Blazing Paddles unites local table tennis enthusiasts
The air is filled with sounds of basketball shoes screeching across hardwood floors and table tennis balls clacking against paddles. “Make sure you get this down: ‘Movement is life,’” said Herb Chereck. For Chereck, a retired registrar at the University of Oregon, movement became a big part of his life when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2009.
Chereck displays tremors in his hands and limbs, a symptom of Parkinson’s. According to him, one known method to slow the progression of the disease is exercise. He found the perfect place to do just that.
Along with three other players around the table, he laughs, lunges, smiles and swings during a game of doubles table tennis. When Chereck plays with Blazing Paddles, his tremors are less noticeable.
Don’t confuse table tennis with ping pong, though. Blazing Paddles, a table tennis club that meets daily in Springfield, appreciates the game for being more than just ping pong. “The difference between the two? We change our shoes before we play,” said Mike Pittman, a club board member.
Decades ago, Blazing Paddles wasn’t more than a few guys playing the sport in their spare time, said Dave Combs, the current club president. He and the other founding members recall pulling a trailer filled with table tennis equipment around trying to find a place to set up and play. They finally established a time and space with the Bob Keefer Center at Willamalane and the Willamalane Adult Activity Center.
Today, about 90 members play table tennis with the Blazing Paddles. Combs has one philosophy to manage the group.
“We are building a club where the people like each other and respect each other,” said Combs. His focus is to keep people smiling and laughing by “only structuring the club enough that play is fair.”
Although table tennis helps Chereck’s Parkinson’s, most other members play simply because they believe the sport offers good, fun exercise. Members smile between serves and laugh as they chase stray balls. However, the lighthearted atmosphere in this Bob Keefer Center basketball court is not lacking in competitive spirit.
“We have fun here, but everybody wants to win,” said Grace Fowler-Gore, a Blazing Paddles member, while teaching two players doubles table tennis rules. Although she is a patient teacher, the desire to win showed as she practiced adding spin to her backhand serve.
The competition isn’t slowing down anytime soon. On July 22, the club hosted a casual, in-house doubles tournament, and on August 5 to 6, the annual Table Tennis State Games of Oregon will be at the Bob Keefer Center. Eugene will host the games for the first time, which Combs believes will be good publicity for the club. He also said that playing in a clean space and building the credibility of table tennis serve as important changes for the sport.
Combs hopes to grow the club in the future and said he would like to see a younger crowd join. Fowler-Gore also encourages more women to join. “Don’t let all the boys intimidate you,” she said.
Blazing Paddles is open to players of all skill levels and enjoy teaching the game to new players. Members of the club pay $15 per month to play as much as they can at either location. The state games will be played at one Blazing Paddles meeting location: 250 S 32nd St., Springfield. Another location is 215 W C St., Springfield. Weekly schedules are online at www.lanetabletennis.net.
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