Where Are They Now? Wilson Club Series #3
(by Steve Hopkins)
Article 3: Bowie, Ty, and Building the Wilson Program
For a period from 1985-1992, Wilson, North Carolina became a model for developmental, grass-roots table tennis. With Butterfly’s North American distributor (Martin Kilpatrick – now Bowmar Sports) located in Wilson, there is a long history of expertise and resources in the sport there. But 1985 was the perfect storm of timing and effort and energy with Bowie Martin Jr and Ty Hoff bringing their coaching expertise and efforts to the small community in North Carolina. In a very short time, they had taken a corner in the Butterfly warehouse where a single table stood, and built it into a program that benefited international players and coaches as well as the development of local juniors into elite national level players.
Bowie Martin Jr was born into the business of table tennis in 1962. In 1960, East Carolina University students Bowie Martin Sr & Norman Kilpatrick, along with Bowie’s wife Melba, started Martin Kilpatrick Company. Norman left the business in 1963 to pursue other interests. The company became an important distributor for table tennis products in North America including Butterfly. The company resided at different locations in Wilson NC, until 1977, when they built a 10,800 square foot building to host the business. The accomplishments of Bowie Martin Sr culminated in his selection to the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017. The point is that a young Bowie grew up around table tennis – not just the sport in and of itself, but also the administration and business of the sport.
By 1985 Bowie had returned home to Wilson from UNC-Chapel Hill and he was eager to get the sport going locally. His friend Ty Hoff had also just moved back to the area. Ty had been in Wilmington at college but now found himself searching out other options. As Ty described it, he was playing table tennis for fun while staying with friends to cut costs – and that included some time with Al Herr as well as with the Martin family.
When Bowie and Ty finally got together the timing was perfect. They were both available, their ideas for how to proceed coincided, and these two in their young 20s had a great amount of energy and positivity to apply to the project. By the Fall of that year, the two began doing exhibitions at schools and recreational centers, providing balls and equipment to the schools, and inviting kids to play at the table they had set up at the warehouse.
Bowie Martin Sr had been able to secure a grant from the USATT for grassroots development. With Martin Kilpatrick Company supplying the equipment and space, and USATT providing some additional funding to assist the efforts of Ty and Bowie, the program expanded quickly. The club in the warehouse soon had four tables (and then eight a year later with an expansion). Ty found himself working pretty full days, with demonstrations during the day mixed with volunteer teaching in PE classes and then visiting rec centers in the afternoons and inviting anyone and everyone to the club after school.
By the Fall of 1986, there were monthly tournaments and a quickly developing group of young players including Brian Pace, Eddie Farmer, Howard Phillips, Oscar Melvin, and Greg Daniels to name a few). Bowie had a van and part of his commitment was to driving the young players to tournaments – a commitment that included 40 trips in 1987 alone. In 1987 when the grant was renewed, they brought in James Theriault as a coach as well. The juniors developed, and so did Bowie and Ty – with everyone involved playing better. The program was a magnet for great players and organizers with a list of some of the biggest names of that era. The Wilson program began to wane as funding slowed after the 1988 Olympics, as the young players began to graduate and move, and as some moved on to other jobs. It ended in 1991 – but had already been a launching pad for many of the players.
For Ty Hoff, he went on to coach and play at Augusta College in Georgia. He then took on a role at the Resident Training Program in Colorado Springs. Ty eventually finished his degree at Augusta College – and later received an MBA there as well. He took up hardbat and became one of the best in that classic niche of the sport. At one point he launched a sandpaper tour called FASTT as well. He now lives in Cary, North Carolina and continues to play and enjoy the sport.
For Bowie, he has never left the sport. It would be hard for anyone to permanently keep up a pace of 40 trips a year driving a van full of young players all over the Southeast – but his drive within table tennis continued. He is now running the company that his Father helped to build – that company is now called Bowmar Sports and they remain the North American distributor of Butterfly products. His company sponsors players and coaches and clubs all over the United States. They are a sponsorship fixture for many major tournaments, national teams and associations across the US, Canada, and Mexico. Bowie also continues to play, enjoying coaching sessions, tweaking his strokes with repetition training with a robot, and competition in a weekly league. Bowie wife, Julie, who went on many of the 40 trips in 1987, is now CFO of Bowmar Sports.
The alumni of the Wilson program of the 1980s continue to have an impact in the table tennis community not just in North Carolina but throughout the world.