Where Are They Now? Anderson College Series
(By Steve Hopkins)
Article 1: South Carolina – A hot bed for collegiate table tennis?
In 1986, Anderson College began a collegiate table tennis program. Over the next decade, the program would grow to become the first true varsity table tennis program in the United States with campus resources, a travel budget, scholarships, and some great players from the U.S., Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. The College itself also grew – expanding its offerings and moving from a junior college to a four-year institution (Anderson University). Coaches included Jim Doney, Christian Lillieroos, Paul Normandin, and Richard McAfee. Players included Scott Butler, Derek May, Rong Li (later Lillieroos), Amanda Chai, Bobbi Walenburg, Paul Johnson, Julian Milan, Carl Ericsson, Nigel Christopher, Michael Hyatt, Greg Riley, and many more. Some would later play in the Olympics, and compete in World Championships, and represent their countries. Lillieroos and McAfee are still two of the best-known names among coaches in the United States. Christian Lillieroos went on to help start another well-known collegiate program (Texas Wesleyan), made advances coaching Paralympic athletes, was named USATT National Coach of the Year twice, and was the high performance director of the Mexican National Team. Richard McAfee has penned a successful book, was USATT Developmental Coach of the Year, and has become a regular choice for ITTF courses where he teaches other coaches how to coach better.
Before 1982, there was no table tennis in Anderson, SC. That was the year that Dr. Mark Hopkins took the job as President of Anderson College and his family moved. His 12-year old son, Steve Hopkins, had played organized table tennis where they had previously lived, in Elgin, Illinois – a suburb of Chicago. Steve began playing with college students and friends immediately and formed a juniors club in 1983 that was given college space and resources. In a very short time, the club grew to 25 to 30 regulars, a traveling team of juniors, summer camps, and was host to quarterly tournaments that were sponsored by the college and the local Buick dealership. When Jim Doney first arrived on campus as the College’s first coach, he began by working with the junior players and then set out to establish a formal schedule for the first college team.
In 1988, Anderson College won the team event at the National Collegiate Championships. The college also sported singles champions: Rong Li won the Women’s title in 1998, Michael Hyatt won the Men’s title in 1992, Nigel Christopher won the Men’s title in 1993, and Greg Riley won the Men’s title in 1994.
Dr. Hopkins retired in the early 90s, and the support that had been in place at the institution faded. The program closed in 1996, a decade after it had started. The impact of the efforts of the Anderson College program continued in ripples through college table tennis through the players and coaches that participated.
Two of the first players at Anderson College were Scott Butler and Derek May. They stayed a short time and then moved to Augusta, where they (along with Derek’s father Pete May) built a rival program at Augusta College. Both Butler and May won collegiate singles titles (in 89 and 91, respectively). Augusta College won the team title four consecutive years (1989-92). Rong Li left Anderson College but continued her education elsewhere – winning two additional collegiate titles at other institutions (1989 and 1991).
Christian Lillieroos was later a part of creating the program at Texas Wesleyan – a standard of excellence in collegiate table tennis for the last fifteen years. Richard McAfee went on to support and advance hundreds of other coaches. Steve Hopkins went on to produce USA Table Tennis Magazine. Michael Hyatt and Nigel Christopher both went on to compete at the World Championships for their countries. And that list does not begin to address scores of other players who improved their game, who had a taste of college athletics, and who were able to enhance their college education with something that was unique for its time.