A group of men and women who play pingpong on weekday mornings at Tomahawk Ridge Community Center at 119th and Lowell streets in Overland Park are predominantly retirees, including myself, from all different backgrounds.
While enjoying the sport they love, which is also known as table tennis, they seem to forget or ignore their ages or signs of aging. Most of them had played pingpong as youngsters, except a few, but they each have different view about playing.
One member calls the group “a mini United Nations at Tomahawk” because many players are from foreign countries: China, Korea, India, Russia, Mexico and others. Another member calls it a small family because, like siblings in a family, they often argue, saying, “Don’t touch the table while playing;” “You served the ball over the edge of the table!” and “The ball hit the ceiling; it doesn’t count!”
But once the playing is over, they forgive one another and laugh about the quarrels. And some leave together for lunch, in the spirit of “I’m OK, You’re OK!”
People believe that pingpong and tennis are from the same family, but they’re not related.
Tennis originated in northern France in the monastic cloisters in the 12th century with the name “Game of Hand (Jeu de Main)” because then the players used their palms to hit the ball made of wood or cork (rubber had not been invented yet).
But pingpong was created in England in the late 19th century by upper-class Victorian males as an indoor game to entertain their guests, using a rounded cork as the ball, a cigar box lid as the paddle and a line of books as the net. In 1890, it was officially recognized as an “action game,” and nearly a hundred years later, in the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, pingpong teams from all over the world competed for the first time in history.
Wade Oneil, 88, who taught pediatric dentistry at the University of Missouri-Kansas City for decades and retired in 1992, plays pingpong with the vigor of a young man. To the envy of others, he also works out and lifts weights five days a week at a 24 Hours Fitness Center at 75th Street and Metcalf Avenue and plays eight-ball pool at Matt Ross Community Center in the afternoons three or four days a week.
Retired musician and freelance columnist Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history.