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Article updated: 1/26/2013 9:28 PM

Naperville table tennis tourney draws local, international players

By Marie Wilson

Small orange balls pinged and ponged as players from the western suburbs and as far away as South America competed Saturday in the annual Naperville Table Tennis Tournament.

Spectators kept their eyes on eight tables as players of different ages practiced or competed in this year's tournament, held in the carpeted gymnasium at River Woods Elementary School.

The finals of the master's age division pitted a local versus an international, as John Brandt of Naperville faced Nestor Prato of Venezuela for the championship.

While much of the tournament is friendly competition -- especially the afternoon session for kids ages 6 to 17 -- the final matchup in any age group results in more heated play, said Samantha Walden, a preschool teacher with the Naperville Park District who coordinated the event.

"The final tends to get a little more intense," Walden said. "There's grunting and groaning going on."

In the master's division finals, there was sweating and smashes followed by soreness, too, players said. Brandt, 52, got the win over Prato, 74, but both received plaques from the park district, which hosts the tournament in conjunction with the Naperville Table Tennis Club.

Prato said he traveled across national and continental lines for the tournament because his daughter, who lives in Naperville, told him about it and invited him. He said he has been playing table tennis competitively the past six years and competes in other contests across the United States because he thoroughly enjoys the sport.

About 100 participants competed in Saturday's single-elimination tournament, and while most players were male, a few young girls joined, too, and John Chen with the Naperville Table Tennis Club said anyone was welcome.

Kids as young as six showed power and finesse on their serves and returns, and table tennis club members joked some of the youngest competitors have "the Ping-Pong gene" in their DNA.

Chen said the club has been established since the 1980s and holds weekly game nights at River Woods. The tournament is a way for members and other table tennis enthusiasts to watch competition at all age levels and enjoy a friendly day of sport.

"You can see people, get together and meet new friends," Chen said.

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