Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 29, 2013

Going on a treasure hunt

Kokomo Tribune

---- — I’ve become a treasure hunter of sorts, scouring Kokomo for hidden gems.

No, I’m not digging holes, expecting to find a brick of gold. The gems I’m looking for are undiscovered people and places with loads of character and stories to tell.

I found my first one accidentally. It was hiding in plain sight.

Inside a small gym at the Kokomo Family YMCA, a group of men – mostly self-proclaimed “old guys” – meet weekly to play one of the nation’s most obscure sports… pingpong.

They set their tables up every Monday night, long after most gym members have finished their daily workouts.

On a good night, about 14 of them are there donning their T-shirts, athletic shorts and the occasional sweat band. They get down to business, challenging each other to matches.

I was there a few weeks ago to watch the club’s youngest member, 18-year-old Craig Simon, play.

He was taking on Lee Miller who drives “clear down” from Monticello every week.

“It’s the old versus the young,” Miller said before the match.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I got the sense it was going to be intense when Simon told me I should probably move more than a few feet from the table.

It was a dizzying performance. Literally.

I could hardly keep track of the ball as it pinged from one side of the table to the other in rapid-fire succession.

At one point, even Miller was having trouble keeping up.

“At least hit it slow enough that I can see it,” he jokingly pleaded with Simon.

It was a close match. They were playing the best two games out of three. Miller lost in a tight third game.

“Darn it,” Miller said. “I got beat at the end.”

He had been undefeated going into that match.

He took the loss in stride, though. He laughed as he wiped sweat from his face.

Meanwhile, Simon was trying to teach me about pingpong, or table tennis as they like to call it.

The average length of a point is 3.7 shots, apparently.

And there is a lot of strategy involved. It’s akin to chess I guess. Simon said there are so many spins you can put on the ball and places you can put it on the table.

As Simon talked, Don McCreary taught a new member some of those spins.

The Kokomo Table Tennis Club is a teaching club. Simon said occasionally some kids at the Y will pass through the gym, and club members will stop to teach them a thing or two.

McCreary, club president, said Kokomo’s club has been dubbed one of the friendliest around.

It’s easy to see why. They just want to have fun and spread their passion to those around them.

In fact, Simon is so eager to draw other young people to the game that he’s donating one of his own tables to Kokomo High School.

Don’t you want to get to know someone like that? So I say, go check the club out. They meet Mondays at 6:30 p.m.

You won’t regret it. It’s an opportunity that not everyone has.

Apparently there are only about 10 table tennis clubs in the whole state. See, it’s a hidden gem. Right here in Kokomo.

-Lindsey Ziliak

[friday] editor/ pingpong pro