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Dec. 2, 2011

Ping-Pong in Photos

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

As he had countless times before, Seth Reeves stood stock still Friday afternoon and sized up his next shot. How many times have Georgia Tech golfers frozen themselves in place while mapping out in their mind’s eye what was to come?

Here was that scene again, yet with a twist; the fall season ended in October.

The target was obvious, but Reeves and teammate Ollie Schniederjans mulled hard the method that would be best to reach it — again a procedure they’d both been through on many occasions. Theirs was a real debate.

Reeves and Schniederjans up to that point, after all, had both had problems sailing balls to the right.

The decision: go with an overhand to minimize spin on the ball.

The result was true: “Thwap!” Teammate Anders Albertson tensed up, clamped his eyes shut, and gritted his teeth as yet another welt rose on his shirtless back upon his left shoulder blade.

It was a beautiful afternoon yesterday, but this happened indoors, in the bowels of Bobby Dodd Stadium, in the golf locker room/quasi-clubhouse not long after the Yellow Jackets had finished working out.

This was, “sting-pong,” an instant favorite of Sting Daily, and a derivative of the long popular game of ping-pong (latin: table tennis). You can probably guess how it works: you lose a point, and you turn your back to opponents and wait for the sting as they try to send a line drive into your bare back from across the table.

Reeves and Schniederjans smoked Albertson/White in this one, 21-10. That left the backs of Albertson and James White smoking as if they’d been stoned.

“I don’t lose unless I beat myself,” said Schniederjans, likely the top ping-pong player among the Jackets. Small surprise, then, that sting-pong was Ollie’s idea. Apparently, this version of the game made its Tech debut Friday just shortly before Sting Daily showed up for a scheduled visit.

Truth be told, several games played around what you’d call a ping-pong table are immensely popular among the Tech golfers, and not all of them cause pain.

Everybody laughed hardily Friday about the new version.

There’s less stress and more time for golfers between the fall and spring seasons, and the Jackets spend hours around the table. Occasionally, they’ll play billiards, although that game runs a distant second in popularity.

Coach Bruce Heppler’s hackers have been doing this for quite a while.

“Oh yeah. On my recruiting trip, the first time I ever came here, guys were playing ping-pong,” said White, a senior.

The Jackets play more out of season, but they don’t put the paddles away during the fall or spring campaigns.

There’s something about table tennis and golf. White said that when he competed a couple weeks ago at the Western Refining Classic in El Paso, a tournament pitting 27 of the nation’s top collegiate players against one another, “they had a table in the hospitality room, and it was packed.”

Apparently, tables are common in clubhouses on the professional tours, too, and Reeves said, “During the Ryder Cup, those guys talk about ping-pong all the time.”

Who knew?

Heppler, who was not around Friday afternoon, has said that he relishes the fact that his players work on their hand-eye coordination while playing, and obviously there are bonding benefits. “It can’t hurt,” Albertson said through his discomfort while sipping a post-workout protein drink.

“It’s probably more a competitive thing,” said Schniederjans, a freshman who grew up in Powder Springs playing with two brothers. “[Heppler] likes any kind of competition.”

In the middle of this death match, senior Minghao Wang walked in the room, smiled immediately and soon thereafter was pegged in the face by a penalty shot that had gone off course.

There’s something of a peculiar story there.

Wang, whose homeland of China has produced roughly 60 percent of the world’s table tennis champions since 1959, is quite likely the worst Tech player at this game. “He says he’s an embarrassment to his country,” White said with a grin.

Wang, though, came to the U.S. a few years ago not knowing a thing about American football, and has since become such a fan that he’s taught himself how to throw a nice ball, and he allegedly spends hours and hours watching the college and pro games on weekends.

Forrest Gump would whip any of these guys, but Schniederjans would score on him. He even keeps track of games played, and tallies some sort of standings – although there was modest dispute over them Friday afternoon as everybody was putting on their shirts and getting ready to head out.

There will be plenty more ping-pong matches between the Jackets before they crank up the sticks again after the holidays, and they won’t stop working around the table even then.

These are good times, and while the young men are ultra-competitive at ping-pong and all its variations, the changes of pace are always welcome.

“We think mechanically on the golf course, but when we play ping-pong we don’t think about anything,” White said. “We just play; see the ball, hit the ball.”

I gotta say that when I turned the corner and walked into the golf “clubhouse” Friday to see these guys in sneakers, shorts and nothing more, I was stumped. It didn’t take long to see they were having a blast.

It’s an interesting room, covered with “Ping” plaques, a slew of over-sized scorecards and other memorabilia from tournaments the Jackets have won over the years.

They also have a billiards table, a couple treadmills, some putting greens, a few physio balls and some step-up workout benches. It’s a good room full of good times.

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