When Brenan Anthony plays table tennis he feels weightless — like he is suspended in air.
Anthony grasps the paddle tight in his hand as he awaits the anticipated moment, when the light ball swiftly flies over the net and bounces to his side of the small, wooden table.
To win the match, Anthony must apply tactics and strategic thinking to the game — always prepared for the opponents next move.
“I get elevated to this higher level of thinking,” Anthony said. “All of my emotions just get washed away.”
Table tennis, while popular in the U.S., is not as common when compared to countries like China, where it is considered a national sport.
Anthony, alongside academic advisor Patrick Hrdlicka and table tennis instructor Yongye (Caden) Xue, works to bring a similar enthusiasm for the sport in other countries to the University of Idaho.
The Vandal Table Tennis Club, comprised of nearly 40 students, faculty, staff and UI retirees brings together table tennis enthusiasts with a simple goal in mind —discover joy in the simple pleasures of table tennis.
“What I think is great about table tennis is that everybody can play,” Hrdlicka said. “Everyone can play and have tremendous amounts of fun, irrespective of skill level, physical level, race, height, age, disability level — everyone can play table tennis and have fun. People of all builds of life can join, and play, and do.”
In addition to being inclusive, Hrdlicka said table tennis is unique because it is multifaceted, meaning players take into account different features of the game, such as technical execution of paddle strokes, athleticism and ball spin.
“There’s a lot of inherent beauty in the game because you can utilize spin to manipulate your opponent — to drive your opponent insane,” Hrdlicka said. “There are many small, nerdy facets to it that really make it a cool sport.”
However, even with these attributes, table tennis remains less popular than most other mainstream sports in America.
“U.S. is stone age when it comes to table tennis,” Hrdlicka said. “Most other places in the world it’s much more popular — of course, China being the key example. Table tennis to Chinese is what football and baseball are to Americans.”
Xue, a member of the club and table tennis instructor at UI, is the current table tennis champion in the Guangdong Province of China and 2nd place competitor in China’s national college tournament.
In China, the prevalence of table tennis is extensive. Xue said locals can find concrete tennis tables anywhere — whether it be a sports stadium, university, office building or park — and everyone plays on them.
“No matter if they are kids or elderly men, all of them play table tennis,” Xue said. “And, no matter what level they are, they enjoy it.”
Not only is table tennis popular in Chinese culture, but other cultures around the world as well — places like Denmark where Hrdlicka grew up.
Now, the table tennis club is working to expand and reach out to different organizations around Moscow like local high schools and elementary schools in collaboration with the UI Confucius Institute — a partnership between UI and the South China University of Technology in Guagzhou, where Xue is from.
The overall purpose of this outreach, Hrdlicka said, is to introduce table tennis to other entities and bring awareness to Chinese culture.
“Right now, we’re trying to be a part of the Confucius Institute’s curriculum,” Anthony, UI senior and the club’s current president, said. “That means that we get priority registration for room registrations or if we want to have any events — we also would get funding through the department.”
In the future, Xue said he looks to build a table tennis team for the university by bringing more students from outside UI to the club.
“It can be a highlight or high point for the University of Idaho,” Xue said. “Because less universities have table tennis teams.”
Hrdlicka said the athletic aspect is not the only important part of table tennis, as the social and cultural influences also bring benefits.
“Being together, spending time together — it’s very important,” Hrdlicka said.
The now ASUI recognized table tennis club began at UI nearly four years ago and Anthony was a key contributor in helping assemble it, with the help of Hrdlicka, who he calls his “ping-pong mentor.”
“He’s taught me everything I know about life and ping pong and just everything in general,” Anthony said. “He’s been this amazing guy to me.”
Typically, the club meets four times a week, with the exception of others, like Hrdlicka, Anthony and Xue who search for any time in their schedules to play more.
In addition to practice, some members in the club also compete.
“There’s a group of us that plays competitively,” Hrdlicka said. “Around five of us are going to tournaments.”
During these tournaments — with determination and drive to win — Anthony feels airborne.
“When you step onto your side of the table, it just feels like you just take off from the ground,” Anthony said. “You lose track of all of your stresses and all of your worries and all of your emotions — all of those go completely out the window and the only thing you’re focused on is this really cool thing that you love doing.”