Ping-Pong balls rocketed back and forth at the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County elementary school. For the past eight weeks, HANC students ranging from the fourth to sixth grades have devoted their Mondays to skipping the school bus home and working on their serves and slammers. “It’s fun. I get to play other people who are as good as me,” Josh Chiger, 10, said. “I’m pretty good. I’d say I’m the second best one here.”
“The importance of the league is to give kids a chance to play ping-pong in an organized setting which is part of the school,” said Glenn Ackerman, director of Jewish Table Tennis, a recently formed non-profit that seeks to promote ping-pong in yeshiva day schools. The group, consisting of nine members, was in its eighth week of the scheduled three-month duration for the program. Each member is charged a sum of $65, which goes to the HANC PTA.
Out of all nine children in the group, most seemed skilled beyond their years. “Yeah, this is probably my favorite sport,” said Ackerman’s daughter Estee, 9, after a menacing slap shot point. “I play two to three times a week but when I’m playing, I play at least an hour.”
“What’s unique about ping-pong is no matter how big or how small or how fast or how slow you are, anyone can play with anybody,” said Ackerman. “In basketball, people who are tall definitely have an advantage, but here everyone is equal. As long as you practice, you can get better.”
“There are times when children feel that either they’re not interested in some of the traditional sports or maybe it doesn’t speak to them. Maybe it’s a little bit harder in terms of the physical challenge,” said HANC principal Rabbi Benjamin Yasgur. “Ping-pong provides an option for those children. It requires a lot of skill, involves thinking as well I think it’s a friendly sport that provokes good will.”
While chasing hard-hit balls zooming across the table, Glenn Ackerman elaborated on getting the students involved in a sport that reinforces hand-eye coordination, teamwork and leadership. “Most importantly, though, it encourages them to shut the video games temporarily and spend an hour or two playing a fun and exercising sport,”Ackerman said. “I’m a big fan of the treadmill, but you know what, after a while a treadmill will get boring, here they’re playing and having a good time.”
“I just started playing this year,” Bracha Wieder, 12, said. “There are nine of us playing; I think I’m between second and third best.” Before dishing out a rapid forehand spin, she added that ping-pong was “the only sports club available at school.” Her mother said that for Bracha, ping-pong makes her more excited about HANC. “All week, she looks forward to Ping-Pong. It’d be great if she was just as excited for school altogether,” said Chanchi Wieder.
“Every day, we usually have things in the building for various groups of children. Some are more academic such as Mishmar, and others are an athletic or activity based type of club so we enjoy providing that outlet for children,” Rabbi Yasgur said. “At the same time, one of the benefits is that they enjoy being in the school building even more.”
Despite aestheticism carrying minimal importance, color happens to be an active role player in Ping-Pong games. The children are all instructed to don blue shirts every week, before hitting orange balls with red and black paddles on green tables. “If you’re playing with an orange ball, you can’t wear a yellow or orange shirt because of the effect it has. You could easily get distracted.” Ackerman explained. “That’s why everything is in different colors. This way, you can pick up the ball much quicker.”Before preparing to close up shop, Ackerman suggested that any school with an interest in getting involved should contact him and he will help get them started.
For more information on Jewish Table Tennis, contact Glenn Ackerman at 516-569-1553.