TEXAS WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY TABLE TENNIS
Table tennis holds a place in the annals of American diplomatic history. In 1971 an American “ping-pong” team traveled to China to play against the team of the People’s Republic of China. Those matches thawed two decades of icy diplomatic relations between the United States and China, ultimately enhancing the popularity of the sport in the United States.
Table tennis is the second-largest sport in terms of participation—second to only soccer—in the world. But it differs greatly from ping-pong. Playing on a 9-foot by 5-foot table, table tennis balls are 2 millimeters larger than ping-pong balls (40 mm vs. 38 mm). Professional paddles are capable of propelling a ball at 100 mph with spins of 9,000 rpm. Competitors play games to 11 points rather than 21, in a best-of-five or best-of-three series. The games are fast, exciting, and physically demanding.
Texas Wesleyan University started its table tennis program in 2001 as a way to set the school apart from other small-college athletics programs. Since 2002 the program has flourished, winning 33 possible national collegiate titles. The university has also won nine consecutive National Intercollegiate Championships, becoming one of the most dominant programs in college athletics.
Currently led by three-time Olympian (1988 Olympic Bronze Medalist in women’s doubles) and two time European champion Jasna Rather, the team recruits nationally and internationally. The school also recruits athletes with disabilities and provides training opportunities for paralympians—such as Pam Fontaine and Andre Scott—who play in wheelchairs.
Born in Bosnia, Jasna Rather (formerly Reed) trained as a table tennis player in the former sports system of the Eastern Bloc. Competing for Yugoslavia, the twenty-one-year-old Rather won a bronze medal at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics. Almost as soon as she returned home, her country erupted in civil war. Serbian troops raided her grandmother’s home in Foca, Bosnia-Hergovina, stealing Rather’s Olympic medal. Feeling disillusioned, she left for Europe and then the United States. Rather was the first player signed to the Texas Wesleyan University table tennis program.