Players were gathered all around but everything was quiet while finals matches were played, except for the smacks of the ping pong ball and rackets.
“All the other athletes who are watching were respectfully being quiet but then when the matches would be over there would be an eruption of cheering for whoever won,” said Jonah Amitnaaq Secondary School teacher Isaiah Lansdowne, who coaches table tennis and helped organize a weekend tournament for students in Baker Lake just before Christmas.
“The tension was quite intense during the matches.”
Seventeen players competed in four categories between juvenile and junior age groups. Each category came with three cash prizes for the top players, and everyone who attended for both days of the tournament received a gift certificate. A round robin on Saturday led to finals on Sunday, where top players were put in the spotlight.
“Rather than having players play at multiple tables at the same time, we had one centre table where we had each of the finals and everybody was around the outside watching, which was pretty neat, especially for the younger ones having the older ones watching them,” said Lansdowne.
Orlando Kalluk won the junior boys category, while Laura Pupik-Highson took top spot for the junior girls. Tegan Tunnuq came out on top for the juvenile boys, with Jayna Kingunkotok winning the juvenile girls division.
“They’re incredible,” said Lansdowne about the players and their skill level. “They’ll be wailing it really hard, having some heavy topspin to bring the ball down to hit the table instead of going out, and then you think the point’s over and the other player gets on defense, gets it back and they’re just moving all over.”
His players practise twice a week at the school, Mondays and Wednesdays. Some have competed in other communities, “and it’s definitely a serious thing,” said Lansdowne.
Hand-eye co-ordination tends to be a natural gift, but players can still work on it, added the teacher. Practices serve more to keep athletes on their toes and learn to make the quick movements necessary to keep rallies going.
The uncertainty around Covid-19 means Lansdowne is unsure if any tournament travel is in the students’ future this year, but either way, he is planning another tournament at the school for March.
“We’re hoping that we’re going to be able to travel more next school year and be able to compete with other communities,” he said. “Regardless, we’ll be back at it and plug away and see where we’re at the next tournament.”
Just from the round robin on Saturday to the finals on Sunday, he saw substantial improvement in some players, especially among the juveniles.
“It was great seeing excellent sportsmanship,” added Lansdowne. “We didn’t have any disagreements or issues. The kids were all being respectful to one another. We just got to enjoy it and they got to enjoy it. It was a great experience.”