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Where Are They Now? Anderson College Series

Where Are They Now? Anderson College Series

Where Are They Now? Anderson College Series
(by Steve Hopkins)
Article 2: Michael Hyatt

Michael Hyatt graduated from Anderson University in 1993 with a Bachelor in Science degree in Business Marketing.  When he was recruited, it was Anderson College – but the institution grew into a University during Michael’s time in South Carolina.

Michael earned a full scholarship to Anderson College for table tennis.  That’s something that even today is a near impossibility in the U.S. table tennis landscape.  Michael jokes that, “My Business Degree from AU is the best degree that money DIDN’T buy.”

Coaches Christian Lilleroos, Paul Normandin, and Richard McAffee along with Anderson’s President, Dr. Mark Hopkins, all played a big part in the program’s success.  During his time at Anderson University, Michael was a part of a powerful table tennis team that included other Islanders (Michael is originally from Jamaica): Nigel Christopher of Trinidad and Gregory Riley of Barbados. Each of the three won a Men’s Singles Collegiate Title, giving Anderson a three-year run with the best men’s college player in the U.S.

Anderson University brought all three to the United States – and all three have made homes here.  These days both Nigel and Gregory live, work and have families in the Charlotte, NC area.  Michael makes it a point to go visit his ex-teammates from time to time. Besides Michael, Nigel, and Gregory there were many other International players and Islanders on the AU team between 1986 and about 1996 when the table tennis program at AU folded.

Michael Hyatt had many years using Butterfly equipment.  He was a Butterfly sponsored player from 1985 to 1998 – so Butterfly was a partner through both of Michael’s Olympics. Michael also went to the Butterfly Dojo in Tokyo, Japan to train several times in the 1990’s.

At 48 years young, Michael Hyatt says he is working on something BIG from his Home Office in Northern California.  As many associated with this sport know, “BIG” has always been Michael’s thing. He retired two years ago from competitive table tennis.  His pedigree in the sport includes representing the Jamaica Men’s Team for three decades (1985-2016), including two Olympic Games (1992 Barcelona, and 1996 Atlanta). Along the way Michael has won Regional, National, and International titles.  He has three Jamaican National Men’s Singles titles, 7 Caribbean titles (including Team, Men’s Singles, Men’s Doubles) and the National Collegiate Table Tennis Singles title in 1991 while at Anderson University.

These days Michael is a Sales Director for one of the largest and most famous technology companies in the world. But in his nights and weekends, Michael is CEO of what he hopes will be the next BIG thing in table tennis, a concept called PongNation. He describes his idea this way:

“I took a look at table tennis clubs, table tennis tournaments, table tennis players, table tennis organizations from the inside out and then outside in and what I found was that the sport had many problems that needed to be fixed.  I was fortunate because 30 years ago in 1988 Table Tennis brought me to United States of America which for me was just another place that I was going to travel to, another step in my life and evolution. That travel allowed me to learn many things and evolve into being a businessman who also played table tennis instead of being just a table tennis player. To each his own but I never saw myself as a table tennis coach or Administrator, I’m sorry I’m way to talented and dynamic and always preferred to pave new roads anyway. My goal was always to be a CEO and build the sport after retirement.”

 “Table Tennis players love recognition, publicity and the limelight and many put their heart and soul into the sport and then die poor.  When I dug into things most of the recognition was coming from a small and insignificant group of people that form USATT or even ITTF and from family or friends.  It wasn’t coming from anywhere outside table tennis.  What I found was that outside of this small subset of table tennis people that form USATT and the ITTF, no one cared AT ALL about table tennis or table tennis players! It was quite a shocking revelation. And instead of complaining about how bad USATT or ITTF is or are (and they will never change) I decided to just do something about it.”

 “My goal (and I will achieve) is to build the sport of table tennis and make it finally GREAT.  I want to build an organization and brand SO BIG, SO UNIQUE that it will go Public ultimately be owned by shareholders and a Board.  That business, brand and concept will live on long after my time on this earth. The PongNation concept will check all the key boxes where table tennis basically fails everyone today:

  1. Table Tennis players are mostly poor and make no real money from the sport
  2. Table Tennis players retire early to go into coaching because that’s the only way they can earn a living in the sport
  3. Coaches earn more than actual players
  4. The bodies that run the sport and tournament directors feeding off table tennis player entry fees while players win little or no money from results 
  5. Not enough real opportunities for management or marketing or sales or development in the sport
  6. Players and Coaches retiring and/or dying poor and broke!”

Michael went on to share a story about Nelson Navarro, a Cuban coach in Florida who died of cancer.  He described Nelson as a great coach that was loved and respected by everyone.  But there was no insurance and no funds to investigate his illness. As Michael noted; “By the time he was diagnosed it was too late and he died before he could get proper treatment.”

This affected him and became an impetus to move forward with his PongNation plans. Ultimately, the goal is to find ways to provide real and sustainable income and opportunity for coaches and players of all levels.  Michael is a businessman – he sees table tennis like any other business model that can be steered and nurtured until it can thrive.  In the end, Michael notes,  “Coaches and players will have a real job working at a real company, with real benefits.”  In time, he hopes to bring in contacts and companies that he has worked with – a list so broad it includes Puma, Cornilleau, Starbucks, Intel, BMW, Ross Stores, Gilead Sciences, and First Data.

For a career with a lot of memorable achievements.  Michael hopes PongNation will be the next “win” – an achievement in the sport that is so important that it will outshine all the others.

Additional information and contacts for Michael Hyatt can be found at his Athlete Page on Facebook:


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