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Ping pong, anyone?


Ryan Schmitz and Justin Dewey get a practice volley in before the evening’s tournament commences.

Ryan Schmitz and Justin Dewey get a practice volley in before the evening’s tournament commences.

Beginning in 1930, Hotel Kirkwood was a place where socialites could gather together and enjoy a night of entertainment and camaraderie. The building has changed a bit since then, but the setting remains the same thanks to the Des Moines Social Club.

The historic hotel’s lobby plays host to one of the only public table tennis forums in the Des Moines area. The refined architecture provides a beguiling backdrop that seemingly demands its visitors to hold themselves to a certain level of decorum. There is competition, but there’s also a smile and a compliment after each point, as players polish their paddles for Tuesday night’s King Pong games.

“I love this sport,” said Justin Dewey, 30, one of the players who may put your confidence to the test. He has competed in USA Table Tennis tournaments in cities all around the Midwest including Chicago, Grand Rapids, Milwaukee and St. Louis.

But don’t let that intimidate you first-timers, because King Pong welcomes new players to come out not just to compete, but to also let loose and have a different kind of fun.

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Ryan Hannold, 23, and Andy Schnathorsd, 23, have been making it out to King Pong as often as they can since they began participating last winter.              

“It’s one of the most diverse sports in the world,” said Schnathorsd. “It’s a game that’s known nearly everywhere, and players can range from 8 to 80. Even if you don’t feel like you’re one of the best players, you still ought to come out. All skill levels are here, and it’s really about playing some table tennis.”                

It’s not just the physical diversity that makes table tennis so dynamic. No matter who it is you’re watching, each player’s style is different from his or her opponent’s, or any future challenger’s, according to Ryan Schmitz, 33. Those unique playing styles is one of the best things about the sport, he said.                

“It’s one of those sports you learn by doing; you’re not coached, so each opponent plays completely different than the last,” said Schmitz, who is the acting host and administrator for the weekly events. “That’s what makes every game an exciting new experience and gives both competitors the opportunity to learn something new.”              

Looking over the folks who came out last week to play, it’s clear that Schmitz is right. Some have a more offense-oriented style, working the slam; others play defensively, letting the other person make a mistake. The tactical types love to spin, and the aces’ best asset is their serve. Then there are the drinkers. The table tennis courts are set up near an adjoining bar where you can pick up a drink and bring it over to where you’re playing. Though a player may begin in one style, it is possible that he or she will change it up after a few drinks, further diversifying the competition.                

“The nice thing about playing ping pong is that you’ll burn the calories you just drank in one game,” Schmitz laughed.                

But Schmitz isn’t joking. In watching the various matches, it’s apparent these players are getting a fun cardio workout. (According to Livestrong.com, a person could burn between 8.4 to 15.5 calories per minute depending on weight. That’s not bad when you consider a light beer might have 110 calories, and a game lasts between 10-20 minutes.)                

In that case, how about a re-match… and another round? CV

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