MILPITAS, Calif. – The India Community Center Table Tennis Center has come a long way since launching a two-table recreational facility within its main headquarters on Los Coches Street in this South Bay city.
As described to India-West by ICC chief executive officer Raj Desai, the center evolved from the few tables at ICC headquarters launched 15 years ago to a 28-table dedicated facility where the players are learning from elite coaches.
“Ever since we launched 15 years ago, we felt that engaging kids in a single determined, disciplined sport (would help with bringing together the community),” the Indian American CEO told India-West.
That talent, which includes several hundred kids and more than 40 within the Talented Kids Program of elite players, was on full display May 20 during the 10th annual Table Tennis Center fundraiser event at the 20,000-square-foot dedicated Table Tennis Center on North Milpitas Boulevard here.
The facility, Desai said, is the largest in the U.S. and has the most highest-ranking table tennis coaches from across the globe, who train the kids seven days a week.
“Now, almost 70 percent of the U.S. Olympic team is represented by ICC Table Tennis kids,” Desai noted. “We are really very pleased to support a center that is so significant.”
Noted ICC co-founder Anil Godhwani in an interview with India-West, the ICC Table Tennis Center and its TKP players – where all the national and international participants come from – comprise more Olympic players in the past two summer games than the rest of the U.S. combined.
Around 300 people were on hand during the fundraiser to watch as four groups of kids showcased a glimpse of what the talented table tennis players of all ages can do.
The showcase portion of the event ended with several exhibition matches between the stars, concluding with a match featuring special guest professional table tennis star in India Sharath Kamal Achanta.
After his performance, Achanta, who was making his first visit at the ICC center, told India-West he believed that the center can revolutionize the game of table tennis in the U.S.
“I don’t see any other club in the U.S. as professional as they are and they are, you could say, as good as the clubs in Europe,” he said. “They are already doing really good and I can say that in the years to come, probably a medal at the Olympic Games is also possible if they continue it this way.”
The table tennis center is much more than just the sport itself. The center, Godhwani noted, has been opened up to the community and a diverse group of people – young and old – can be seen on a daily basis grabbing a paddle to knock a ping-pong ball around.
“One of the goals of the India Community Center has been to build bridges, not just within the Indo community but with the local mainstream community,” Godhwani explained. “A lot of the people who come here are non-Indians – the Chinese American community; the European American community; and so many others, which is something we really like.
“(The center) is teaching kids a lot of good values and helping them improve their health all comes as a part of table tennis,” Godhwani, an Indian American entrepreneur, added. “It’s been a very fulfilling journey.”
Several dignitaries were among the guests entertained by the talented youth, who followed up by opening their wallets to help the center evolve. ICC had a goal of raising $150,000 at the event. An official amount raised wasn’t known at time of press, though an unofficial count by India-West had tracked the funds to be greater than $140,000.
Among the dignitaries at the event were California Assemblymembers Ash Kalra and Kansen Chu, Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran, Milpitas Vice Mayor Marsha Grilli and other Milpitas Council members, as well as Milpitas Police Chief Armando Corpuz, former Fremont Councilmember Anu Natarajan and USA Table Tennis chief executive Gordon Kaye.
Additionally, Olympic athletes who came from the ICC Table Tennis Center, Timothy Wang and Lily Zhang, were present at the fundraiser event.
Kaye told the audience that the members within USA Table Tennis have noticed the progression of the center.
“I think they’ve done an unbelievable job building a successful winning culture, a culture that emphasizes development, that emphasizes player development but also team development and it’s an important part of our USA Table Tennis community,” he told India-West. “If you look at table tennis in the Bay Area, it’s exploded, and I think ICC deserves a lot of credit for that explosion.”
Kaye added that ICC has been a leader in the table tennis community and has been a good example to the rest of the country on how to develop elite level talent.
The event emcee, Adam Bobrow, a professional table tennis player who doubles as the “voice of table tennis” for the International Table Tennis Federation, said that the ICC center is “producing a bunch of pre-teens who have been beating me at the national level year after year.”
The emcee shifted to a more serious note, saying that ICC has the best program he has seen in the U.S. to create high-level athletes.
“They’ve got coaches that are outstanding. They’ve got a great program. They’re really devoted to training people to be high-level, high performance athletes,” he said to India-West. “ICC has raised the bar (throughout the U.S.). I hope that whenever there is a club that is so dominant, that it inspires other clubs to follow.”
Desai said he hopes the future of U.S. table tennis is well represented by ICC Table Tennis talent.
“One goal definitely we want the 2020 Olympics to be very much an ICC focused program, and just continue to develop these kids into better athletes who go on to do bigger and better things,” the ICC chief executive said, adding that additionally they hope to engage corporate companies into some kind of competition to offer their coaches, “to give them exposure to what we’re all about.”
Bobrow is confident Desai’s goals for success will come to fruition and the future leaders of the sport are within the ICC facility.
“I think ICC will be, if not the frontrunner to produce the top Olympians, they’ll definitely be right up there,” he said. “But right now, it might be leading the pack in (the) 2020 and 2024 (Olympic Games).”