History of College Table Tennis: Leparulo Part 1 Butterfly Table Tennis
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History of College Table Tennis: Leparulo

History of College Table Tennis: Leparulo Part 1

(Intro by Steve Hopkins)

In an interview last month with Willy Leparulo, President of National Collegiate Table Tennis Association, he referenced a research paper that he created that followed the development of table tennis on college campuses.  You can view the full interview here.

Willy Leparulo has provided the document to Butterfly for us to post.  We will be providing an annotated version of the document in two parts.  The first part is titled History and Development of College Table Tennis within the Campus Recreation Culture.  Check here next week for part 2.


History and Development of College Table Tennis within the Campus Recreation Culture  (by Willy Leparulo)

The discussion now turns to table tennis sport clubs and how their history and development has helped to carve a path for the current College Table Tennis programming. This area will focus on the groups and organizations that helped pave the path for College Table Tennis growth. Those groups are USA Table Tennis (USATT), Association of College Union International (ACUI), Eastern Intercollegiate Table Tennis League, and the League of Northeastern Intercollegiate Table Tennis (LNITT) which will become known as the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association (NCTTA) in the modern day.

It was not until the late 1990’s that the right ingredients were put together for College Table Tennis to prosper. It is important to note the start and stop of several organizational attempts prior to the creation of the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association (NCTTA). The start and stop of these attempts are important as they pave the path for the success of today’s College Table Tennis.

According to USA Table Tennis the earliest attempt was the creation of the National Governing  body in 1933. Tim Boggan, USA Table Tennis historian, points out that the game has some previous history, but for this discussion we will focus on the United States’ role. Boggan, according to USTTA Hall of Fame member Steve Isaacson, was also a 2-time winner of the collegiate singles in 1955 and 1956 for Indiana University when the tournaments were held in Ohio State and Ohio University respectively. Boggan adds that the first Collegiate Team Championships were held during Thankgiving weekend in 1937. The tournament, interestingly enough, co-sponsored the High School Interscholastic Team Championships on the same weekend, something that its modern counterparts have accomplished as well.  The victor of this first time collegiate table tennis event was the University of Pennsylvania defeating City College of New York for the Championships an event that was attended by sixteen school teams. Having so many school teams at the first collegiate team tournament was no surprise, since, as was mentioned earlier in this paper, Intramural Departments were being rapidly created to match the growing student interest.

A new tradition was being created as well as Boggan explains, “the trophy to the winning school honored Penn alumnus Thomas C. Bradley, the so-called “Father of American Table Tennis.” The Collegiate Championships Team winner for the next 20 to 30 years would be awarded the Thomas Bradley Memorial trophy. Intercollegiate play and tournaments continued with Championships going to the University of Pennsylvania, Wayne State and Princeton among the many institutions competing.

College table tennis from its start in the 1930’s dabbled with average to moderate success in different sections of the country. The 1970’s seemed to be the starting point for many areas in the United States for Table Tennis as schools in the Northwest established their own system of team matches. Also in Oklahoma and Kansas a league system was also conducted with moderate success. Success could be defined in many ways: a league, school membership to an organization promoting college table tennis and even table tennis scholarships.

Two such schools obtained the latter form of success in being able to create a Table Tennis scholarship program. Anderson College in Anderson, South Carolina opened a College Table Tennis Scholarship program in 1986. The school’s President was Dr. Mark Hopkins from 1982 to 1994 and he was what you could call an innovator for the sport and for the college itself as well. He was able to help the school transform from a two year college to a four year university and helped the Table Tennis program to procure sponsorship obtaining full support from the school. The program brought in former Olympians and National Team players and during its eleven year run was considered one of the top programs. Steve Hopkins, the Anderson College President’s son, states, “There were domestic and international students who chose Anderson College because of the table tennis”. This was an incredible feat for the times and something that others in the sport would learn from and replicate.

