Scurrying around quickly as the soft pock-pock-pock of the plastic balls echoed throughout the gym, Jesse Carter, 71, came up the winner in what seems to be the first Salt Lake County Ping-Pong Tournament for senior citizens.
Carter, who retired after 34 years as recreation director at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, won movie tickets and a certificate Thursday at the 10th East Senior Center, 237 S. 1000 East in Salt Lake City.An avid tennis player, musician and community volunteer, Carter manages to play pingpong every week with his equally energetic friends.
"That's why I like these guys," he said, gesturing to the others taking part in the tournament. "They're as active now as they were when they were working. An active lifestyle gives you a better quality of life."
Another player, Glen Bleak, 72, hailed pingpong as a great way to stay in shape. Every year, he takes part in the pingpong competition at the Huntsman Senior Games in St. George, and Thursday just missed winning over Carter.
"I come in second a lot to him," Bleak said, grinning at his friend.
In all seriousness, it is a good workout and can improve reflexes and stamina.
Like the others, Art Scott, 70, the consolation prize winner, began playing pingpong as a boy and taught his four children. "My two girls ended up being better at it than my two boys and they beat all my sons' friends," he said.
Scott, a retired engineer from Hercules (now Alliant Tech-sys-tems), is used to the old sandpaper paddles but managed good games with the more modern rubber paddles.
"You've got to keep active," he said. "Otherwise, you wilt."
Tournament organizer Charles Robbins, supervisor of the 10th East, Fairmont and Northwest senior centers, described Thursday's small group of participants as the "cream of the crop of our people who play who are over age 60."
Pingpong was big when all these men were young and most played it when they were in military service during World War II. It fell out of favor for a while, but Robbins said it is making a comeback with the advent of new portable tables that can be folded and easily stored.