TD table tennis offers underworld of sports

During the day, the place is a wasteland of empty chairs and unoccupied couches. Only the humming of washing machines can be heard down the hallway. The red-and-brown brickwork, reminiscent of an old-fashioned fire station, contrasts with the recently cleaned black-and-white tile. The voices from the night before are only a memory, a time long passed.

As 10 p.m. rolls around, entryway doors are heard opening, the library empties, and stomachs start growling for late-night munchies. The Timothy Dwight Buttery is officially opened for business and students enter an underworld sports arena.

Yes, the TD Butt is more than a place to watch Monday Night Football and eat homemade nachos. The renovated basement is the site of an intense sporting competition pitting Coca-Cola-drinking, Kit-Kat-eating competitors from all over the residential college to play the game of table tennis.

Table tennis?

Do not mock the lovers of this intense sport combining the pleasures of tennis and the land of miniature. Yes, even Olympic officials granted this sport the seal of international approval when table tennis was introduced in the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea.

The benefits of table tennis are apparent — it develops quick reflexes and works off those extra pounds you gained because of your love for Eli’s breakfast sandwiches.

Table tennis in the TD basement is not for the faint of heart. The competitors are ruthless, energetic and on a mission from T.

There are a select few who carry their paddles and balls in leather cases. These are the guys you dream you will one day overthrow in a titanic, seesaw struggle. Watch out, for this elite group holds their paddles the Asian way. With one deft move of the paddle, the ball skids off the corner of the table. Defeat permeates the air.

For now, you must toil against them as they launch serves into your body and put more spin on the ball than Al Gore at a political fund-raiser in Florida.

Yet, there are those defining moments in TD table tennis. The times when the crowds are silent and realize a new challenger is moving up the ranks. Those nights some wily veteran is overthrown, and a young buck makes the claim, “No one beats Chris Hanson 18 times in a row.”

The night starts slow as singles dominate the table. The regular crowd is there to compete and to cheer for the underdog. A defeat means a quick explosion of anger followed by a trip to the buttery to get homemade milkshakes and a ham-and-cheese Hot Pocket.

Soon, doubles teams form, and embarrassingly enough, they give themselves nicknames like “Team Overt,” “Team Convert,” and “Team Subvert.” Pathetic? Yes.

Once a laughable pastime of laugh-and-miss mixed doubles, the doubles matches in TD are now fierce. If you barely get a ball back over the net, it is returned even harder and faster. After a triumphant point, shouts of jubilation are heard all the way in the weight room and the art studio. Insults are not flung at the opposition; rather, individuals chastise themselves.

Doubles matches are hardly ever won by a landslide. Instead, these are marathon battles between slipper-shuffling, boxer-clad men and stylish New York women. We Southerners set aside our gentlemanly manners in order to smack a ball into a girl’s face. Screw etiquette! This is table tennis!

Soon, the numbers dwindle down, and only the strong survive. Homework calls the few remaining faces. Others join the “butt flies” that hang out at the bar gossiping about the latest events. Table tennis devolves into a social affair. Racquets are set aside, and orange sodas are now in hand.

The night is no longer young, and dreams of beating the best have been shattered. The basement becomes silent. The table tennis paddles lie motionless on the floor. Only the washing machines are still humming down the hall.

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