Local Ping-Pong Club Brings New Look to the Table

Local Ping-Pong Club Brings New Look to the Table

On the Job with Potomac Country Table Tennis Club President Herman Yeh.

The idea had been bouncing around in his head for some time. With the growing popularity of the Potomac Country Table Tennis Club and ping-pong in general, Club founder Herman Yeh knew it was time for a new look. Accordingly, during his club’s 2013 Fall Open at the Potomac Community Center, Yeh snapped a picture of more than 100 ping-pong competitors and fans in attendance. Then, using the image as masthead, Yeh set about creating a new website to encourage more people to join in the sport.

A retired scientist from NIH and life-long table tennis enthusiast, Yeh started the club more than 25 years ago, following table tennis’ establishment in 1988 as an internationally recognized Olympic sport. He set up base with just two tables in rented space at the Tilden Middle School after 12 parents offered to chip in and purchase the equipment. Then, in the early ’90s, when many of the original participants had moved on, Yeh moved the club over to the Potomac Community Center on Falls Road.

A little more than 20 years later, the club, now partners with the Center, has grown from its humble beginnings to include 100 members. In addition to the Falls Road location, Yeh has also opened a venue at the Clara Barton Community Center, which currently boasts 40 members. He fondly refers to the locations as Potomac Ping Pong Group I and II. Between the two, there are now 18 professional tables engaged in competitive play.

A quick glance at the website shows a user-friendly design that makes it easy for ping-pong enthusiasts of all levels to get involved in the club. “Club Corner” presents scrolling photos of members and visitors engaged in active competition, while scroll down menus show highlights from the recent 2013 Potomac Fall Open, schedules for the Potomac I and II facilities and how to sign up to play, as well as information on upcoming special events in international table tennis and video results from competitions.

Yeh takes pride in noting that current Potomac Country Table Tennis Club members, many of whom are featured on the website, range in age from 8 to 80 years. Beginners, intermediates, junior champions and seniors meet to play twice weekly, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in the Potomac Community Center gym. On a typical night, 60-80 spectators watch the competition on Potomac I’s 14 professional tables. Yeh described the atmosphere as “quite noisy,” adding, “When the crowd sees a dramatic shot, they erupt.”

While the club’s competitors are mostly experienced players, including several Olympians who got their start at the facility, the club offers a venue for players of all levels to challenge each other and to compete.

Said Yeh, “We take the play very seriously. It is highly competitive.” However, while competitive, club activities are equally focused on participation and enjoyment of the sport, as well as opportunities for meeting other enthusiasts and gaining insights on new styles of play. While the club itself does not offer coaching per se, beginners can receive training offsite from professional coaches at two clubs in Montgomery Country, the Maryland Table Tennis Center and Club Joola of Rockville.

Yeh picked up table tennis at a young age and now continues to play to maintain his health. With his youthful muscular physique, he defies his 74 years. “If you really want to improve your fitness level, this is the way to go,” said Yeh, adding, “When I play, I can play for three hours and really work up a sweat. It’s truly a full-body workout for muscles, heart and brain.”

In addition to the health benefits, Yeh emphasized that table tennis, unlike many other sports, does not differentiate between age, gender or physical stature. “Here we see all shapes and sizes, all ethnicities and cultures, it all works, as long as you like to move around,” he said. Table tennis can also improve eye-hand-brain coordination at all ages and it can be played all year round, regardless of weather: A win-win situation, in Yeh’s view.

These days table tennis doesn’t capture much attention and, despite its Olympic endorsement, is not very popular in the wider sports community. Still, Yeh sees things slowly picking up. “Any sport, especially in the United States without commercial value is not going to go very far,” he said. “However, we’ve seen soccer grow in popularity over the years, so we’re hopeful for our sport.”

Yeh hopes that more people will start to get involved in the sport as they learn about the positive health benefits of playing table tennis. The next PCTTC tournament is scheduled for May 17 and 18 at the Potomac Community Center. There’s still time to join in the competition. Visit www.pcttc.net for details or contact Herman Yeh at nmryeh@verizon.net.

All proceeds from membership dues go towards upkeep and equipment upgrades with the remainder contributed to the Potomac Community Center. Potomac Country Table Tennis Club, as a separate entity, receives no funding from Montgomery County.

Why It’s Called Ping-Pong:

Table tennis originated in England in the early 1880s as an after-dinner parlor game. The very first matches involved setting up a “net” of books on a table and using books as rackets to bat a golf ball around. As the game grew more popular, manufacturers began experimenting with making rackets from parchment stretched on a wood frame. The distinctive sound generated when the ball hit the parchment is how the sport received the nickname Ping-Pong.

The name Ping–Pong was trademarked in 1901 by the British manufacturer J. Jacques & Sons. The year 1901 also saw the first introduction of the celluloid ball to the sport as well as the creation of the modern version of the racket, consisting of a stippled sheet of rubber affixed to a wooden blade.

Current table tennis regulations allow for different surfaces, made of rubber and sponges, on each side of the racket. These surfaces provide different sorts of spin and speed, in some cases, actually nullifying spin altogether. Players flip the racket during play to execute different kinds of returns. For this reason, international rules specify that one side of the paddle must be red while the other is black. This allows players to anticipate the returns of their opponents. Players have the right to inspect their opponent’s rackets before each match to determine what type of rubber is being used as well as its corresponding color.

In 2000, following the Summer Olympics in Sydney, the International Table Tennis Federation instituted new rules for table tennis in order to make it more viable as a televised spectator sport. These rules increased the size of the ball, which can travel at speeds exceeding 90 mph, to 40mm to slow airspeed and make the game easier to watch. Additionally, the new rules changed the scoring system from 21-points to 11-points to make games faster and more exciting.


Herman Yeh

More than 100 ping-pong competitors and fans in attendance at the 2013 Fall Open at the Potomac Community Center.


Potomac Country Table Tennis Club founder Herman Yeh in competition.