They played the best two out of three games to 11 points.
He ended up losing his match to the deputy mayor in a tight third game.
Kokomo Schools board president Joe Dunbar speculated that Simon intentionally lost the third game as a courtesy to his hosts.
He was the perfect diplomat, Dunbar said.
“Craig’s maturity and insight were highly respected by the Chinese students, Chinese leaders and especially his Kokomo traveling companions,” Dunbar said.
At the school, he spoke to Chinese students about life in American schools. He paused on the streets to take photos with passersby who were captivated by his height (he’s 6 feet 2 inches tall) and blonde hair. He even allowed a college class to interview him about his trip.
Barnes said Simon was the most daring in the Kokomo delegation, too, never afraid to try the unique Chinese dishes. He ate snake from a street vendor and duck’s feet at a dinner.
The people in China noticed those things.
Kokomo High School Principal Mike Sargent said Simon further strengthened the district’s relationship with the schools in Dongyang.
And it all started with a game.
“It really was pingpong diplomacy,” Sargent said. “The relationship starts with that. You try to find common ground.”
That’s the great thing about the sport, Simon said. It’s very international. You learn a lot about other cultures while you play.
He’s met players from France, Germany, Russia, China and Japan.
Simon has even volunteered to umpire at some big tournaments. He helped at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas one year.
His goal is to someday qualify as an international umpire, where he would travel the world and judge pingpong tournaments where big money is on the line.
He never thought, though, that his skills as a player would land him a trip to China while he’s still in high school. It was an incredible experience, he said.