Indoor Paddlers


— When junior Steamboat Dance Theater members stepped out of the Spruce Room of the old junior high school Tuesday night, a group of seven men and one woman interjected their enthusiasm into an open table tennis field that takes over at 7 p.m.

Before viewers have time to think, a 40-millimeter ball flies from one end of a large green table over a 6-inch net to the other end, where it is hit with grace and thought, sometimes.

With four tables lining the mirrored room, players have a chance to step back, take a shot and see if they've given enough spin so their opponent can't return the serve.

"When you put more spin on the ball, it's easier to control and more difficult for the opponent," said Tom Reuter, 8-year table tennis team player.

The team that meets every Tuesday night is not a team in the conventional manner. They do not participate in competitions or travel and anyone can drop in anytime. But it doesn't mean that a handful of them don't take the Olympic sport seriously.

With the introduction of a bigger ball, 40-millimeter instead of 38-millimeter, the game has just gotten easier.

"I'm a math nerd, and that means that the ball has an increase in volume of 17 percent," Greg Binsfeld, founder of the open table tennis team, said of the little Japanese-made balls.

Binsfeld said a larger ball means the game has slowed down to a speed that many men and women can appreciate. But the real reason: "I think it's so they can get better coverage for the summer Olympics."

With a smaller ball, cameras can't focus or move as quickly to follow the game for viewers on television.

"For a veteran player like me, it's easier. As we age, our reflexes slow down a little. This makes it easier," Binsfeld said.

While it may be easier to learn for both men and women, both are not coming out to play. Binsfeld said women will come for awhile, but the interest doesn't seem to last.

"I try to encourage the ladies to come and bring a friend so you don't feel all alone," Binsfeld said.

The team may be desperate for more players, since the $3 barely covers rent, but only four tables are available, meaning only eight players at one time can participate. Binsfeld said that's the perfect time for him to socialize.

"I just enjoy it. I was single until 40 and I've met some really nice people and made a lot of friends," Binsfeld said. "I like the camaraderie."

Tuesday night, one woman showed up with her husband, and although the two had not come to the weekly practices before, they've played table tennis at the beach.

"We play basement 'pingpong,'" Josie Dean said. "We don't know about the new ball. We just came out for some husband and wife quality time."

While the couple hasn't been married even a year, trying new things never hurt a marriage.

Josie said the most difficult aspect of table tennis for her is the six-inch serve rule. Made in order for the opponent to see the ball while serving, the ball must come 6 inches away from paddle during the serve, Binsfeld said.

However, Reuter has a reputation for turning his back to the table and serving slyly so the opponent cannot see the ball.

"It's legal ... unethical, but legal," Binsfeld said as the small crowd joined in laughter.

Rotating tables so that everyone gets a chance to learn and play with others happens every two out of three games.

"It doesn't take long to get pretty good," Reuter said, adding that when he travels, he brings his paddle and board and joins other clubs for a day. "In Denver they've got a club that meets every Sunday. I just went to Vegas and brought my gear with me and joined them for a night."

While Reuter stands about three feet from the table to and gives a slight spin to his paddle and every stroke, his opponent does that same back, volleying about 10 times until the ball hits the net.

Reuter said one of the reasons he thinks table tennis is not as popular here as it is in foreign countries is because it doesn't cost enough.

"If we don't spend at least $500 on equipment, it doesn't seem worth it," Reuter said. "It's great for kids, it's inexpensive and it's cheap. That's why it's embraced in other countries."

Although the Olympic size tables cost about $1,000 each, some decent players use $5.95 paddles from Wal-Mart, while others spend over $100 on a good one, Binsfeld said.

Because the city has considered the table tennis team as a recreation, it has picked up insurance costs. Now the team can concentrate on making rent and buying new equipment when needed.

As everyone strips off their sweat pants, jackets and sweaters, T-shirts, shorts and sneakers make up the official table tennis uniform. With a two-hour practice, Binsfeld said he tends to ring out his shirt after a match with someone of his caliber.

"I think it can be aerobic," Binsfeld said.

"It's as good a workout here than playing doubles tennis," Reuter said.

While many people have enjoyed a game of pingpong in a basement, on a porch or at the beach, Binsfeld and two Steamboat roommates started the aerobic sport in their basement 20 years ago. When they started inviting others over to play, the brilliant idea of starting a club naturally followed.

"People started showing up that we didn't even know," Binsfeld said. "So I guess you could say I'm one of the founding fathers, the president, the treasurer everything."

Although the trio originated the table tennis team, only Binsfeld is left to keep it alive.


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