by Michelle Ciampa & Jared Glassman
Across from the Westfield Train Station lies one of the most interesting places in the button-down town of Westfield. Above Kennedy’s All-American Barber Club is the welcoming sign of the Westfield Table Tennis Club.
After a flight of stairs, you’ll find yourself amid professional trainers, players decked out in sweatbands, a woman in her late 70s known as the “human backboard” and kids trying to master their skills. It is no joke—once you step foot on the Olympic-caliber vinyl flooring, you immediately feel the atmosphere of elite table tennis.
“We’ve been hiding in plain sight in beautiful downtown Westfield for over 40 years,” said Mr. Dan Guttman, the director of marketing for the club.
The former bowling alley transformed into a table tennis hotspot in the early ‘70s. Despite the changes, the club still ties back to its roots by keeping old bowling benches to provide a comfortable seat for spectators.
Guttman is one of the many reasons the club is still running. Comparing the game to “chess with a ball,” Guttman glowed when talking about table tennis. Given the strategic aspect of the sport, it’s no wonder that “80 percent of the people in our club are certified nerds,” said Guttman.
As home of the New Jersey Table Tennis State Championships, the club offers elite players the chance to play for a national ranking. But not all its players are championship-caliber. Guttman said that the club gets “a lot of basement players here who think they’re hot stuff.” So what does he do? He asks them to show off their skills and play Ms. Ann Alvarez, the human backboard.
After she smokes them, then maybe, just maybe, he will reveal that she’s one of the best players in her age group in the country.
We tried our hand against Guttman, and while we were no match for him, we saw an improvement in our game thanks to his tips.
So don’t be intimidated. Take a trip to the Table Tennis Club on Saturdays at 2 p.m. with your student ID for one free group lesson.