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Table tennis a 'full-body' workout at South Park club

| Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Melvon Martin of Wilkinsburg swings for ping-pong ball while practicing table tennis with the South Hills Table Tennis Club, Thursday March 6, 2014 at the Home Economics Building of South Park.
Melvon Martin of Wilkinsburg swings for ping-pong ball while practicing table tennis with the South Hills Table Tennis Club, Thursday March 6, 2014 at the Home Economics Building of South Park.
Bill Rex of Mt. Lebanon reaches for a ping-pong while practicing table tennis with the South Hills Table Tennis Club, Thursday March 6, 2014 at the Home Economics Building of South Park.
Bill Rex of Mt. Lebanon reaches for a ping-pong while practicing table tennis with the South Hills Table Tennis Club, Thursday March 6, 2014 at the Home Economics Building of South Park.
Tony Milesky of Brentwood jabs a ping-pong ball while practicing table tennis with the South Hills Table Tennis Club, Thursday March 6, 2014 at the Home Economics Building of South Park.
Tony Milesky of Brentwood jabs a ping-pong ball while practicing table tennis with the South Hills Table Tennis Club, Thursday March 6, 2014 at the Home Economics Building of South Park.
Dennis Kaminsky of McKeesport stays focused while practicing table tennis with the South Hills Table Tennis Club, Thursday March 6, 2014 at the Home Economics Building of South Park.
Dennis Kaminsky of McKeesport stays focused while practicing table tennis with the South Hills Table Tennis Club, Thursday March 6, 2014 at the Home Economics Building of South Park.
Mark Bronder of Pleasant Hills swings at a ping-pong ball while practicing table tennis with the South Hills Table Tennis Club, Thursday March 6, 2014 at the Home Economics Building of South Park.
Mark Bronder of Pleasant Hills swings at a ping-pong ball while practicing table tennis with the South Hills Table Tennis Club, Thursday March 6, 2014 at the Home Economics Building of South Park.
Brett Fort of McKeesport (right) plays a round of table tennis with Tony Milesky of Brentwood while practicing with the South Hills Table Tennis Club, Thursday March 6, 2014 at the Home Economics Building of South Park.
Brett Fort of McKeesport (right) plays a round of table tennis with Tony Milesky of Brentwood while practicing with the South Hills Table Tennis Club, Thursday March 6, 2014 at the Home Economics Building of South Park.
Dennis Kaminsky of McKeesport (right) gives some pointers to Mark Hindman of Finleyville while practicing table tennis with the South Hills Table Tennis Club, Thursday March 6, 2014 at the Home Economics Building of South Park.
Dennis Kaminsky of McKeesport (right) gives some pointers to Mark Hindman of Finleyville while practicing table tennis with the South Hills Table Tennis Club, Thursday March 6, 2014 at the Home Economics Building of South Park.

Brett Fort and Tony Milesky smoothly volleyed a table tennis ball last week in the Home Economics Building in South Park.

“Nice shot, man,” Fort, 54, of Mc-Keesport said as Milesky smacked the ball, sending it across the blue table. Tiny beads of sweat stood out on Fort's forehead. Only 10 minutes into practice, Fort had exerted himself.

“People say, ‘How do you get a workout playing pingpong?'” said Dennis Kaminsky, 61, of McKeesport, another player, who demonstrated an amateurish move from the wrist.

“No, it's a full-body movement” that more experienced table-tennis players use, he said. “Here, you can do your own style. Style makes a big difference.”

The South Park Table Tennis Club is more than 50 years old and last year drew 126 people to practices and competitions, said club President Gary Egri, 72, of Collier.

League competition, held Tuesdays, attracts 45 to 50 players. Most are men, but a few women and children attend. Kaminsky and other members give pointers on Thursday nights, when 15 to 25 players show up to improve their skills

“It's one of the best exercise programs,” said Egri, who no longer plays because of injuries. “It's ideal for hand-eye coordination, cardiovascular exercise and reflexes.”

“It's nice because it's not like a bowling league,” where players commit to showing up each week, Kaminsky said. Instead, they show up when they can.

Egri devised a program in which players are rated according to games won, points scored and other factors. Within about four league competitions, players are matched against opponents at about the same skill level.

Melvon Martin, 77, of Wilkinsburg is an original member, having started in the 1960s when the club met in a room above the Allegheny County Police horse stable in South Park.

“I started playing table tennis and softball, but I loved softball more,” Martin said, so he quit the table tennis club years ago to focus on softball. Eight years ago, he blew out his knee.

“My doctor said, ‘If you play softball, I give you five years for the knee. If you quit softball, I give you 10 years.' So what do you think I picked? I looked through my baggage and found my racket. I called and said, ‘Is the club still out there?' ”

Martin finds table tennis less jarring on his knees than softball.

“This is good exercise,” said Ed Wehner, 55, of West Mifflin. “You work up a sweat; there's a lot of movement back and forth.”

“I started nine weeks ago,” said Milesky, 52, of Brentwood. “I quit for 35 years. Now I'm here every Thursday. It's better than running on a treadmill.”

“We're all friends until we start volleying,” Fort said. “Then, we're adversaries.”

One of the younger players, Zach Rose, 25, a Cincinnati transplant living in Bethel Park, said he previously played for eight years. “One guy said he lost two belt sizes in six months,” Rose said.

Age is meaningless in table tennis, players said.

“Older people can beat younger people,” said Bill Rex, 61, a three-year club member from Mt. Lebanon. Of the 15 or so players practicing last week, many were like Dan Sallinger, 57, of Pleasant Hills, who played on his parents' pingpong table as a child.

Sallinger, who joined the club three months ago, said attending practice gave him “a night out and some exercise. It's something to do on Tuesday and Thursday nights.”

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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