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Dads Talk: Pinging and Ponging at MIT

A father and sons adventure in Cambridge.

I’m so proud!  My twin boys and I are heading to MIT. What a thrill it is to know my children will be dwelling within the same four walls of some of the world’s greatest thinkers. They will be competing with our future scientists and Nobel Prize winners. Clearly, reading them the "Origin of Species" during their time in the womb has paid off. 

As we pulled up to campus, my 11-year-old geniuses were deep in thought, while attempting to rip out each other’s gall bladder to be the first one out of the car. My one son dove through the car window to be the first one to touch sidewalk.  Who am I to judge such brilliance?

As reality kicked in, I remembered that we were at MIT to compete in a .  Actually, it’s officially called "table tennis." Don’t call it ping-pong unless you want to have a 97-year-old Asian man throw a paddle at you across a gymnasium with such accuracy and force, surgeons will be forced to leave part of the paddle stuck in your ear.    

It took us a while to find the MIT gym and we had to approach quite a few students before someone could finally give us directions. MIT students can give you the square root of infinite numbers, but why can’t they tell me where the school gymnasium is and where I can find a bathroom? I will assume they are too busy inventing time travel.

The MIT gym is a huge facility. We walked by a water polo match, a badminton competition and a karate exhibition. The maze of the gymnasium was quite confusing and I asked a student how they found their way around here. He told me they rearrange the configuration of the place daily to distinguish between students and visitors. I laughed. He didn’t. He was joking, right?

Over 100 people competed in the MIT tournament.  You really begin to sense the importance of the event as the players pop open specially designed briefcases to reveal their paddles and spend a good ten minutes unwrapping them from miles of plastic and cloth. When my first opponent finally finished the grand unveiling, I was admittedly intimidated. I walked closer to admire the craftsmanship, and, low and behold, it looked just like the paddle I bought at Target for $9.99.

My twins were playing in the open singles tournament against players with assorted abilities ranging from beginners to high-ranked. Given that the boys picked up the game less than a year ago, this was equivalent to them playing Roger Federer in a tennis match. 

Table tennis tournaments comprise the most eclectic group. What makes these tournaments so unique is that in one match you can play a 70-year-old man, and in the next match, a 7-year-old girl. And the 7-year-old can whip your butt!

Yes, there are ping-pong moms. Speaking loud enough so people underwater can hear, we learned how far superior one mom’s son was to the rest of us.  She mentioned how he travels globally for tournaments and complained how lacking this tournament was in comparison to the tournament at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Dubuque, Iowa. Sorry I missed it.

One of my matches pitted me against a nine-year-old boy. He was accompanied by a coach, assistant coach, strength and conditioning coach, psychic adviser, father, two grand-parents and bodyguards. The father was pushing a baby in a stroller and I was wondering if I was going to have to play the six month old next.  As I was playing the third grader, I was thinking a nine-year-old shouldn’t be able to beat me, a 45-year-old man, at anything.  O.K, maybe a spelling bee or Limbo, but not table tennis! His posse was convinced I was going down.  During our first few points they were laughing at me. They were speaking Chinese, but were kind enough to use English when saying, “Easy match, he no good.”

I beat the kid three straight games. When I graduated from college, his age was minus 15. If I had lost, I would never have used the word table or tennis in a sentence again. But I think that psychic adviser put a curse on me after the match, as my small toe seems to have disappeared.

None of us won a trophy, but we had a memorable boys’ day out playing a game we love.  Maybe next time I’m on the MIT campus, I’ll be carrying boxes into a dorm room for one or both of my Freshman sons.

As we were leaving, the table tennis mom was mentioning how they were going to a tournament in Minnesota next weekend. One MIT student said he was entered in the same tournament. He presses a button from his dorm room and seconds later he’ll be at the Sons of Italy Hall in Duluth. He was kidding, right?

[Editor's Note From time to time, Scott Kerman fills in for Adrienne and gives us Dads Talk.
This column appears on the Brookline, Newton, Waltham and Watertown Patch sites. ]

Beth Cole January 09, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Great story! I am sorry to hear your pinky toes are disappearing! Way too funny ~ Love the stories you and Adrienne write!
Rubylee Shuman January 09, 2012 at 07:55 PM
hey Scott --- if you or the boys are looking for a cheer leader, keep me in mind !!

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