Drew Arnold with his certificate

Sun City-GHS tourney serves up a fun research opportunity

Call it the Battle of the Bats, or call it Hands Across the Table—but don’t call it ping-pong. To the dedicated player, it’s table tennis.

On February 25th in Sun City’s Cowan Creek Activity Center, a first-ever tournament matched 11 athletes from Georgetown High School’s varsity tennis team and the dedicated players of the Sun City Table Tennis Club. The GHS players traded their strung rackets for padded bats and picked up tips from the Sun City players, many of whom have years of table tennis experience, during this intergenerational event both groups hope to repeat.

The event was a highlight of a year-long research project on the benefits of table tennis participation in older players. Drew Arnold, a GHS junior who last year conducted research on the use of therapy dogs in the courtroom as part of GHS’s Capstone independent study, decided this year to study the effects of table tennis in older players. Drew was already a fan of table tennis. His family has a table in their garage where he, his younger brother, Dan, and his dad, Doug, blow off steam in games his mom, Jamie, describes as high energy and rowdy.

Drew began his Capstone project by reading what neuropsychologists had learned, through imaging studies, about the effects of table tennis on oxygen flow in the brain. As with many physical activities, a table tennis match improves brain function. Like other sports, table tennis improves hand-eye coordination and demands mental alertness. But as Drew learned, table tennis offers benefits specific to its gameplay as well. Because the field of play is so short (the table is just nine feet long), players must react especially quickly to the ball’s path, deciding how to handle spin, placement, and pacing in the time it takes the ball to bounce. The small field of play in table tennis also means less running and less strain on the joints and back. Yet repeated practice improves core strength and reflexes and burns calories.

Another benefit of table tennis, Drew learned, is its social component. To further explore the sport’s benefit, he reached out to Sun City’s Table Tennis Club, and members agreed not only to participate in the tournament but also to complete surveys about their participation in the club. Some had taken up table tennis recently; others had played for decades. They generously offered comments, filled out surveys, and embraced the chance to help Drew with his research.

Tournament participants played three games to 11 points each, and in the spirit of hospitality, the club provided refreshments and a time for fellowship. Club president Virginia Laird says, “Our club greatly appreciates the opportunity Drew offered us to be part of his project.” For Drew, the experience was more than simply needed research for his project. It also inspired a desire to get a GHS table tennis club going during his senior year, and he’s thinking ahead to college, where he may major in political science. “I’d like explore the idea of ‘ping pong diplomacy’ as a way of easing tension and forming alliances with other countries,” he says.

The tennis team and Sun City Table Tennis club hope to repeat the tournament next year—this time, just for the pleasure of it. “The spirit of the game was high,” one club member reported on Drew’s follow-up survey, while one GHS athlete commented that competing with club members “helped me get better at table tennis.” The compliments, in fact, bounced back and forth like the game’s lightweight balls, with Sun City folks describing the GHS players as “professional and humble” and ready for fun and the tennis team members praising the Sun City players’ skills and “inviting” friendliness. And because the final score does matter, Drew reports that the Sun City table tennis players won “convincingly.” Will the tables be turned next year? Whatever happens, GHS tennis coach Suzanne Isbell says, “It’s always fun to see the ‘seasoned’ players against the young players.” For certain, Drew and other GHS athletes will be there for the rematch.

“Drew thinks outside the box when preparing for a year of Capstone . . . . I’m always thrilled to find out what he will think up next!”

—Wes Collman, GHS Capstone coordinator

Year-long Capstone independent studies offer motivated students the opportunity to plan and carry out research, explore subjects in depth, and create works of art to perform or display. Students present their work to faculty, peers, and subject matter experts in May of the school year.

Read about Drew’s first Capstone project at gtownview.com/2016/07/courtroom-canines.

Drew is considering majoring in political science and says he’d like to “explore the idea of ‘ping pong diplomacy’ as a way of easing tension and forming alliances with other countries.”

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