by Jessie Ammons
photograph by Travis Long
For many, 6 p.m. on Friday cues happy hour, dinner reservations, or some other version of unwinding and disengaging. For a dedicated group at Triangle Table Tennis, though, it’s intense. It’s game time. “Practice, experience, and going to tournaments. That’s the only way to improve and get your ratings or level up,” says AJ Carney, the ping-pong center’s assistant manager and a player in its premiere league.
“People can play in a very diverse environment,” says Ann Campbell, the center’s president. “Young people can play older people, males play females. It’s helpful for people to play other people of the same level, regardless of age or gender.” Carney plays against 18-year-old Michael Whitmeyer and also 50-year-old Gregg Robertshaw. Whitmeyer says the diversity makes for better skill development: “A lot of different types of players means different styles. Some play fast, or more on the offensive or defensive. You pay attention to all of those and learn how to play against it.”
Whitmeyer is among the youngest in the league, and, like the rest, he’s hooked. “It’s a lifetime sport,” says Carney. “There aren’t many sports that you can start at 5 and still play when you’re 80 or 90 years old.” Plus, it’s social, leading to the sorts of relationships that put the “friend” in friendly competition. “For 20 minutes, I’m trying to win,” Carney says. “And after that, we’re all friends off the court.” Not that there’s much off-court action: Robertshaw plays at the center Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. He considers that a compromise. “My family likes to see me at least twice a week,” he says with a laugh.