Jennie Wong has some pretty serious opinions about the difference between pingpong and table tennis.
“Pingpong is just a game,” she said. “Table tennis a real competition. It’s a sport.”
Wong is a spokeswoman for the Amsterdam-based Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization, the nonprofit responsible for opening the new World Table Tennis Championship Training Center earlier this month in Fultonville.
Most people have at some point experienced the satisfying hollow pop of a back-handed pingpong ball. It’s a great way to kill an afternoon, but for Wong and the WPHO, table tennis is a serious undertaking.
Dust has been cleared from the old Masonic lodge at 10 Main St. in the village and replaced with Olympic-grade lighting and equipment.
They even brought in U.S. Open Women’s Singles Table Tennis Champion and Olympic coach Liu Nai Hui to teach classes, hoping to train up a crop of professional-level players right in Montgomery County.
The group came to the Amsterdam area from China and Hong Kong back in 2006. Their overall goal is to enhance the mental, spiritual and physical health of the population.
Most of the time, they attempt this through a form of healing yoga they brought with them from China. But Wong said table tennis, also a Chinese import, is pretty good too.
“It can help enhance sensitivity and responsiveness,” she said, “but if you want to win, you have to plot, weigh the strengths of your opponent.”
She pointed out making snap decisions with long-term goals in mind is a valuable life skill.
Over the next few months, Wong and other members of the Buddhist community will iron out the details of the schedule, set a price for lessons and head to local schools to promote the new facility. By early spring the place will be open for consistent business, but they’re not sure of demand.
Back in China the sport was a pillar of society.
“They take a lot of pride in their table tennis over in China,” said Tom Nguyen, senior vice president of North American Table Tennis. “It’s integrated into the school system over there. You see pingpong tables set up in the parks.”
It’s not so popular over here, though Nguyen said table tennis is growing rapidly. He mentioned a recent survey putting the number of U.S. recreational pingpong players at 19.5 million.
“It’s the second-most-popular sport in the world behind soccer,” Nguyen said. “A lot of people might watch football, but everyone can play table tennis.”
As for local residents, “I don’t think we’ll have the whole school flocking down there,” said Fultonville Mayor Bob Headwell, “but there is some interest out there.”
Headwell is also an engineering teacher at Fonda-Fulltonville Central School. He’s one of the many faculty members hoping sports don’t get slashed altogether in the midyear budget cuts, but if they do, he says the table tennis training center will provide an important service.
“We’re going to have to have a lot more of these types of things,” he said. “If there aren’t sports, the kids won’t have anything to do. Idle hands have always been the devil’s workshop.”
With diminished school sports and the general lack of local pastimes, he predicts quite a few local kids will put in some hours at the pingpong tables.
“But the organization will have to actually come into gym class and demonstrate,” he said. “Show how fun it can be.”