Don’t tell Lisa Hagel or her son Cody that table tennis isn’t a real sport.
The hundreds of dollars they’ve invested in supplies, endless travel across the country and thousands of hours of training speak for themselves. Cody’s paddle alone cost more than $500 – there’s a science to the right combination of wooden core, rubber and glue, said Lisa Hagel, manager of Spokane Table Tennis.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “There’s no respect for this sport.”
This weekend, dozens of players competed in the 2013 Spokane Ultimate Table Tennis Tournament. It’s the highest level of competition to come to the Spokane area, thanks to Hagel and Spokane Table Tennis, who organized the competition.
The gym of the HUB Sports Center in Liberty Lake was transformed into a maze of tables and barriers Saturday with the help of volunteers from Spokane Table Tennis and the national USA Table Tennis organization. Players knocked the tiny ball back and forth in a game too fast for the untrained eye to follow.
It’s a far cry from the beer-stained table and torn paddles of a college rec room, and Hagel wants people to know that. She doesn’t play, but her son first developed an interest in competitive table tennis in 2009 and has excelled in the sport. Cody, now 15, took third at the Junior Olympics in 2012.
Cody’s brow furrowed in focus as he faced his opponent. His coach, John Trevethan, played at another table across the gym.
“Spokane has never seen anything of this size or this caliber,” Trevethan said. Trevethan is the president of Spokane Table Tennis and has played the game for 40 years.
“I’ve just wanted one here,” Hagel said.
Players traveled from across the country to attend, as well as a few from China and Canada.
Among the players sat Eric Pattison, an 18-year-old fast talker and even faster player. Pattison uses a wheelchair, but that doesn’t slow him down.
“It’s about as easy to get good as any regular person can,” he said.
Pattison has played competitively for three years. Now, he’s a member of the 2013 Para Junior National Team and took second place in last year’s national competition in Las Vegas. He and his father, Scott Pattison, travel across the country for his competitions, but this weekend they only had to come from their home in Seattle.
Scott Pattison said he’s impressed at the level of skill he sees among disabled players.
“You suddenly don’t see them as disabled,” he said.
Eric Pattison plays with people suffering from cerebral palsy, missing limbs and brain tumors, but he said their disabilities don’t stop them from playing as hard as anyone else.
“Just because they have disabilities doesn’t mean they don’t have a forehand that hurts,” Pattison said, a broad grin on his face.