By Andy Kanengiser
NCTTA Media Chair
Florida State vs Florida remains one of America's biggest rivalries in college sports.
FSU Seminoles typically dislike Florida Gators. And UF folks usually don't care for Noles.
That fierce rivalry gets stepped up in Fall 2018 when the Florida Gators invade Doak Campbell Stadium for a football game on the Tallahassee campus. Fans on both sides circled the date, November 24. For the record, FSU won last year's contest 38-22 in Gainesville.
The table tennis rivalry between the two schools in the Sunshine State stays pretty fierce when games are being played. But off the court, FSU and UF players are good friends.
That was the case at the 2018 iSet national collegiate table tennis championships at the Round Rock Sports Center. FSU and UF players cheered for one another, ate meals together and enjoyed each other's company at the April 20-22 tournament near Austin, Texas.
"It's a rivalry one on one'' in table tennis games between UF and FSU, says NCTTA President Willy Leparulo.
But outside that intense game atmosphere, Leparulo, an FSU graduate, notices UF Gator players rooting for the Noles. And FSU players are encouraging the Gators to beat other table tennis teams.
That was the case in late February when players from both FSU and the University of Florida participated at the NCTTA South Regionals in Fort Worth.Post-game, several players from the two Florida schools, dined together at a Texas restaurant.
UF players like Suhaib Harraka, a native of Syria, and Ajinka Gaikwad a native of India, says some of their good buddies are FSU table tennis players.
Signed for men's singles at the Round Rock tournament, FSU's Ramy Noseir remains one of their favorite table tennis players on the Tallahassee campus. And he's a friend, too.
Harraka, who has family living in Tampa,Florida has spent four years on the UF Gators team. The 26-year-old senior won't let a perennial college rivalry stand in his way as he plays his favorite Olympic sport. "I love table tennis.''
Away from the table tennis venue, some longtime supporters of FSU (of the Atlantic Coast Conference) and Florida (of the Southeastern Conference) may continue to sharply disagree. It doesn't matter if the sport is football, basketball, baseball, tennis or soccer. The rivalry never goes away for very long.
Sharing the same passionate interest in table tennis helps break down barriers among these two Southern rivals.
Harraka also has bigger things on his mind as he prepares to apply to dental schools following his May graduation on the Gainesville campus.
Gaikwad, 26, is making plans to move to California to go to work after earning his graduate degree in computer science in a few weeks. He will pack his paddle, too.
The UF coed team put on a solid showing at the 2018 Nationals in Texas. UF entered the tournament seeded No. 11, but finished in 9th place.
FSU's Ramy Noseir had company at the tournament in Round Rock. FSU's Tyler Hayes joined him in men's singles contests.
Other colleges with big rivalries have put aside their differences lasting many decades to build friendships.
In the table tennis world, the University of Michigan table tennis team in recent years played rival Ohio State in a friendly pre-season tournament. Following the table tennis battles, players from both Big Ten schools shared a meal, enjoyed the fellowship and had fun.
The 2018 iSET College Table Tennis Championships is hosted by the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association and the Round Rock 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, Gerflor, 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 20th and continues through Sunday April 22nd.
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