SYRACUSE — Many people in the area will remember Middleport’ s John Tannehill, of table tennis fame, who went professional years ago and achieved great stature in the game. He made it all the way to China as a member of the U.S. table tennis team in 1972.
He now lives in Columbus and is still competing in tournaments. In fact, a couple of weeks ago he played at the North Charleston Recreation Center in Charleston, W.Va., and won in the singles division.
Tannehill has accepted an invitation from the Syracuse Community Center to participate in a table tennis exhibition at 1 p.m. March 9. He will be accompanied by his son, Soren. The event is open to the public. There is no admission charge.
After the exhibition, there will be what has been described as a “welcome home reception” for John, son of the late Chet Tannehill, longtime executive editor of the Ohio Valley Publishing Co. papers.
John’s visit will be the official kickoff for the newly organized table tennis group at the Syracuse Community Center. Because of the renewed interest in table tennis — or ping pong, whichever you prefer to call it — the Center last Sunday evening started a program for kids 10 and older and adults.
Four tables were secured and placed in the gymnasium and about a dozen players turned out for the first session. There is room in the gym for two more tables, and the hope is that someone will have one they don’t use any more and donate it to the Community Center.
After years of being somewhat out of favor with the younger set, table tennis seems to be regaining some of its earlier popularity. As an accommodation for the local enthusiasts, the Community Center will be open from 5:30 to 7:30 every Sunday night. Anyone with an interest in playing for the fun of it, or is serious about competing at some time in the future, is welcome to play.
There is a small fee to participate to cover the cost of balls, paddles and center expenses. And, of course, there are some rules about behavior — such as no harassment, teasing or bullying, and no profanity or striking the paddle against the table in anger.
Volunteer Joy Bentley, who is heading up the table tennis program for local enthusiasts, said an adult will be at each of the regular Sunday evening sessions.
Tannehill’s history in table tennis extends to his days as a student at Middleport High School, when his talent became apparent and his interest in the game became intense. From the time he was a sophomore, every weekend his dad would drive him to Columbus and leave him there with a table tennis club member so that he could get the instruction and guidance he needed to enhance his skill.
In 1966, when John was 15, he played in the U.S. Open Team Championships, had a 17-3 record and was named the tournament’s outstanding male player. The following year he was ranked No. 7 among U. S. men. In 1968, he played in the Toronto Canadian National Exhibition, where he met a Japanese player-coach who outlined for him a training program to follow two hours a day when he was home in Middleport — with no weekday club at which to practice.
He excelled at the game, and in 1969 he earned a spot on the U. S. World Team. The titles and awards kept coming for the talented teenager. He was selected as a team member for the 1972 tournaments in China, a trip that later became known for its “Ping Pong Diplomacy” as a relationship between China and the United States developed.
In 2005, John was inducted into the Table Tennis Hall of Fame. Dick Evans, co-manager of the Columbus Ohio Club when John was breaking into professional table tennis, was speaker at the induction ceremony and talked about the ups and downs of his life as a champion table tennis player, as well as the social and moral issues he faced during the turbulent 1960s and ’70s.