Morrisville might get table tennis center

aramos@newsobserver.comJanuary 13, 2014 

USOLYTABLETENNIS-SP-021012-TEL

Gao Jun competes in the U.S. Olympic Trials for table tennis in Cary in 2012.

TRAVIS LONG — NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO Buy Photo

— Efforts are underway to bring a regional Olympic-level table tennis training center to Morrisville.

“What we want to do is spread out and proliferate table tennis to Wake, Durham and Orange counties and nurture it as a sport. We also want to build a high-performance elite training center,” said Mike Babuin,of Cary, a consultant for the center and chairman of USA Table Tennis, the governing body for the sport.

Morrisville was selected for the site because it is easily accessible to residents from all over the Triangle, Babuin said.

Babuin is working with Triangle Table Tennis LLC, which is managed by Ann Campbell, one of the center’s investors who is leading the effort to open the training facility.

“Today, the growing number of avid table tennis players in the Triangle area have limited opportunities to play table tennis, primarily through local clubs that have limited playing times in shared spaces, such as community centers or church gyms,” Campbell said.

“Those local clubs, and the recent 2012 table tennis Olympic trials in Cary, are fueling a growing demand for a dedicated center in the Triangle for table tennis training and competition.”

Campbell is in negotiations with Duke Realty to lease about 30,000 square feet of space near Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

But first she needs approval from the Morrisville Town Council. The council is reviewing her application to change the town’s Unified Development Ordinance to allow recreation facilities within the airport overlay zone. The council is expected to take a final vote Jan. 28.

If all approvals are in place and Campbell and her board of managers are able to secure a site by the end of January, the training center could open by the end of March at the earliest.

The center would have top coaches and a “regulation” environment with sport flooring, high ceilings, the right lighting intensity and more than 20 playing courts, Campbell said.

The goal is to get the facility recognized as a USA Table Tennis Center of Excellence. There are only seven in the country, according to the USA Table Tennis website. In order to become a center of excellence, sites must have a youth training program of 30 kids or more, an active website and certified coaching staff.

The Triangle Table Tennis center would be open six to seven days a week, give private and group lessons, and host organized leagues and open play times.

It would have proactive tables with robotic ball servers, locker rooms, a pro shop and a break area, Campbell said. The public could buy day passes or memberships.

Campbell, who lives in North Raleigh, said she was inspired to help start the center because of her son, 16-year-old Michael Whitmeyer, a competitive table tennis player. Over the past few years, Campbell said, she has gotten to know organizers of tournaments and local clubs.

Hill Carrow, CEO of the Triangle Sports Commission, helped organize the 2012 U.S. and North American Table Tennis Olympic Trials in Cary. He said both events sold out and attracted several thousand people.

“Everyone has played ping pong,” Carrow said of the popularity of table tennis. “It’s a sport everyone can relate too.”

“It’ll be a really nice addition,” Carrow added of the future training site. “Athletes do move if they believe there are some facilities they can train in.”

The town of Morrisville is also working with a developer to bring an ice rink and gymnastics and volleyball training and competition venue.

“This additional facility would complement what Ann is doing and could help make Morrisville a major regional and national destination for Olympic sports competition and training,” Carrow said.

Ramos: 919-460-2609; Twitter: @AlianaCaryNews

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