It all started with one table in the family garage.
Six years and 18 tables later, the sport of table tennis has expanded at Ben Hill Community Center in Atlanta. Inner-city youths from single-parent families have found a refuge in the game, said center director Ralph Presley.
"I pulled them from the basketball court to table tennis," Presley said. "They've taken it up and learned it quite well."
Twelve members of the center learned it so well they decided to attend the Georgia Games Championships at the Augusta State athletic complex on Saturday afternoon. More than 80 players are entered in table tennis, which runs through today.
Five of Presley's sons - Aldis, Micah, Brandon, Cordeiro and Donavan - are included in the 12-member contingent from Ben Hill. Presley said his family, along with other members of the center, are reaping the rewards.
"It keeps them out of trouble," said Presley, who is taking the children to participate in table tennis in the Junior Olympics next month. "Hopefully, the discipline and sportsmanship they learn from table tennis they can take with them later in life."
Jim Mah, of Acworth, Ga., said he hopes his two children will take their table tennis talents to a higher level. His children practice at least twice a week and have two coaches.
"My artificial goal is to see if they can make the U.S. Olympic team," Mah said.
Mah's children - 16-year-old Arianne and 14-year-old Justin - won medals Saturday. Arianne won gold in the under-18 singles, while Justin won silver in the under-16 singles.
Justin has been playing four years and Arianne for three. Still, Mah believes his daughter is the better of the two.
"They don't play each other often, so it's hard to tell who's better," he said. "But I think she's the better of the two."
The Augusta-based team of Ty Hoff, Xin Peng and Mike Hadsell Jr. proved to be the better team in the Georgia Cup competition. The Augusta team recorded a 3-0 win in the 26th annual team event. Defeating three Atlanta-based clubs, the Augusta squad won the event for the first time since 1999.
"We're just excited to bring the cup back to Augusta, where it deserves to be," Hoff said.
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 114.
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