Jared Miklowcic approached the table, brow furrowed and racquet in hand. He used his whole body to pivot, serving the small white ball to his opponent.
It was back as soon as it left, and a flurry of back-and-forth hits ensued.
Miklowcic, 23, of Morrisville was in his element. He’s been playing table tennis since he was a kid, and he finally had a place to play the sport he’s so passionate about.
“I enjoy the competitive aspect of the game, but the social aspect is also really fun,” Miklowcic said.
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Dozens of people attended the grand-opening celebration of the Triangle Table Tennis in Morrisville on Friday. The facility is already expected to be a sort of mecca for table tennis enthusiasts, and organizers say it is likely one of the biggest table tennis training sites in the United States.
The 30,000-square-foot facility features more than 30 tables and numerous practice robots. The ceilings are high, the floors are specialized, and the lighting is intense – a perfect combination for the sport, organizers say.
Table tennis, in which players use a small ball and paddles, has been on the rise in the Triangle since the 1960s, said Mike Babuin, programs director for the new center.
Cary hosted the North American Olympic table tennis trials in 2012, shining a local spotlight on the international sport. A growing population has also led to more interest, Babuin said.
But there weren’t always many local places to play or train. Triangle Table Tennis aims to cater to the casual enthusiast and the hard-core player.
“The real goal of the center is to nurture and make people more aware who are not already table tennis players,” Babuin said.
He is an accomplished table tennis athlete, but his wife, Mandy Babuin, is a self-proclaimed “newbie” to the sport. She plans to sign up for a class at the center.
“This a very male-dominated sport,” she said. “This facility is really promoting table tennis to women for the first time.”
Mike Babuin said the center also wants to develop young, high-performance athletes who will work toward playing for national teams or at the Olympic level.
Sports such as soccer and football are popular in local public schools, but they’re not for everybody.
“Some kids might find a niche in table tennis,” Mike Babuin said. “It involves more logical thinking and training than some other sports.”
The center plans to host summer camps for kids, senior programs, tournaments, leagues, coaching sessions and programs for athletes with disabilities.
Monthly memberships range from $40 for a young child to $80 for a family. Participants can also pay a one-day fee to play without a membership.
Mike Babuin hopes the facility will eventually be recognized as a USA Table Tennis Center of Excellence and by the International Table Tennis Federation.
But in the meantime, table tennis fans are eager to have a new place to play.
The center, which is backed by a private investor, offered a sneak peek to enthusiasts May 21 for an open-play event, according to Triangle Table Tennis President Ann Campbell. Players came from across North Carolina to check out the facility for free.
Erik Bolling, a 23-year-old UNC student, drove more than 30 minutes from Carrboro for the facility’s grand opening Friday. It might seem like a long drive for a few rounds of table tennis, but for a seasoned player like Bolling, it was worth it.
“At other places, you know, there’s only usually four to five tables,” he said. “I was just completely overwhelmed when I walked in here for the first time.”