How I came to play Vincent Liu in ping pong on the Pamela Kimbrell Warlick Visual and Performing Arts Center stage in front of most of the school's student body yesterday (September 2, 2015) requires a little explaining. First, Vincent and Tom Wang are both eleventh grade international students from China, where ping pong is one of the most popular sports, and both are fine players. Vincent's father donated a ping pong table to Gaston Day School so that Vincent and Tom could start a ping pong club, which is exactly what they did. Perhaps not surprisingly, Vincent and Tom have emerged as the two best ping pong players on the GDS campus.
I too am a ping pong player and, at one time, was pretty good. One of the few individual championships I have ever won was in graduate school program in which I entered a ping pong tournament and won it all among a fairly large field of students from a consortium of graduate schools. Through the years, I have continued at times to play lots of ping pong, and then go for long stretches in which I do not pick up a paddle. One of the places I have played annually over the last few years is at the Junior-Senior Retreat in Valle Crucis Episcopal Conference Center, which has two ping pong tables. I have taken great pride in announcing to the students upon arrival that I would challenge whomever was the best ping pong player to a match. Until about three years ago, I remained undefeated in my challenge. I probably should have quit while I was ahead.
Recently, word reached me that Vincent and Tom were the real deal, and they wanted to play me. The ping pong table resides in Wade Glaser's classroom, and I decided to play some with Mr. Glaser as a warm up. The games were very competitive, and Wade told me he could barely score a point on either Vincent or Tom. Uh oh.....
Finally, I got a chance at this year's Junior-Senior Retreat to volley with both of them. Things seemed pretty even. But, ominously, each of the boys explained that they were playing without their personal, custom paddles. I do not own a ping pong paddle.
Dean Lutkus concocted the idea of the challenge match. He is always coming up with great ideas to create school spirit, and he reasoned that seeing either Tom or Vincent beat the Head of School would be exciting. He kept the event secret, and the table was placed behind the curtain on stage. Most of the school was assembled as the curtain rose on me and Vincent with Sparty the School Mascot holding both of our hands aloft in anticipation of crowning a new champion. The theme music from Rocky played in the background.
Are you ready for the anti-climax? Vincent is much better than me and he beat me 15-9. At one point, I pulled to within two with a score of 9-11, but, alas, it was all downhill from there. Yes, Vincent had his personal, custom paddle.
The student body really seemed to enjoy our match.
Now, for maybe the best part of all. After the match and later that morning, I went to the lunchroom. A Pre-K student came up to me and with utter and complete sincerity said the following to me, and I quote: "Dr. Rankin, I'm sorry you lost at ping pong. Keep working hard and practicing. You will get better."
Some parent or teacher should be really, really proud. That Pre-K students has already figured out compassion, encouragement, and resiliency. That's the kind of school this is.
Click the time lapse video to watch all the ping pong action. (video by Sidney Bing)