By Burt Constable
Unranked fans will be able to play alongside the best players in the world this weekend 2021 Chicago Edgeball International Table Tennis Open in Libertyville. In Friday night’s meet at Libertyville Sports Complex, a player of the caliber of a two-time Olympian and five-time national champion Lily zhang could participate in a game of “Pingpong Merry-Go-Round”, where teams of several players take turns hitting a ball while circling a table.
“You see a world-class player playing a children’s game with small children,” says Englebert Solis, owner of the tournament sponsor. Edgeball table tennis. “It’s so much fun.”
Ukrainian triple Olympian Lei Kou is the highest-ranked player in this weekend’s tournament, but the tournament draws 350 players from over two dozen countries, including the Dominican Republic’s national champion, several of Nigeria’s top players and the phenomenal teenage brothers Sid and Nandan Naresh de Lisle, who have gained international attention since they were in elementary school.
“It’s very international and very diverse,” said Ed Hogshead, 68, tournament director and 2018 senior table tennis champion in Illinois. “That’s it, from rookies to Olympians.”
The youngest player is 6 and the oldest is in his 80s, says Hogshead, who entered table tennis as a teenager, enlisted in the military and won the table tennis championship of the US armed forces in 1976. “Bob Hope actually handed me the trophy,” says Hogshead, who lives in Rockford.
He trained and tested for years to become an international referee and national referee in the sport.
“You wouldn’t think ping pong is complicated, but it has complexities,” Hogshead says.
Solis says his job is to “grow the table tennis market in the United States”
“We have 20 million people playing table tennis in their basements, dorms and bars, but there are only around 8,000 or 9,000 tournament players,” he says.
Among those players in the tournament are the Naresh brothers and their father, Arcot Naresh, 52, who plays in the players over 40 division. The boys were ranked first and second nationally in 2017 in the under-12 division, earning them a memorable appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”. They’re both even better now.
Based on where players finish in previous competitions, a scoring system assigns points used to rank players. The lowest level in this tournament is for players with a rating below 800, and the highest is for players with a rating below 2,500.
After winning the 2021 U.S. National Table Tennis Championship for his age group in July, Sid Naresh, 17, and his brother, Nandan, 14, of Lisle, compete this weekend in the International Open in Edgeball Chicago 2021 table tennis in Libertyville.
– Courtesy of Chris Jordan
Scoring over 2,600, Sid, a 17-year-old from Naperville North High School, won the 2021 US National Championship for his age in July in Las Vegas. Nandan, 14, a freshman at Naperville North, is rated over 2,500 and last month was part of the U.S. youth squad that won their division at the Pan Am Junior Games in the Dominican Republic and secured a berth in the December world championship in Portugal.
In addition to practicing two to three hours a day after school, the brothers practice six to seven hours a day on weekends. They participate in about ten regional tournaments per year, as well as three national tournaments and two international tournaments. Members of the highly regarded Experienced Table Tennis Club in Addison, the brothers also train about once a month at a leading training facility in Ohio.
“One of the most important things I’ve come to love about the game is that the technical aspects have to be perfect,” said Sid. “It’s great to see the progress I’ve made.”
At just 14 years old, Nandan Naresh de Lisle was a member of the United States table tennis team that won their age group last month at the Pan American Youth Championships in the Dominican Republic. He and his brother, Sid, 17, compete in the 2021 Edgeball Chicago International Table Tennis Open in Libertyville.
– Courtesy of Chris Jordan
A “good rally” excites Nandan, who adds: “I like it to be an individual sport and the only responsibility is mine.
As Sid strives to make the U.S. team for the 2024 Olympics, Nandan says the 2028 Games are a more realistic goal for him. A future team could present both.
“It’s the dream,” said Sid. “Both to be on the same Olympic team.”
Since the pandemic canceled the Libertyville open last year, Solis has decided to let spectators enter for free this year. “They can watch their favorite players in action instead of just on YouTube,” says Solis, who won the Illinois State Championship in 2001. Spectators must wear masks.
The arena has 54 tables in action. The Open Singles champion will win $ 2,000 and a total of $ 8,500 in prizes will be distributed.
“You walk around and hear every language in the world being spoken,” Hogshead says. “It’s a bit like the mecca of ping-pong.”