Erin O’Neil has been playing serious ping-pong in Chico for more than a decade, but it wasn’t until a little over a year ago that he helped organize the Chico Table Tennis Club, which meets at Neighborhood Church (2801 Notre Dame Blvd.) from 7 to 10 p.m. every Tuesday night. The club’s six tables, social atmosphere and challenging but friendly competition have attracted players as young as 13 and as old as 77. While some may disregard table tennis as a silly game limited to garages and family rooms, 37-year-old O’Neil feels it is an aerobically demanding game that embodies all the best things about athletic competition and sportsmanship. For O’Neil, ping-pong is far more than a hobby—it’s a passion. For more on the club, visit its Facebook page at http://tinyurl.com/chicotabletennis
How did you get so serious about ping-pong?
I’ve been playing since junior high, when my dad put a board on top of our pool table and turned it into a ping-pong table. As soon as I could beat him and started playing with my friends, I knew I liked it. It wasn’t until after I graduated from high school and found the group Roland [Allen] started, I discovered a whole new level of table tennis.
How did the club form?
Roland Allen [of Feather Falls Casino Brewing Co.] started the club. When I joined the group it was more of a group of friends than an official club. I played there for seven years before he took the job at the brewery and we needed a new place to play. I contacted the Neighborhood Church about renting one of their gyms, and we had to start charging a little bit of money to cover rent. By default, I was made the leader, and I was happy to because I love ping-pong and the club we started.
What do you love about the game?
It works out your body and your mind, it’s social, and it’s a high level of competition. To me, those are the main things you look for in a sport. Some people don’t think ping-pong is a good aerobic sport because they don’t play it right. You start jumping around and diving, you’re going to start sweating in no time. There are also studies that show it is extremely good for your brain.
What is your craziest ping-pong experience?
When I was 17, I got a chance to go to China and I got to play at some of the colleges there. It was awesome being in a room with 30 tables and all of these amazing players. There’s obviously a language barrier in China, but table tennis was a great way to connect with people.