By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Seattle Pacific Table Tennis Club (SPTTC) opened its doors in Bellevue on Aug. 1. The club is owned and operated by Jia “Coach Judy” Qi. Qi is a former coach for the Chinese national table tennis team and has trained many national-level table tennis players in China. Alan Lee assists in marketing and can be found most nights helping out at the club.
Finding a location
The idea to open a facility for table tennis players occurred more than two and a half years ago. Lee recalls that it was a difficult process to find the ideal space. Ultimately, they found an unwanted, unused warehouse in Bellevue. “It used to be a dark, empty warehouse that no one wanted,” said Lee of the space that was vacant for more than a year. Lee and volunteers saw this space with potential for their dream of a table tennis facility. The club signed a five-year lease with hopes of expanding when the lease is up. The warehouse is 4,000 square feet with 18-foot high ceilings and houses 10 table tennis tables and competition-approved table tennis flooring.
The warehouse was converted into the club by volunteers. Labor and materials were donated as well. While many people thought that opening a table tennis club was a bad idea due to the economy, Qi, Lee, and other table tennis enthusiasts thought that it was worth a shot. “We have so much passion; we are willing to take risks,” said Lee.
SPTTC is supported financially by Qi and paying members. In addition, Qi conducts private lessons for students young and old.
Qi teaches many young children the basics so that they may eventually enter into tournament play. At one of the tables, a mirror is set up on the side of the table so that children can watch their stance and technique.
Qi has a basket of balls on her side of the table so that she can feed continuous balls for the children to return using proper form.
Sea cruise leads to new passion
Lee became involved in table tennis after going on a cruise with his wife.
Lee, a former tennis player, turned to table tennis after winning a small table tennis tournament while he was on the cruise ship. Due to injuries, he had to retire from tennis, but he found table tennis as a suitable replacement. When he returned from the cruise, he tried playing table tennis at the SPTTC in Chinatown. He realized that he had a lot to learn in order to play competitively. He has been an active player for 15 years.
Although he is no longer playing in tournaments, Lee helps out by coaching the young table tennis players.
Lee is an ardent promoter of table tennis. He notes that it is a game that is played by many in their 70s and 80s as well as young children.
He notes that many parents prefer that their children take up table tennis rather than contact sports. “It is a safe sport,” explains Lee as he points out that the ball is small, light, and cannot cause damage if you are hit with it.
“The game helps children learn hand and eye coordination,” Lee added. “[I]t is a mental game and helps kids focus.” Lee also explained that the game helps them think about strategy and tests their reflexes.
Playing table tennis is relatively cheap. A professional model paddle costs about $50 to $100 depending on the materials used.
SPTTC tournament success
The Seattle/Bellevue table tennis tournament scene is not as developed or competitive as British Columbia’s or California’s tournaments. Lee says that both British Columbia and California have highly competitive tournaments with cash prizes.
On Labor Day weekend, members of the Seattle Table Tennis Club traveled to Berkeley, Calif., to compete in the Berkeley Open. Four members of the SPTTC won their division, and three members were runners up. According to Lee, this was the best showing for the club.
The SPTTC has 90 members. Most members heard about the club by word of mouth. Membership fees are $45 per month for adults (seniors receive a discount) and $28 for juniors (under 17). Drop-ins are also welcome. Although 60 percent of the members are Chinese, Lee says that all people are welcome and many members are of different ethnicities. ♦
The club is open Monday through Sunday. For more information, visit www.spttc.net.
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.