To the victors belong the pies

Chappy Pong Tournament hosts 10th competition.

Juri Luncar, left, the Chappy Pong winner, and Rod Backus, the runner up. — Courtesy Bob O'Rourke

Last Sunday, the Chappaquiddick Community Center (CCC) was the site of serious fun during the 10th annual Chappy Pong Tournament. The tournament was sponsored by the CCC and the Martha’s Vineyard Table Tennis Club (MVTTC). As always, it was open to all ages and all levels of players, and while the competition was intense, the atmosphere was one of fun and community. The winners were rightfully celebrated, but there was a general feeling of satisfaction by all at being part of the tournament.

Bob O’Rourke, president of the MVTTC, says about the prizes, “As is traditional and we think unmatched by any other tournament, finalists receive edible trophies: certificates for famous Morning Glory pies.” The prize pies seem to epitomize the Island style of competition fostered by the MVTTC. Of course there are winners, but club members express the desire to see everyone develop as players.

This year’s adult winner was Jiri Luncar, who came back from a two-game deficit (meaning he lost the first two games) to defeat Rod Backus, 3 to 2, in the championship final. Both Vineyard Haven players compete with the MVTTC. Club members Alina Wen of Edgartown and Brian Walt of West Tisbury finished as tourney runners-up. In the junior division, August Michels, a summer Chappaquiddick visitor, downed Mark Clements of West Tisbury, 3 to 1, to take the title.

Competing in Sunday’s tournament were 19 adults, ages 16 to 74, and eight youths, ages 6 to 15.

Round-robin play was set up so that in each group of five people, a player had matches with the four other people in the group. In a match, three out of five games produced the winner. The top two players from each group then played in a single-elimination match to determine the final winner. A loss of a match meant the player was out of the running.

In the final match, Mr. Luncar, the returning title holder from last year, played Mr. Backus and won 11-6, 11-7, 11-8, winning the title, and, in this case, the pie.

The Martha’s Vineyard Table Tennis Club provides the equipment, score tracking, and organizational services for the tournament. Marvene O’Rourke, Bob’s wife, who’s not a club member, has been helping out with the tournament since the beginning. She sat on the front porch, welcoming players, keeping track of who should play whom, and the score of each match — not necessarily an easy task.

At one point, it was Mr. Luncar’s turn to play, but he was up on the roof again. As a house painter, he’s not shy about heights, and he was using his drop cloths to block the afternoon sun through the windows as it came around the building. At another point, Ms. O’Rourke asked Bruce Goldin, a pediatric dentist who plays with the club, if he would like to play Mr. Luncar. Mr. Goldin said, “What’s the point?” to which Marvene replied, “It will keep him quiet for awhile.” Mr. Luncar, who plays with the club every week, jokes that he plays “to get on their nerves.”

Tom Friedman joined the club in June. He only started playing four years ago, but he more than holds up his side of the competition. He’s in the Mastiff table tennis club in Dedham, where he says the play is “pretty serious.” He likes that the MVTTC is more social. He says, “They’ve become my friends. We’re all trying to figure out how to become better players.” At the Dedham club, he says, they play the classic Chinese way, which includes spinning the ball and holding the paddle in a “pen hold” (a circle hold using thumb and index finger) ,as opposed to the regular “handshake” way. Alina Wen, a MVTTC member who has won the Chappy tournament in the past, plays using a pen hold. She’s a formidable player who has been in the club for 12 years, and wins tournaments off-Island. She serves the ball with a kind of ritual bow and stamp that might well intimidate her opponent. Ms. Wen has a return swing so powerful that it looks like the ball will go through the wall rather than neatly landing on the table as it does.

Island personal trainer Eddie Parker started playing when he was 65, six years ago. When he’s in Florida during the winter, he has a table tennis robot (ball machine) for practice and a Chinese coach, appropriately named Ping. He says, “Every year I’ve improved, but so have these other guys.” He finds playing to be a great workout, and watching the tournament, you can see how active it is as players lunge side-to-side, backward and forward, in order to return a shot. Mr. Parker says, “Three-quarters of the really good players were born outside the U.S. We played Little League when we were kids; they played Ping-Pong.” The MVTTC members include players originally from China, South Africa, and the Czech Republic.

Club member Brian Walt, who has won tournaments off-Island, is a rabbi when he’s not playing table tennis. He played for a few years when he was a kid, and then took it up again at age 60. Player Seth Berman is an engineer in Marblehead when he’s not on the Island. His father took him to learn to play at a gangster hangout in Manhattan, a Ping-Pong parlor back in the days when the game was set up along with the pool tables.

The Martha’s Vineyard Table Tennis Club has its roots in games played at the Aquinnah town hall back in 2005, where they quickly became family party events. It was called Quinnapong back then. After playing at various venues around the Island, the club has settled at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and the YMCA, with the Barn, Bowl and Bistro providing summer quarters. The core group of regular players formed the Martha’s Vineyard Table Tennis Club, and became a sanctioned club member of USA Table Tennis in 2013. In 2015, MVTTC expanded its role in the community by hosting a teen table tennis program at the YMCA, and established a table tennis club at the high school. Albert Lau, club vice president from Oak Bluffs, who has been a club member for 10 years, points out the benefits of table tennis: great exercise, good for eye-hand coordination and brain development. The Island club offers a great way to have fun and feel part of a community while you’re improving yourself and your game. And you might win a pie!