Table Tennis Convergence

Whether you trained in a strict three-month clinic in China, or take your games in casual doses at a community centre, this weekend’s Yukon Table Tennis Open Championships is a chance to bring your ping pong game out into the spring.

The two-day event is a mixture of fun and focus. For some long-time Table Tennis Yukon Association members, like Ryan Bachli, it’s a chance to play in a competition environment without having to travel to Vancouver, Edmonton or, as he did in 2006, to Changchun, China.

For club members who take ping pong in more recreational doses, it’s a chance to drive your favourite spinning serve past a new friend or old acquaintance, enjoying the banter together and maybe even winning a small cash prize.

Bachli upped the drama at the Championships last year when he took gold for the first time in the men’s singles, beating out coach and defending champion Kevin Murphy.

This year, at age 19, the table tennis champ and another club member, Mark Preston, brought a coaching clinic to Dawson City on behalf of Table Tennis Yukon.

With the Arctic Winter Games 2012 on the horizon, Table Tennis Yukon is actively looking for new participants to train up – especially girls.

Dave Stockdale, Whitehorse City Councillor and retired school teacher, coached the first Team Yukon to play table tennis in the 1973 Canada Games. He is currently Table Tennis Yukon’s president.

Girls are harder to keep in the sport, Stockdale says, because they are usually heavily involved in other sports.

“Between figure skating and dance, there aren’t many girls with time to train,” he says. “At the Canada Games I lost two players to squash, but we’re hoping they’ll be back for the Arctic Winter Games.”

The 2012 team won’t be chosen until January. Until then, training, including events like the Yukon Championships, is key.

“We’re hoping to put on a week-long camp in June – that would be the first time we ever had that in the Yukon – and coach Marles Martins came in February.”

If the June training camp comes together, Martins, a former Table Tennis Canada coach, will likely be the coach for that week, Stockdale says.

“We used to dominate until Greenland and Russia joined a decade or so ago,” he says. “Now it’s pretty difficult to place. One time at a closing ceremony I’m sure I listened to the Greenland national anthem 13 times.”

But in the 2010 Arctic Winter Games, the Yukon boys swept the Table Tennis Juveniles (players younger than 14). Mustafa Ali Syed took gold in the singles event, and the Juvenile Team took the doubles and team events.

Others at the Yukon Championships have their eyes on different goals.

Laurie Sokolowski, a Dawson City resident, has a long list of medals that expanded again last fall when her team placed gold in the wheelchair team category of the 2010 Canadian Para Table Tennis Championships, in Ottawa.

This year she has her eye on the 2011 Para Pan American Games, which will be held in Mexico in November.

The team won’t be announced until the end of the summer. In the meantime, Sokolowski attends every competitive event she can get to in order to maintain her eligibility.

Stockdale expects the April 29-30 Yukon Championships will attract 30 to 40 players, with a wide range of athletic goals.

“Especially for kids, it’s another chance to play in a competitive environment and to watch other players,” he says.

“Kids like to copy and mimic, so at a tournament they can watch and copy. I’ve seen it happen in a week, that one player is near the bottom and they improve dramatically just by seeing what’s possible.”

Tournament events include novice, singles, doubles and teams for juveniles, juniors, men and women. Each category costs $5 to enter. Info: David Stockdale, 668-3358.

Meg Walker is a writer and visual artist living in Dawson City.

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