Table tennis for a cause.
The second annual Augusta Table Tennis Classic will mix food, fun and some crazy clothing to raise money for Golden Harvest Food Bank.
“It’s a table tennis tournament with a high-end cocktail party,” said Ashlee Duren, the publisher of Augusta Magazine, which, along with The Augusta Chronicle, is holding the event set for Saturday, March 18, at the Legends Club. The tournament begins at 4 p.m., with the party and tournament playoff starting at 6:30 p.m.
Table tennis players will don fun costumes to fight for the title of Augusta Table Tennis Classic winner and a red jacket. It’s not a sanctioned event, so there are no professionals competing. It’s strictly amateur. Although it might be a lighthearted competition, some of the competitors take it seriously.
“This is so new, but it’s probably one of the most fun events Augusta could have,” said Travis McNeal, the executive director for Golden Harvest Food Bank.
Duren said the goal is to have 50 participants this year.
Among those who have said they will play is Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis, McNeal said.
Several businesses also have committed to play. Among them are ADP, Textron, Davis Appliance, ADSI and Oxygen Fitness.
The event seems to be a natural fit for the Augusta community.
“Augusta has a proud table tennis history dating back to the 1970s. Numerous state and national champions have trained here, we’ve hosted national and international tournaments, and Augusta University won multiple collegiate national titles,” said Pete May, the vice president of administrative services for Morris Communications. May is a seven-time Georgia state champion who represented the United States in the World Veteran Table Tennis Championships last year in Spain.
May’s son, Derek May, the president of Morris Publishing Group, was a standout on the Augusta College team in the 1990s, winning the national collegiate singles championships in 1991. He also played on the U.S. National Team for several years, winning a silver medal at the Pan American Games in 1995.
Father and son will serve as competition directors, and before the finals Derek will put on an exhibition with another nationally ranked player.
The idea for the Augusta Table Tennis Classic is rooted in an event started in 2009 in St. Augustine, Fla., where Derek May was publisher of The St. Augustine Record. Steve and Christine Chapman, the owners of Steve Chapman’s All American Air in St. Augustine, wanted to start a unique fundraiser to benefit local charities. Working with Derek and Pete, the Chapmans launched the All American Air Table Tennis Classic. The eighth annual event, held Feb. 11, was attended by more than 400 people and raised $110,000 for local charities.
Duren said she hopes for about 200 to attend Augusta’s event this year.
The inaugural Augusta event raised $10,000 for the food bank. The goal is $25,000 for this year.
“We hope we can follow in the Chapmans’ footsteps and build a similar tradition here in Augusta,” Derek May said.
According to statistics from the Feeding America website, nearly one-quarter of Richmond County residents are food insecure, meaning they have to trade off buying food in order to pay for necessities such as housing and medical bills.
Golden Harvest Food Bank serves 30 counties in Georgia and South Carolina, many of which have equal, and some even higher, food insecurity ratings. The organization distributes more than 14 million pounds of food a year.
“It takes a lot of funds to do this,” McNeal said.
For example, one month’s operating expenses for the Master’s Table Soup Kitchen is $26,000. Other area feeding programs include those targeted at senior citizens and children, often those hardest hit by hunger.
Though food drives are good, McNeal said cash donations can go further.
“We can buy $9 worth of food for every $1 donated,” he said.
Golden Harvest puts 96 percent of money raised into its programs, leaving 4 percent for operating expenses.
Tickets for the Augusta Table Tennis Classic cost $75 and are available online at augustatabletennisclassic.com.