Chico Table Tennis Club

Out of the corner of my eye I caught something interesting. A table off in another room set up with a contraption and some webbing. The Chico Table Tennis Club had found themselves a robot.

“What’s the first rule of Ping Pong club? To tell everybody about Ping Pong club.” 

–Erin O’Neil,

Chico Table Tennis Club

It was a clear and freezy night, stars twinkling like celestial badasses. The kinda night that made you feel like something weird and awkward could go down at any second. And I was about to take a ride to Durham with Dain Sandoval.

We pulled into the Veteran’s Memorial Hall, right off the main drag, a block from the bright green, glowing neon of the Vampire Club. It’s really called the Empire Club, but Dain’s a cynical bastard.  We packed up our gear and hopped out of the car.

The Memorial Hall was packed, lit up, and downright cheerful. Ping Pong balls were flying and k-nip k-nopping all over the place. That’s when we spotted Aamir, our contact; he’s the ambassador, the liaison, and the probable reason that there weren’t many women at the Table Tennis Club that night.

Aamir shepherded me around the hall, introducing me to various members and legends. “That guy over there in the straw hat, that’s Roger Keely. He went to the National Championship and took second place in the hardbat competition.” A hardbat paddle is like bare knucks. No soft paddle padding for Roger.

The hall is packed with tables. Most of the tables were donated by members of the club, from the Redding club, or were purchased by the club itself. There wasn’t an unattended table in the house, and it seemed like everybody had on a cool T-shirt. I fit right in.

Out of the corner of my eye I caught something interesting. A table off in another room set up with a contraption and some webbing. The Chico Table Tennis Club had found themselves a robot. RoboPong can regulate ball frequency, spin, and speed. “For faster, more frequent balls.” RoboPong will utterly inundate you with balls, as Aaron Kaplan found out the hard way. This club means business.

Maggi Berry and Erin O’Neil have been playing table tennis for a long time in clubs with different names and locations around town. I wanted to know when they went legit, how did this underground Ping Pong Club get so big? Maggi fills me in, “It started with a few of us casually playing at the old Sports Club located in the parking lot across from the Oasis. It’s not even around anymore and I’m dating myself when I talk about those time frames. We’re talking in the 80s. We’d pull out the table and play at the Sports Club. It was a sports bar, not the gym. But then we started playing at the Oasis. It’s been a sort of amalgamation of all these little groups. We started a CARD league at Pleasant Valley about a decade ago.”

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“We started getting more organized and structured about two years ago,” said O’Neil, the unofficial, official leader. “We started the Facebook page called Chico Table Tennis Club and started charging a few bucks to cover the rental of the facility.”

Maggie added, “We’d all been playing together long before we started an official club, but we realized there was a lot of interest for a lot of years and a lot of avid players so that’s when it all gelled and we started the club.”

New members need do nothing more than just show up on Tuesday nights at the Durham Memorial Hall from 6-10PM. Just come in, put your name on the board, and everybody gets paired up. There’s usually a beginner table and tons of competition for those of you that think you’ve got balls of fury.  Coach Skip comes down from Shingletown and he’s a certified table tennis instructor. His time is affordable and he’s a tremendous resource. The cost to play is $5 a night for four hours and the first timers are free. Isn’t that how every great addiction begins? The club has a punch card system as well; advance purchases give you a better deal.

They’re planning for a tournament in the spring so join the Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/chicotabletennisclub) and watch for details. Don’t be afraid to come down and try it out and – as Maggi says, “The person who has the most fun wins.”

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