Just two hours south of Anderson College, was Augusta College which started its College Table Tennis program in the fall of 1987 with similar support. Pete May, father of Derek May, and Scott and Jim Butler were the main contributors to creating the College Table Tennis program here. This program had a similar startup; support from the administration brought former National Team and Olympic players from all around. Both programs would end in the mid 1990’s, Augusta in 1995 and Anderson in 1997 due to lack of administrative support, but their existence provided for a much needed lesson on future possibilities and potential for College Table Tennis.

Another form of success was reached with an organization called the Association of College Union International (ACUI). This organization was one of more successful and longer lasting programs in College Table Tennis with its Leisure and Recreation program. Historically ACUI has been coordinating recreational union activities since 1914, but no historical data is available with reference to table tennis until the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. According to USATT Hall of Fame and National Coach, Richard McAfee, “my first experience with the ACUI was way back in 1969 when I won the Southern Championship held at Virginia Tech”. ACUI would hold its first National Table Tennis tournament in early April, 1972 at Wisconsin State University in Whitewater. (R. McAfee, personal communications August 8, 2015) ACUI is a professional organization that provides activities for students enrolled at colleges and universities. This organization is more focused on the college union and student activities and conducted regional and national table tennis tournaments. ACUI had sponsors in the 1970’s and early 1980’s through Halex, Sportscraft, and Stiga and then with USA Table Tennis and Newgy Industries in the late 1980’s to 2000’s.

The ACUI table tennis program was always conducted during the spring semester, with 16 separate regional tournaments (one seen to the right) following an international tournament where the winners of these regions would be represented at the respective ACUI National Championships. ACUI conducted their programming for table tennis with USA Table Tennis in 1986 and with NCTTA in 2004. ACUI’s Table Tennis run ended just this past June (2015) and after almost 50 years will take a less active role in the promotion of College Table Tennis.

Another organization formed in the 1970’s that promoted Collegiate Table Tennis tournaments was the Eastern Intercollegiate Table Tennis league created in 1971. The league was created by ivy leagues colleges and universities and grew to include colleges outside as well, growing to fourteen teams by 1980. Poor organization led to the organization’s numbers diminishing to only four schools in 1985. Also poor management led to ACUI’s tournaments taking a hiatus as sponsorship and grant money dried up for several years. By 1986 however, both ACUI and the Eastern Intercollegiate Table Tennis league were back providing tournaments. Princeton University took over the organization’s hosting duties for the league while ACUI joined with USA Table Tennis to provide a Collegiate Championships event.

In 1986 the ACUI Championships was hosted at the Olympic Training Center. According to Tim Boggan’s USA Table Tennis History Volume XIV Chapter 26, student athletes were picked up at the airport, given meal tickets and lodging at the Olympic Training center, and the opportunity to participate in a once in a lifetime type of competition. This set the stage for future collegiate championships to take a similar approach.

Steve Kong, representative of the Eastern Intercollegiate Table Tennis League at the time and officer of the Princeton TT club, advocated strongly that the USA Table Tennis Association get more involved with College Table Tennis. Kong said, “Hoping to make table tennis a varsity sport nation-wide, we contacted over 30 colleges across the East, pushing attendance at our April League Championship.” (TTT, May-June, 1987, 33): Kong’s thoughts and concerns were exactly right with relation to how College Table Tennis needed to be improved. Kong had a laundry list of issues from schools that participated in College Table Tennis including: Travel, lack of funding from school athletic/recreation departments, recognition and recruitment. Kong prophetically states, “There is no doubt in our minds that team competition is the only future to intercollegiate table tennis. But the organization of a regional tournament should not be the responsibility of a single college club.” (TTT, May-June, 1987, 33) College Table Tennis participation was increasing and within that growth saw the need for more professionalism at an organizational level. The days were coming when professional staff or volunteers (non players) would be needed at an administrative level. Princeton would continue to host the league’s team championships over the course of a decade along with other locations, but the Eastern Collegiate TT League Championships would have its last tournament in 1998 as it ended due to lack of tournament staff support.

