Noah Clark a rising star in ping pong
LAHAINA — With “Ping Pong Diplomacy” and “Forrest Gump” popularizing the sport over the last half century, table tennis has gained worldwide attention and Olympic status on the global stage. It is a national sport in China, and millions take to the tables to compete and exercise in countries in all corners of the world.
In the United States, table tennis has gained attention with the Hardback Classic Tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada, that this year offered a $100,000 cash prize to the champion.
The sport is gaining momentum here in Hawaii as well, with a legion of players in Honolulu led by full-time coach Giang Greenberg and enthusiasts on the Big Island guided by Len Linkler.
On Maui, the sport is still taking baby steps but growing quickly.
In a year-and-a-half, Lahaina youngster Noah Clark has put the Valley Isle on the table tennis map by winning the gold medal at the last two Aloha State Games, as well as junior division titles at Big Island competitions during that span.
The 13-year-old son of Robin and Randy Clark of Lahaina took up the sport in early 2009. Spurred on with furious rallies with his dad in the family garage, Noah — the youngest of the Clark’s five children — has kept the paddle in hand and ramped up his game to become one of Maui’s rising stars.
Noah hones his game with the fledgling Maui Table Tennis Club sponsored by the County of Maui Parks and Recreation Department.
The MTTC and the local Parks and Recreation staffers work in tandem to provide table tennis venues for players such as young Clark.
On Tuesday evenings, the Lahaina Civic Center gymnasium floor is set up with state-of-the-art tables and nets, with paddles and ping pong balls available for all comers to use. A similar set up is available at Kahului Community Center on Saturday afternoons beginning at 4 p.m. for all to enjoy.
An incoming freshman at Lahainaluna High School, Noah practices several days a week, both at MTTC sessions and at home with dad in the garage.
“We go at it pretty good at home,” explained Noah last week, as he prepared for an evening of practice at Lahaina Civic Center with visitor Fletcher Pifer, 16, of Portland, Oregon, who is staying with the Clarks on Maui.
“My dad got me started about a year-and-a-half ago, and I got to really enjoy the game. We play a lot at home, and I like to beat him,” continued the easygoing Noah, who — ironically — resembles a young Forrest Gump.
“There are a lot of good players on Oahu and on the Big Island, so I’m hoping that more kids on Maui will do it.”
Robin added that she hopes table tennis will gain more followers.
“We have a coach in Ken Kimura here on Maui, but he’s way up in Olinda and is always very busy,” she explained.
“We’re hoping to put on some exhibitions at places like the Lahaina Cannery Mall to try to stimulate some interest and awareness to get more kids involved. Noah just loves it, and it is great physical exercise for all ages. It’s been shown on the Oprah (Winfrey) Show with Dr. Oz that ping pong/table tennis is a great way to physical fitness and has been scientifically proven as a deterrent to Alzheimer’s Disease in the elderly,” she concluded.