WAB CLUB FEATURE: ICC Table Tennis
(By Steve Hopkins)
ICC Table Tennis has humble beginnings. They started in 2004 with two tables in the lobby of the Indian Community Center in Milpitas, California. Initially, the focus was recreational play, but they quickly attracted a number of enthusiastic players and by 2008, the group had expanded to six tables and 50-60 kids playing each week. Rajul Sheth, one of the early organizers and leaders of ICC Table Tennis, had moved to the US in 2003. Sheth, a Mechanical Engineer by trade, had been a Gujarat State Men’s Singles Champion in India and a certified umpire.
By 2008, the group had expanded to the point where they needed a new facility. They moved out of the ICC Center and opened a 10,000 square foot, full-time facility. Once out on their own and operating with expanded hours, ICC Table Tennis attracted other players from the area – not just the primarily Indian base that they had developed. The facility grew, the offerings grew, the quality of the top players grew, and Rajul Sheth was awarded the 2008 USATT Developmental Coach of the Year Award and the 2008 USOC Developmental Coach of the Year Award.
In 2015, ICC Table Tennis again outgrew their facility. They moved to a new building that was twice as large (20,000 square feet) which allowed for 30 tables and meeting room and all of the amenities needed for a first-class training facility. This facility is the current home of ICC Table Tennis featuring tournaments, leagues, elite training, lessons, camps and programs for over a thousand young players each year. It is one of the largest table tennis centers in the U.S. and has been recognized as a USATT Center of Excellence and by the ITTF as an ITTF Hot Spot.
Aside from the sheer size of the facility and the number of players, the fact that stands out the most about ICC Table Tennis is the quality of the top players. Kanak and Prachi Jha were a part of the early years of the club – with each advancing from the lobby at the Indian Community Center through Junior US Teams, and onto US Teams. Kanak Jha has grown into America’s top international player, and an invitee to the 20-person World Cup in Paris this Fall. In 2008, ICC was home to Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang who headlined America’s youth movement among girls – each went on to play in Olympic games, to win Pan Am gold medals, and to claim US National titles. In 2012, three of the four US Olympians (Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, and Timothy Wang) trained at ICC. In 2016, four of the six US Olympians had some previous ties to ICC (Kanak Jha, Timothy Wang, Lily Zhang, and Jiaqi Zheng). For the last 8 years, ICC has held at least 15 spots on US National Teams (Hope, Cadet, Junior, Women/Men). More than a decade of excellence at the highest levels.
The ICC Table Tennis Center is visited by more than 200 players every weekend with a large part of that activity focused on group lessons on Saturdays and Sundays. Three are Summer Camps for 11 weeks in the summers bringing in about 1500 participants, one of the primary recruitment tools of the facility. On a typical morning during the week in the summer, there are 150-175 beginners training in an early session and 45 tournament players training in an afternoon session, and then an evening of lessons and competition and recreational play (the more traditional play found at most US clubs).
To manage these training needs, ICC Table Tennis uses 30 coaches most mornings, including 10 of the regular full-time ICC coaches as well as 15 visiting coaches from India. One unique use of these visiting coaches is that they are trainers in the morning functioning as coaches for beginners, but also train later in the day – so they work on their own game and also function as training partners for advanced ICC players.
Twelve full-time ICC coaches make it possible for the facility to host 250 private lessons per week. Two large tournaments are held each year featuring 250 entries. And there are two large leagues on the weekends, with an OVER 1200 league running on Saturdays with as many as 100 players participating each week, and an UNDER 1200 league running on Sundays with as many as 100 players participating each week.
The “TKP” (Talented Kids Program) are for sponsored juniors at ICC. Currently there are 32 kids who are sponsored by ICC through Butterfly. They are provided with training and equipment and coaching to help them reach the National Team level for their age group. These programs have generated many of the elite players who have helped raise the level of play at ICC, and in fact, who have helped raise the level of play of the United States.
There are 12 full time coaches at ICC Table Tennis. These are high level coaches, many from China, who have accolades as players and experience in top level coaching. Wang Hao, Chen Jian, Liang Younghi, Dan Liu, Tian Meng, Zheng Pu, Dido Dutta, Li Ruini, Wei Dianren, Ju Mingwei, Zhou Xin and others headline a list of coaches which is bolstered further in the summers with visiting Indian trainers and players.
ICC has added a set of programs that are unique for a table tennis center. They have supplemented their offerings to include classes in public speaking, dance, art, and chess. In a facility with so many young players, these programs provide options for siblings and parents to be occupied while the table tennis student is occupied. These programs have become popular among family members and also with many of the players who sometimes have downtime between sessions. It’s important to address the needs of the parents and it benefits everyone to keep younger siblings occupied. It’s a great innovation that would benefit many clubs in the US.
For more information on ICC Table Tennis, visit indiacc.org/tabletennis