By Madina Toure
City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) kicked off the middle-school table tennis season with a friendly pingpong match against a member of the defending championship team from MS 216 George Ryan Middle School in Fresh Meadows.
The MS 216 team started practicing for what could become their third title in four years. Lancman, also an ardent table tennis player, presented certificates to all the students for their commitment and dedication.
He played against eighth-grader Joshua Capulong, 13, a first-year player, in a match in the cafeteria of the school at 64-20 175th St. The lawmaker won the match.
Lancman said table tennis is a good way for kids to learn teamwork and coordination.
“I used to be a tennis player when I was a kid, a teenager,” he said. “I played pingpong like a tennis player. I don’t play it like a ping-pong player.”
Joshua said he enjoyed playing against Lancman, although he said he would have liked to win the match.
He was intrigued by the way the councilman was playing and holding the paddle, noting that it was similar to the manner in which tennis players hold their rackets.
“It was very fun and he plays very tennis-like,” he said.
Paul Vigoda, dean of students and the team’s coach, said the program has not only brought pride to the school but has also given students the sense that there are opportunities to play a sport outside of basketball, soccer, baseball or football.
The councilman took an interest in the team after he attended the student government inauguration, he said.
“He liked the idea and the kids got very excited about him coming to play, too,” Vigoda said.
Ben Nisbet, director of the American Youth Table Tennis Association, said the students receive expert instruction and learn to appreciate the game quickly.
“Table tennis is an official varsity high school sport, so school students at Ryan who have a positive experience with table tennis will now have the opportunity to participate at the high school level, college and beyond,” Nisbet said.
Eighth-grader Daniel Yosopov, 14, a third-year player, said the sport was challenging for him when he first joined the team but he has since built up a variety of skills.
“I feel like it’s a really good opportunity,” Yosopov said.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour