Like the rest of the sporting world, table tennis has felt the wrath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s not all bad news, though.
The North East Alabama Table Tennis Club, which has played at the Anniston Army Depot since 2004, used it as an opportunity to expand into Oxford, where it has played at the Oxford Civic Center since January.
The club plays on Thursdays and Saturdays at 5:30 p.m.
“We were able to convince Oxford to purchase two JOOLA tournament tables and open it up for us to be able to play there,” club member and tournament director Mike Harris said. “So we created an extension of our club, Oxford Table Tennis Club.”
Before the pandemic interrupted the streak in 2020, North East Alabama Table Tennis had hosted a sanctioned state tournament — the Alabama State Championships or the Alabama Teams Tournament — at Anniston Army Depot every year since 2004, the year the club was started. In some years, the club hosted both.
When the pandemic forced the Depot to close down its gymnasium, which houses 14 Butterfly tables, club members were forced to find other places to play.
“It was a difficult time, you know, being away from something that you’ve done since 2004. You’ve gone to the same place and played all those many years,” Harris said. “So we found places, you know, businesses that had one table or two tables and churches that had a table available that we could get two to three, four people where we could socially distance.”
The new branch in Oxford has allowed the group to get back into somewhat of a normal routine. Harris said the club averages around 12 players for its meetings on Thursdays and Saturdays. The group includes players from Oxford, Anniston, Jacksonville, Talladega, Atalla, Gadsden, Sand Rock and even Georgia.
Harris said the group is looking for new members, no matter their age or experience level. There are no fees or dues to join the club.
“We’re looking for the beginner to the advanced player,” he said.
Harris said the club would like to hold an exhibition at the Quintard Mall in the future to draw in youngsters and build their skill level.
“They could be club members for 30, 40 years,” he said.
Harris said the club hopes to eventually have 10 tables at the Oxford Civic Center and be able to host major tournaments like it has at the Anniston Army Depot for years.
“Long-term goals would be to host state tournaments, like we do at the Depot, or open tournaments would be our main objective, which would be having our neighboring states, players from Georgia, Tennessee, Florida.
“As table tennis players we travel through the U.S. playing in tournaments. So we would like Oxford to be, you know, one of the main pools for the state of Alabama for players to come play.”
Harris said once the Anniston Army Depot opens back up, that the club plans to play at both locations.
He explained that anybody who plays at the Depot, a closed military base, has to go through a background check. He hopes the Oxford Table Tennis Club will help bring easier access and more publicity to the sport.
“At Oxford, anybody can jump off the interstate and play there at the Oxford Civic Center,” Harris said before adding, “In comparison to the Depot, it being a closed military base, it’s sort of hidden that we’ve hosted the state tournament since 2004. But with the city, we would like to have it to be more publicized where more people know about the sport of table tennis.”