By Bruce H. Liu and Mark Johnson
Five divisions, 10 clubs, 25 teams, 150 players, 112 team ties, and 570 matches. These are the numbers from the first season of the USATT Team League in the San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose area in Northern California. Even two teams from Reno participated in our league although they had to drive over four hours, one-way, to play (some of their players even flew).
It all started in November last year with an email from our regional coordinator, Rajul Sheth. He sent an email to all clubs in the area calling for a meeting. No one responded until Stefan Feth and Khoa Nguyen – the two most recognized and respected names in our local table tennis community – replied that they would attend the meeting. It turned out that 11 people representing eight different table tennis clubs showed up!
It was an extremely fruitful and exciting meeting. It was that rare occasion with so many table tennis enthusiasts in the same room yet so little of the ego that can often accompany them in this setting. Everyone agreed that this league was the way to move the sport forward in the United States. They also understood that instead of waiting for others, someone had to take the initiative and start the ball rolling. Therefore, they formed the Bay Area Table Tennis Federation (BATTF) at this meeting. Not sure if it was the California wine or the great Indian food, but Lewis Wei and Rajul Sheth each donated $1000 to the fledgling federation. Stefan Feth also promised $1000 worth of Joola equipment/jersey sponsorships.
But after the initial excitement died down, would these people follow through with what they had promised? Most definitely! At the second meeting of the BATTF in January 2007, seven different table tennis clubs had at least one team participating in the league. Milpitas Sports Center and the Palo Alto Table Tennis Club led the way with six and five teams, respectively. In addition, two table tennis clubs that were not present at the first meeting also registered teams. Not bad for the first season!
Twenty-five teams! Who would have expected it? But now came the hard part – scheduling. It would be a nightmare for any one person to handle. So we decided not to let that happen. We decided instead to have division coordinators work with the team captains in each division. But that was still a lot of work. No problem! In just a few minutes, all five available division coordinator positions were taken voluntarily. And they did an excellent job with all division schedules submitted prior to the deadline. Hats off to those volunteers!
January 16, 2007 7:30PM – an historical moment. That was the date and time in history that the first ever USATT Team League tie was played. The regional coordinator was amongst those in attendance at this historical event. The court was properly barriered. The players were in their team uniforms. A group photo of the two teams was taken to capture this moment. The first two competitors – Henry Sit and Wen Huang – shook hands. The scorekeeper was ready. The tension in the air was so thick it could almost be cut with a knife. Just how tense was it? So tense that the very first serve was missed. That's how tense it was! But that missed serve cut through the tension like the proverbial knife and we were underway.
The competition was outstanding for the first season. Almost all of our top local players competed in the league, including former Olympians and current USA Junior/Cadet team members. Not only that, but it was for players of all levels. Even the vintage hardbatters had formed a team! Furthermore, the team competition brought players closer together. Teammates were forced to know each other better, especially for the doubles. They discussed strategy and coached their teammates during their matches. Some even hung out afterwards to continue the conversation – often at dinner. It was no longer the individual sport we often see at tournaments!
With a very high level of collaboration, the first season of the BATTF went almost flawlessly. All participants showed great appreciation for what others had done. Some even discovered new places to play. Our division winners are looking forward to an even more exciting competition at the finals at the US Open in July. For those players who asked to join after the season had already started, do not miss the train next season!
(Results/standings/writeups can be found at http://www.milpitas-tabletennis.com/USATT_League/ and the Bay Area Table Tennis Federation blog is at http://www.battf.blogspot.com/)
By Bruce H. Liu and Mark Johnson