(by Steve Hopkins)
Ten years ago, a seventeen-year old Marcus Jackson was the top ranked junior in the country. His 2574 rating peak came in October of 2009 – one of many highlights of that year. This month marks the ten-year anniversary of his amazing Cary Cup performance that included wins over Canadians Pradabeen Peter-Paul and Wang Zhen on his way to a semifinal appearance. The win over Wang Zhen was no small feat, as Marcus was the last American-born player to beat him. This is an important note for this player who never left the United States for international training: He was a truly home-gown table tennis talent with his training regimen USA-centered in an era when many of our top athletes came to the US from other countries or went abroad to train.
Marcus’ first tournament was at the age of seven, and he won the U10 national title a year later. Marcus was a Butterfly sponsored player from that young age all the way through his competitive years. His commitment to the sport for much of his youth included 45-minute commutes to local clubs in the Maryland area. Often his father, Morris, would drive and Marcus would sleep or study. The effort of both son and father paid off over time – as Marcus rose to the top of the junior ranks in the US while maintaining a stellar grade point average (3.8) and being named a Presidential Inaugural Scholar Athlete.
Like many of our top juniors, Marcus did not “turn pro” and seek a career in the sport. In fact, for Marcus, he never had any intention of continuing this competitive level of play after High School. His father worked in higher education and had instilled the importance of academics at an early age. It was always their plan for Marcus to focus in college and to succeed in a career.
Marcus entered Penn State University as an accounting major and later switched to marketing. He never quite got table tennis out of his system – and he found himself in the PSU club scene, practicing and training and competing in NCTTA events where he and his teammates won Division titles in 2010 and 2011. His best personal finish was the quarterfinals of the NCTTA singles event in 2010.
He finally hung up his table tennis shoes after his Sophomore year as he realized that his main work experience to date was all related to table tennis. He turned his focus back to academics and finished his marketing degree. Following college, Marcus took a job with IMG-Learfield, a sports agency focused on the University market. He initially worked for IMG-Learfield at Penn State dealing with ticket sales and marketing for sports teams. He then transferred with the same group to Northern Illinois University where he works in Corporate Partnerships. When asked about the specifics of his job he explained that his role is to connect university athletic partners through in-venue signage, radio, and social media.
Marcus has recently begun to reach back out to the table tennis world. He is in Chicago and there are lots of players and clubs in the area. He has begun to visit clubs and watch, and expects to begin to play for fun again soon.
He may have some work to do to redevelop his game, but Marcus will have no trouble getting back into playing shape. His work in the sports industry has had him enveloped in an athletic culture surrounded by athletes and athletic facilities. He has been working out a lot – and “a lot” may be an understatement for someone as focused and driven as Marcus. As you can see in the photo below, he has filled out his 6 foot 4 inch frame to look more like a linebacker or a boxer than a table tennis player.
Marcus has built a career in sports. Along the way, he has leveraged his successes and thrived through competition. Over years he has developed a strong work ethic and drive – tools he honed with long hours of training. Table tennis is a part of the success story that is Marcus “Ping Pong” Jackson.