By Andy Kanengiser NCTTA Media Chair
Talent levels are off the charts at the NCTTA's biggest tournament of the year. The same holds true for courage levels at the 2019 college table tennis championships in Greensboro.
At the Greensboro Coliseum, it's hard to miss Ari Arratia. The 24-year-old player for the Santa Monica College table tennis team remains passionate about his favorite Olympic sport.
He played on the USA Para table tennis team for a few years through 2017. Two deformed hands, and having prosthetics substitute for both legs never stopped him from playing table tennis like a champ.
The Los Angeles resident keeps on keeping on. At one time his table tennis rating stood at 1900, but now slipped to 1650, which is still good.
Ari Arratia enjoyed his first trip to the NCTTA Nationals, traveling with his Santa Monica College teammates from California. They include SMC players like Tiziano Aiello, Ayush Kapoor and David Chow. The two-year school in Santa Monica is now in its 2nd season of NCTTA competition.
Ari also arrived at the Greensboro games with a shoulder injury, and must ice it. Still, any setbacks didn't stop the Paralympian from competing in North Carolina. The three-day tournament ends Sunday April 14.
"I lost one match I could have won,'' Ari said after his California squad fell Friday to mighty Mississippi College, the No. 2 seed. "I lost all singles matches,'' he said after suffering defeats to MC, Duke and Wright State. He plays with a paddle with a long handle that stays strapped to his hand during the games.
When the NCTTA media chair searched the Greensboro coliseum for student-athletes to interview, one of the volunteer security staffers pointed to Ari Arratia. "That's your story,'' the security man said in his native New York lingo.
Talking about his life the past two dozen years, Ari Arratia notes he's suffered from these physical disabilities since birth. "My limbs were born this way.''
Why get started with table tennis?
His Dad regularly played table tennis as a hobby for ten years at a club and got his son interested. "My Dad was an enthusiastic amateur,'' he said. "I'm a very competitive person. It's my only sport - I got started at age 12.''
Today, Ari is coached by Wei Wang. The Santa Monica College computer science major plays the game right handed. Although he points out his left hand has "more hand in there.''
These days, Ari works on his game at Southern California clubs and on the Santa Monica campus three days a week. He thanks Team USA Para stars like Tahl Leibowitz (a former table tennis standout at NYU) for providing help along his journey.
The Santa Monica College student also credits Texas Wesleyan University Rams head Coach Jasna Rather (a Para Team USA coach) with giving him encouragement at the Greensboro games. She wants him to never quit. A former Olympic player and successful coach, Rather hopes he keeps playing the sport at the highest level.
Some California schools will be fortunate to attract Ari Arratia once his playing days end at Santa Monica College. Currently, his first choice remains the University of California at San Diego. At the Greensboro tournament, his Santa Monica coed team is seeded 14th. The University of California-San Diego is ranked 17th.
While he didn't win matches at Friday's first round, Ari mentions some of his many career highlights.That includes winning a Silver medal for Para Team USA at the Para Pan American championships. Twice he won in Para events at the U.S. Open, including a Gold medal for Class 6-7 at the 2015 tournament. He captured Gold at the 2015 Romania Open for Class 7.
Now Ari is encouraging other collegiate table tennis players with disabilities to succeed. That includes Mississippi College's Jeremy Gore of Dallas, Texas. An MC junior and an accounting major, Gore this year seeks to become a Para Team USA alternate at the Pan American Games. The two players squared off a few months ago during "friendly games'' at the U.S. Open in Orlando.
Ari knows it won't be easy to land a spot on Para Team USA roster. Table tennis, he says, "is a tough sport.''
While he gives it his best shot in table tennis matches - from practices to the U.S. Open to the NCTTA championships, Ari Arratia doesn't dwell on his handicaps. "I try not to think about it too much.''
NCTTA President Willy Leparulo applauds Ari's positive approach to table tennis and life in general.
"We have 275 of the finest players at our tournament from dozens of colleges across the USA and Canada,'' Leparulo said. " We know many of them are inspired by Ari's powerful story, and his determination to overcome any obstacles in his path. We welcome Ari Arratia to the NCTTA family and wish him the very best.''
The 2019 iSET College Table Tennis Championships is hosted by the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association and Sports & Properties Inc. and Greensboro CVB and is one of the premier table tennis tournaments in North America featuring 6 events: Men’s and Women’s Singles and Doubles, and Men’s/Coed Teams, Women’s Teams. The event is sponsored by iSET, Double Happiness, SPI, Greensboro CVB, Double Fish and USA Table Tennis
Players and spectators alike will enjoy a jam-packed weekend of table tennis at the iSET College Table Tennis Championships. The event starts Friday April 12th and continues through Sunday April 14th.
The National Collegiate Table Tennis Association (NCTTA) is a non-profit organization established exclusively for promoting the sport of table tennis at the college level. As the national governing body for college table tennis in the United States and Canada, NCTTA organizes intercollegiate competition throughout North America. www.nctta.org
About USA Table Tennis
Headquartered in Colorado Springs, USATT is the national organizing body for table tennis in the United States, serving 9,000+ members and nearly 300 clubs. USATT sanctions 200+ events a year including the US Open and US Nationals. USATT is affiliated with the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), as well as the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). www.usatt.org