Every Tuesday night, the frequent pinging sound of bouncing plastic balls and excited shouts overtake Bayview Hall.
The happenings inside isn’t a party. It’s Whidbey Island’s weekly community table tennis night.
“We’ve got probably half a dozen guys that take it pretty seriously, but even they’re out there for the fun of it,” organizer Bob Bowling said. “During any given week, you can usually find 20 to 30 people who show up.”
Bayview Hall hosts two hours of continuous ping pong matches from 6-8 p.m. every Tuesday. Ping-Pong Tuesdays are open to whoever would like to pick up the small paddle regardless of age, sex or skill level. This Tuesday, ping pong aficionados in their 60s and those in their early 20s faced off for bragging rights. The weekly occasion pulls people from across the island, although most players tend to come from South Whidbey. A donation is suggested upon entry, but players can come for free if they choose.
Inside the dance hall, five tables are typically set up to facilitate as many games at once. The games fly by at a rapid pace, as competitors duke it out to see who reaches a score of either 21 or 11 first, depending on their preference. The winner of each duel typically stays at the table before welcoming the next challenger. A row of chairs serves as the wait to hop on a table, and the line moves quickly.
On Tuesday night, Bowling was the king of his table, but it’s the game’s speed and entertaining nature that trumps the need to win for everyone playing.
“I’ve been coming out here for about two months,” Goss Lake resident Nels Bergquist said. “It’s just a really fun and quick game, and once you get going, you get into this flow you don’t get with other games.”
Ping-Pong Tuesdays have been going on for about two years. Bowling, a Bayview Hall board member, decided to organize weekly game nights after realizing there weren’t many community events that kids and adults alike could partake in. Facilitating the weekly game nights wasn’t a hassle for Bowling, since he was looking for an excuse to bust out his paddle anyway.
The sessions bring out some interesting characters, among them a Coupeville man named Hank, reportedly one of the best players around. Nobody knows his last name, as he’s somewhat of a mysterious legend, but the other ping pong players know his background. At 85-years-old, he continues to play people off the table. He’s apparently had those skills for quite a while; other ping pong players on Tuesday night claimed he played at “some type of national tournament in Las Vegas” about 50 or 60 years ago. He hasn’t showed up for the past few weeks, but his return is anticipated by his challengers.
“This guy Hank, who’s 85, is still a great Ping-Pong player,” Bergquist said. “I’ve actually started calling him Yoda. He doesn’t move much, but he has this really nice technique. I’d say he’s probably the best out here, but there are some other guys who are really good.”
The table tennis sessions will only get more popular, according to Bowling, as winter takes hold. During the summer, attendance tends to be low as people enjoy the sunshine, but the winter is prime table tennis time. When the evenings get cold, dark and wet, Bowling says people are in search of a warm place to hang out.
Bayview Hall fills that void on Tuesday nights.
“Being able to hang out somewhere that’s warm and bright in the winter other than your house is great,” Bowling said. “Plus, the kids sometimes struggle for stuff to do here. Why not play some Ping-Pong?”