Members of the Sac-Rec Table Tennis Club say James Therriault is one of the most entertaining players in the country. With his high lobs and chops from 10 feet behind the table, it’s easy to see why. Therriault once did exhibition games. Now, he runs the Sacramento club’s Monday- and Friday-night round-robin events and three or four tournaments a year, such as the 2004 Sacramento Winter Open on February 7 at Sutter Middle School. At that event, USA Table Tennis rules will be enforced, and Nittaku premium three-star balls in play, in categories including hardbat, under-4500 doubles and open singles. For information about the club or future events, call (916) 308-3209.
You just went to a national competition, right? How’d that go?
That was the U.S. Nationals in Las Vegas. It was fun. I didn’t win anything, but I saw some players I haven’t seen in a few years, because I haven’t been able to make that tournament in a while. I got to play the eventual tournament champion in one of the rounds. Almost won one game against him.
Do you play singles or doubles?
Mostly singles. But I play a little bit of doubles; it’s fun, too. Most competitions are just singles.
And how long have you been playing?
I think I entered my first tournament when I was 14 years old, so that was about 25 years ago.
Do you call it table tennis or pingpong?
It doesn’t matter. Probably most people prefer to call it table tennis because it sounds more athletic.
I heard there were some changes recently in the way the game is played. A 40-millimeter ball and an 11-point game, now?
How has that changed the sport?
I think the idea is to have the ball a little bit bigger to make it better for spectators, maybe get some TV coverage. … It will slow down the rallying a little bit. And then the 11-point game, two serves each, is a quicker game. So, I don’t know if it’s working the way the higher-ups in table tennis wanted or not. I actually prefer the little bit smaller ball. For my sense of style … I like high lobs, and the smaller ball kicks more when it hits the table. The bigger ball just sits there, and they can kill it easier, so it’s really kind of hurt my game. Almost everybody else I’ve talked to likes the change.
Do you still do exhibitions?
I more kind of promote the sport. It’s a lifetime sport, and it has such positives, you know, for the cardiovascular. It doesn’t matter how tall you are or strong you are. Anyone can play. So, if I go do a demonstration, I don’t want to really show off. I want to try to show some basics and get people out there to play. I give a little bit of an exhibition, so they can see what they can end up doing. I do more stuff like that. I haven’t done anything at a shopping center or anything like that in a long time.
So, is table tennis pretty big in Sacramento?
Um, we’ve been doing this—I’ve been in charge of running the club since 1986. … We’ve had it in about five different locations. And I think we’re now picking up again. We’ve kind of gone in spurts. But I think we’re picking up again, where on a given night we maybe have 40 people come out, something like that. But you know, I have probably 200 players on my list.
So, is it mostly men?
Um, yes. What will happen is we’ll get a female come in, and she’ll say, “Where’s all the women?” And she won’t see any, and we’ll say, “Well, there was one that was coming. There was another that was coming.” They don’t ever seem to show up at the same time. So, they kind of think they’re the only one, and a lot of the time, they don’t stay with it. But it is open for, you know, anybody. We have a few juniors that show up from time to time. … When we run a tournament, we get more women players and quite a few juniors. There’s a lot of clubs in Northern California that have junior coaching programs.
Is it a good workout?
It depends on your style and how much effort you want to put into it. But at the top level, table-tennis players are some of the best-conditioned athletes in the world. You have to move a meter or two away in just a split second, you know? So, the footwork, when I used to train, there were footwork drills, running, just like any other top sport—soccer or basketball. I guess, from what I understand, this is the second-most-popular sport in the world next to soccer. … Hopefully, with some TV coverage, it will pick up more in this country. There’s a lot of people that play, but they don’t realize that there are tournaments, that it’s a sport, that it’s on a higher level all around the world.
They just play in their garages.
Yeah. Yeah. We’re trying to get more of those people to come out.