Table tennis tournament raises $15,000 for food bank

Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. wasn’t worried about keeping up with where he was in the preliminary rounds of the Augusta Table Tennis Classic on Saturday; he was there to support a good cause and have fun.

He quickly discovered some of his opponents were intent on winning the red jacket and title.

“It’s pretty competitive. They aren’t supposed to be professionals,” he said.

Hosted by The Augusta Chronicle and Augusta Magazine, the event is patterned after a similar one in St. Augustine, Fla. and is designed to raise money for charity. At the end of the night, the Golden Harvest Food Bank and the hungry in 30 counties in the Augusta area were the real winners as the organization received a $15,000 check.

“It’s a high-end cocktail party with a table tennis tournament,” said Ashlee Duren, Augusta Magazine publisher, about the Table Tennis Classic.

And there’s not anything else like it in Augusta.

About 20 businesses provided sponsorship for the event. Table tennis play began early in the afternoon with 44 competitors playing several rounds. There were 11 groups of four with the winners from each of those groups advancing to the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.

The winner of the men’s division was Henry Scheer and the women’s champion was Gloria Gill.

Some of the competitors got into the spirit with their table tennis attire. Batman made an appearance while a few players wore business suits to compete in. There were some brightly colored shorts, a few Hawaiian leis and other accessories to add some color and fun to the event.

A silent auction, food and dancing rounded out the evening.

Derek May, the president of Morris Publishing Group, helped start the event in St. Augustine.

“It’s in its eighth year,” said May, who played an exhibition match at the Augusta event. He 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 and is in training again to hit the senior circuit when he turns 50. “It took people a couple of years to realize it wasn’t a competitive table tennis tournament but recreational ping pong.”

The St. Augustine event is going strong with 80 participants and more than 400 spectators at the most recent one in February. Both May and William S. Morris IV, Morris Communications chief executive officer, said they hoped the Augusta event will gain similar steam.

“This is an opportunity to bring the community together to support a terrific cause,” said Morris, who also played in the event.

The Golden Harvest Food Bank distributes more than 14 million pounds of food a year through its multiple programs which include a backpack feeding program for schoolchildren, senior citizens food box program, the Masters Table Soup Kitchen and a mobile food pantry.

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