Zing! Monday women’s ping pong league drawing a crowd

  • Carolyn Porter, shown here at Zing! Table Tennis Center, leads a Monday women’s ping pong night at the Easthampton facility. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

  • Players compete at Zing! Table Tennis in Easthampton during Monday Women's night. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

  • Nancy Nelkin, weekly ping pong player, hitting a ball. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer
Published: 9/4/2022 2:42:27 PM
Modified: 9/4/2022 2:38:39 PM

EASTHAMPTON – Carolyn Porter was quite literally a one-woman team. 

Noel Abbott, owner of Zing! Table Tennis Club, understands ping pong as a “great equalizer.”

He wanted to encourage all people to start playing.

With this philosophy, Abbott formed a Monday women’s ping pong night at his facility. He didn’t get a large following, but he did get Porter – a weekly ping pong player – to develop her skills for almost a full calendar year. When women’s ping pong night was about to halt for good, Porter decided to take over the event.

She made flyers, brought them to LGBTQ+ social events across the Pioneer Valley. It created a following for the Monday night sporting event. Under Porter’s direction, women’s ping pong has taken off in Easthampton, creating a skilled group of new players who love the sport.

“Most people’s only experience was playing as a kid in the basement,” Porter said. 

Porter welcomes new players who she recruits from LGBTQ+ dances and other social events, and works them into shape. She offers individual lessons to new players, teaching them grip, hits, spin, and other skills, working with players on a weekly basis to improve their abilities. 

“Anyone can pick up a paddle and improve quickly,” she explained. 

Porter said most people initially come to Monday nights at Zing! looking for connection and community, with less of an interest in the sport. But she said they often stick around because the game can be rewarding to play at any level. 

“[The group] made me realize that ping pong is an insanely fun and challenging sport, and that it doesn’t get enough street cred,” weekly attendant Kayla Loubriel said. 

Loubriel started attending this summer, after meeting Porter at a LGBTQ+ contra dancing event in Northmapton. 

Most of the regular women’s ping pong attendees are older, but there is a wide range of abilities among the competitors. Some women have trouble bending down to get the ball, others play in wheelchairs. But despite difficulties, all players are able to occupy space at the table.

“I go to dancing spaces where women are holding space for themselves. That can exist in many other spaces, too,” Porter explained. 

Prior to the pandemic, a group of about 20 regulars attended the bi-weekly event. When Porter reopened the group in March 2022, those numbers began to grow, with new players joining every week. 

“The wonderful thing about the second wave of ping pong is a steady group of young, committed women who come,” Porter said. “The opportunity to play with young women has opened a new world to me.” 

Loubriel, a 21 year old Amherst resident, concurred.

“Women’s ping pong is a space where I can connect with women across generations, and where I was able to become part of a new queer community in Western Mass.,” she said. 

Some LGBTQ+ spaces specifically for women have come under fire for being transphobic in recent years. While the Monday group started with only cisgender women, nonbinary and transgender players have joined in the paddle sport as well.

“The name represents a generation shift, but I’m welcome to changing it,” Porter said. “Playing with these people has made me better understand them.”

“I ran this because I love to teach,” she continued.

Porter has a bachelor's degree in physical education, and spent many years teaching sports to people with disabilities before she began working in facilities management. 

There are also well attended, non-gendered, competitive nights at Zing! These nights are difficult for beginners, and are almost completely filled with men. Porter said players can build their skills at Monday nights, and then begin to play with higher level players in the gym. 

“My purpose of starting Zing! is to make a welcoming sanctuary where people are welcomed at a deep level,” Abbott said. 

Zing! is also one of two official sites for the American Youth Association of Table Tennis, and Abbott said he would love it if more women joined the league. There are scholarships available for children to join as well. 

Members are able to play at women’s ping pong for free, and the cost for non-members is $10 for two hours of play. 

“I want to create a space where people feel free to express themselves,” Abbott concluded. 

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com

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