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West Valley City Journal

Schools face off in ping-pong championship

Feb 01, 2018 08:00AM ● By Greg James

Granger team members Rachel Gardner (right) and Emil Seyidov get some practice time in before the first-ever state table tennis championship. (Greg James/City Journals)

As a competitor with asthma, many sports are difficult for Rachel Gardner to participate in, but she has found one that is social, competitive and fun—table tennis.

“I played a bit last year, but this year I started getting more interested in playing. I saw a friend playing in the library and thought it looked fun. It is hard to play with my asthma, but I have surprising stamina and it helps me feel better. This is a sport I enjoy,” said Gardner, a member of the Granger High School table tennis club.

The first state invitational table tennis tournament was held at Granger High School Jan. 13. Participants from several Utah high schools played for the chance to win an initial state title.

“These student athletes are just as much competitors as our basketball or football players,” Granger High School’s club director and math teacher Walter Poelzing said. “Table tennis is popular all around the world. It is an international sport, some of our Granger club’s parents are immigrants from other countries.”

Table tennis is one of the top sports played around the world. In Utah it has seen substantial growth.

“It gives students that do not fit the traditional sports mold an opportunity to showcase their talents in a state-level tournament. I have been surprised at the schools that have expressed interest. We expected about 40 participants. It will continue to grow,” Poelzing said.

Schools from as far north as Syracuse and south as American Fork were represented. The tournament also included players from Brighton, Cottonwood, Taylorsville, Itineris Early College and Granger high schools. The Lancers boast the largest table tennis club in the state. They have 15-20 active weekly players. 

“I have a passion for this sport. I understand what it takes to get better, and I hope these students can get better and enjoy it. In Europe it is part of the curriculum. I want our kids to have that opportunity,” Poelzing said.

The participants were able to play in either the hard bat paddle tournament, open paddle tournament or both. The student athletes competed in the first round and based on their performance were split up into divisions based on ability. 

“I have been playing for a while. My friends got me involved,” Granger High student Emil Seyidov said.

“I think staying focused on the ball is most important. If you can’t do that then you don’t hit it very well. It is also important to stay calm.” 

The tournament was divided by experience level. Even those without much playing background were learning and enjoying the game together.

“I have only played for about six months. At Itineris (high school) our seminary building has a table and we started playing about once a week. It is interesting at all the different strategies you can use to win,” Jared Gordon said. (Itineris Early College High School is in West Jordan)

Game strategies include serving areas, lobbing returns and spinning your shots. The game can change from one hit to another.

“Anyone interested in getting in shape and playing the game should try it out. There are clubs and tournaments all around. It even helps me in school to stay dedicated and get good grades,” Seyidov said.

Salt Lake City Table Tennis Club and Paddle Palace donated equipment and money to support the tournament.

In December, Seyidov, Armando Meneses and Dilyn Poeut won the Granger winter tournament. They also hosted a Granite School District tournament in October.

“Most of the kids start playing in their garage or basement. There are several clubs around the country. They are just not well organized. I want to have a U.S. citizen win a world championship. That would be great,” Poelzing said.