Winners 1988-1998:

1988 – Anderson College (SC)

1989 (90, 91, 92) – Augusta College (GA)

1993 (94, 95) – University of Maryland (MD)

1996 – Montgomery College (MD)

1997 – Vacant

1998 – University of Michigan (MI)

It is noteworthy that most of these efforts for College Table Tennis were not as cohesive as they could have been. For example, in 1997, there were four separate College Table Tennis organizations hosting tournaments all separate from one another: Midwest College Championships, ACUI, the Eastern College TT league Champs at Princeton and LNITT. The College Table Tennis populace was divided and it needed to be united under one organization with shared goals.

In 1992 a group of motivated students noticed that an alternative to ACUI and to the other organizations was needed. They later took it upon themselves to start a college table tennis league. So enters the League of Northeast Inter-Collegiate Table Tennis (LNITT). Much credit is due to Boston University alum Nelson Chin and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute alum Thomas Hu for the creation of an idea for a league that was a “gold mine” in the aspect of grassroots growth.

The LNITT started out as five Ivy League schools from the northeastern part of the United States. This organization was governed by mere college students and, as this paper has suggested, early recreation was governed just this way. These college students in the early stages of the internet were able to create this infrastructure and spread the word about College Table Tennis so effectively that each year saw immense growth spurts. The organization was able to get major sponsors such as Outblaze, a company founded by former LNITT participant Yat Siu, Escalade Sports (Stiga) and Table Tennis Pioneers on board in its
first years. It also used the internet more than most organizations at the time with an active listserve and website. Email was the day’s social media and these trailblazers were good at spreading the gospel, the good news, the word about College Table Tennis.

The LNITT was able to even coordinate a friendly competition with teams from Japan and Hong Kong to come and play with and against a team of College All-Stars in 1992 and 1993 respectively. The officers of this organization did so out of their passion and love for College Table Tennis. They were history, math, engineering majors and did so on a completely volunteer basis while going to school at some of the most prestigious institutions in the nation. LNITT created its own shirts for its member schools and their members and saw a vision of more, a vision of what the future could be and they pursued it with youthful exuberance.

LNITT’s officers had goals from the very beginning : “One of our goals is to see that more colleges get involved, because we know that table tennis is a sport that will last a lifetime, not just during our college years. We also hope to keep players interested and competitive during this part of their lives, and to spark interest during junior development.” The organizational leaders knew first-hand about the struggles of Collegiate Table Tennis teams, “school funding is very limited due to table tennis’ status as a club sport, and not an NCAA sport, we strive for more travel stipends for schools traveling long distances to meets, and team
equipment stipends” Due to the dedication of its officers and university administrators nationwide, the goal of national existence was reached, and the LNITT changed its name in 1998 to the National
Collegiate Table Tennis Association. According to former NCTTA president, Karen Chang, now Karen Wu, Henry Tang came up with the name after the association outgrew the “northeast” moniker. From here, NCTTA soon expanded into all four corners of the United States and into Canada and Puerto Rico.

Below is NCTTA’s first logo and email system


Reference List

Boggan, T. (2014, April 24). History of USA Table Tennis: Volume I. Retrieved August 7, 2015, from http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Table-Tennis/History/History-of-USATT/Volume-I

Boggan, T. (n.d.). History of U.S. Table Tennis Vol VI. Retrieved August 7, 2015, from http://www.usatt.net/articles/history06/history06_26.shtml

Boggan, T., & Kong, S. (n.d.). History of USA Table Tennis Volume 15 – Chapter 5. Retrieved August 7, 2015, from http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Table-Tennis/History/History-of-USATT/Volume-XV/Chapter-5

Chang, K. (1998, July 3). USA Table Tennis – July/August Magazine – LNITT Championships and 1997-1998 Year in Review. Retrieved August 9, 2015, from http://www.usatt.net/magazine/98july-august/lnitt.html

Lee, K. (2013, April 8). College Table Tennis Past and Present. Retrieved August 7, 2015, from http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Table-Tennis/Features/2013/April/08/College-Table-Tennis-Past-and-Present.aspx

James Chen
Nelson Chin
Larry Hodges
Steve Hopkins
Christian Lillieroos
I-Min Michael Mau
Richard McAfee
Volker Schroeder
Lewis Shi
Karun Singh
Yat Siu
Henry Tang
Dan Wang
Jasper Wong
Karen Chang Wu

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