Inside the Spencer Seventh-day Adventist Church at 1910 10th Ave. E, one local sports club has kicked off their season, honing their skills in an Olympic sport. The Spencer Table Tennis Club meets in the church each Thursday night from 7:15-8:45 p.m. and will continue to do so until May 23. The group, which is free to join, welcomes anyone with an interest in the sport. It was founded by Dennis Dahl, an avid table tennis player who has competed in the sport for five decades.

“It started because I was looking for people to play, and there aren’t many other than, perhaps, who play in their basement or that kind of thing,” Dahl said. “I probably have been playing since the 1960s, and then I was off for about 30 years. I saw a flyer at a Casey’s station for the Iowa Senior Games, which had a table tennis event, so I registered for that and kind of got back into the game. This year I played in about six tournaments. Altogether, I think I won eight gold medals, four silver medals and a bronze medal. Then my mixed doubles partner and I qualified for the national senior games in Albuquerque, New Mexico, next year.”

Dahl’s love for ping pong came after a set of paddles fell out of a Grape Nuts cereal box, and he began playing with his father. Dahl’s table tennis career would even see him broadcast on ESPN when he was serving as a regional umpire in the late 1970s.

 “I started playing in an unused cattle shed on a sheet of sheet rock with my dad, with a 1 x 4 for a net,” Dahl said. “When I went to junior college in Estherville I started playing a little more, and when I went to the university of Iowa I started playing seriously. I probably played 32 hours a week.”

The athlete said he enjoys sharing his knowledge of the sport with his club mates, some of whom have also played competitively in the sport. The club’s newest addition is a robot which continuously serves ping pong balls to a player and can be adjusted with different speeds and angles. Above all, Dahl said the club is about having fun.

Dahl tests his speed against the Spencer Table Tennis Club’s new robot, which continuously serves to players at varying speeds and angles which can be set with a remote. Dahl, the founder of the club, has played competitive table tennis since the 1960s and encouraged any community members looking to play for fun or to compete in tournaments to join the free club anytime. (Photo: Joseph Hopper)

“Most people who come here play for fun,” Dahl said. “But if they want to improve their game, I’ll try to give them pointers. That’s kind of why my partner and I bought this robot. It’s just like a baseball pitching machine, with lots of adjustments so players can practice their strokes.”

Other members of the club shared why they enjoy practicing together each Thursday, with many sharing the fun atmosphere. Club member Richard Schwarz proudly carries a custom paddle which was fashioned with a ball-shaped hole in it after a game where he had blamed a nonexistent defect for a miss.

“I enjoy meeting friends as well as improving my game at the same time,” Club member Marcia Klingbeil said.

“It’s just an awesome sport,” said Sally Bohmer, a club member from Estherville. “You can play it with your grandchildren or old folks. There’s no sport where I laugh as much.”

This article was written by Joseph Hopper and originally appeared in the Spencer Daily Reporter, a local newspaper in Spencer, Iowa. Republished with permission.