By Kenneth Li
Great Neck North High School hosted the 4th annual Table Tennis Tournament in its main gymnasium, which was again a huge success. With music in the background, a stocked concession stand, a pro shop and excited faces on players and spectators, the table tennis balls were bouncing from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The venue boasted 20 top-quality table tennis tables, with 125 students representing 29 different schools. Great Neck students from EM Baker, Saddle Rock and Lakeville elementary schools, as well as from both North and South middle and high schools, participated. Other schools included Roslyn HS, Manhasset HS, Herricks HS, St. Mary’s HS, Valley Stream HS, Cardozo HS, Bronx Science HS, Brooklyn Tech HS, Millenium HS, Willet Road MS, Wagner PS 167 MS, Herricks MS, JHS 185, Louis Pasteur MS 67, St. Mels’s Catholic Academy, North Shore MS, Baylis Elementary, Searington Elementary, North Side School, PS 6 and Nest+m.
The morning session was set aside for elementary school students and secondary school teams. North High held three teams; North Middle, two teams; South Middle, one team; Manhasset HS, one team; Roslyn HS, two teams; St. Mary’s HS, one team; and NYC Public School Athletic League (PSAL), one team.
The 11 teams were separated into three round-robin groups, where the top two teams would advance. Matches were the best of three out of five, with each game to 11 points.
Teams played three members at a time and competed in two singles matches and a doubles match, followed by two singles matches. NYC PSAL took first place, while North High came in second.
Singles matches were categorized by school level and then subdivided into rated and unrated players. Seven rated kids were in the Elementary Division. Two fifth graders took home trophies. Botond Acosta from Lakeville placed first and Kayden Li from Baker placed second.
In the Unrated Division, 32 players broke into round robins with four in each group. The top two advanced. Nathan Zhong came in first place and Ravid Nafisi came in second place. Both boys are fourth graders from Saddle Rock.
The middle school and high school singles began at 12:30 p.m. There were 12 middle school–rated players. The winner was Lucy Chen, a seventh grader from North Shore MS, who impressively boasts a USA Table Tennis (USATT) rating of 1,824. Alyssa Kang, a sixth grader holding a rating of 1,515 from Louis Pasteur MS 67, placed second.
The Unrated Middle School Division had 23 players, with Wagner PS 167 Middle School’s eighth-grader Keita Suzuki taking first place and Great Neck North Middle School seventh-grade student Andrew Suh taking second.
The rated High School Division consisted of 10 competitive players. The winner, for the second time in a row, was North High’s 10th grader Kelly Liang. Her rating is an impressive 2,140. Sammy Feinstein from Roslyn HS, also a 10th grader, placed second and has a rating of 1,928.
The Unrated High School Division consisted of 31 participants. Placing first was Nathaniel Bikhman from North High, and Maxim Lando, a home-schooled student, placed second.
This year, a fundraiser was added for Best Pals, which supports the special-education program at North High with socialization opportunities.
The fundraiser offered interested players a chance to learn and play with table tennis pros, including Fei Ming Tong, a world-class table tennis instructor, two-time Olympian, Women’s World Cup Bronze Medalist, World Veteran’s Championship Women’s Over 50 Gold Medalist for Singles and Doubles, Chinese National Team and U.S. Open Doubles Finalist.
Another pro in attendance was Ahmed Elmallah, an international-level professional coach in the United States, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who was the Egyptian National Champion and has coached many U.S. National champions.
Also at the event was Fei Zhai, a world-class table tennis instructor, a Chinese Province Team member, a top-level player in the U.S. and current Spin Pro at Spin NY, a table tennis club owned by actress Susan Sarandon.
Another table tennis expert was Raymond “ZeFeng” Chen, a two-time winner of the NYC Mayor’s Cup in table tennis, a U2500 finalist in the Westchester Table Tennis Club, which is owned by New York Times crossword puzzle creator Will Shortz, and U2400 first-place winner at the Lily Yip Club.
Previous attendee Tahl Liebowitz, a Paralympic gold medalist, 50-time International Para Champion, 13-time Para Pan Am Gold Medalist, four-time Olympic Trials qualifier, was unable to attend as he was competing in Europe.
The star-studded panel provided the students with a unique opportunity to learn and play with the best.
Parents and kids left the tournament sharing the sentiment that the venue surpassed many professional tournaments. The children had a chance to test their table tennis skills, while having fun.
Thomas Hu and Edmund Suen were the tournament referees and managed the tournament seamlessly. They even provided live online access to scores.
Many attendees left asking, “Can we have this tournament more than once a year?”
Jerry Mintz, a veteran player and coach, said, “This event clearly shows how much table tennis is on the rise on Long Island. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes an official team sport, as it has in New York City.”
Joyce Cheung, a parent organizer of the event, said, “I am so happy to see this annual tournament grow through the years. Not only has the participation tripled in the four years, but the quality of the venue and the level of the players has soared. It was wonderful to witness a school event that brings the community together. I am so grateful to all the wonderful parent volunteers and am so proud of the Great Neck schools for taking the lead in supporting table tennis on Long Island.”
Kenneth Li is a junior at North High.