play for Hopkins’ team for the next four years. My table tennis career after that is uncertain.

Rate yourself as a player (and not using USATT ratings).

Rating myself as a player is entirely relative. Within the Johns Hopkins community, I think I am one of the best. At the collegiate level, I think I am pretty good since I play for one of the best teams in the country. At the national level, I am nobody.

However, I have had some impressive wins throughout my career. In May 1999 I won the Oregon High School Table Tennis Championship, the same tournament in which I finished dead last just three years before. Less than two months later, I won the U-1275 even at the U.S. Open in Fort Lauderdale. I haven’t won anything big since then, partly because I haven’t played in anything big and partly because my mental game isn’t as stable as it used to be, but I still get my greatest satisfaction from winning.

You have had experiences being president of Johns Hopkins Table Tennis Club.

Describe your experiences on your accomplishments, on how you reached to people who were clueless about table tennis, and advices to other college students who would want to start a table tennis club around the nation.

I served as president of Johns Hopkins Table Tennis for my first three years of college and feel that I accomplished many things in that position. First, and perhaps most importantly, I was able to multiply the club’s membership by at least two times, from maybe 150 to almost 400—Hopkins Table Tennis is definitely the largest collegiate program in the nation. Such an increase was accomplished by enthusiastic publicity (posters, newspaper ads, word-of-mouth, Internet) and constant communication with club members. As president, I also improved the services provided by the club. Practice days and times were expanded, professional coaching sessions were implemented, and travel to regional and national tournaments occurred at least once a month. I also persuaded the university to buy five more tables in addition to the five we already had. In fact, under my leadership Johns Hopkins Table Tennis became one of the ten most-funded activity groups on campus (out of more than 200). I also developed relationships between the club and large table tennis manufacturers, procuring clothing sponsorships from Newgy and Butterfly. Lastly, the team maintained regional dominance and national prominence during my tenure, always finishing as National Champion or Runner-Up under my presidency.

Enthusiasm is the key to reaching out to people who are clueless about table tennis. The publicity is essential, but most important is personally reaching out by asking friends to come and convincing the gym bystanders to give ping-pong a try. Having in mind some interesting facts about the sport helps to spark their own interest, too.

Since I started a club in high school and led a successful one in college, I do have advice for college students interested in starting clubs at their own universities. First, it is important to find fellow students who share your interest in table tennis. You can go at it alone, but it won’t be worth it if you are the only member. Second, look for ping-pong tables on campus. These can often be found in residence halls, fraternities, or athletic centers and can serve as a place to meet on a regular basis. Having a set meeting time, even if just amongst friends, will establish the legitimacy of your program. Third, once this legitimacy is established, you need to look for money. If your club is just starting out, you won’t have more than a couple of low-quality tables for practice, and this is very unattractive to the people you are trying to recruit. All universities have some sort of student activities council whose purpose it is to give money to groups. Request this council to give you money for more tables and equipment. Fourth, publicize your new group to whole university!

This is somehow related to the previous question. During the years you were part of the NCTTA, whether it be a division director, a vice-president, or the president, NCTTA has gone through a tremendous growth. What do you think were your accomplishments? Things you failed to do or wish you could've done? Perhaps

even tell us your visions of the NCTTA.

While the NCTTA’s rules and constitution were solidified under my presidency, increasing the size of the NCTTA was my main goal and my main accomplishment during my four years of involvement with the association. In fact, the league more than doubled over that period of four years. As a division director, I helped the original Mid-Atlantic Division grow to a point where it had to split into two full-fledged divisions (Mid-Atlantic and New York City). Expansion was accomplished in a different manner as NCTTA Vice President and President. The key was to earn wider recognition within the American table tennis community, and this was done partly by articles written in USA Table Tennis Magazine and sponsorship from Newgy and Paddle Palace. But two other individuals were instrumental in this ultimate goal of expansion: Willy Leparulo and Dan Wang. Willy works tirelessly as the National Recruiting Director of the NCTTA, contacting schools and helping schools that contact the association. Meanwhile, Dan maintains the organization’s website, which is probably the first hit on Google for anyone interested in collegiate table tennis.

While I enjoyed some success as NCTTA President, I did encounter some failures. Although the association grew enormously, the Rocky Mountain region of the United States is still devoid of collegiate table tennis for some reason. In addition, due to a lack of judgment I hurt my personal relationship with USA Table Tennis and was not able to improve the NCTTA’s standing with the sport’s national governing body. Lastly, other interests consumed my time during my last semester in college, perhaps when the organization needed me most. This negatively affected both what I was able to accomplish and my relationship with the other executive board officers.

All in all, I would say that I left the NCTTA in better shape than when I entered. I have great faith in the association’s leadership and believe that the future of collegiate table tennis is bright.