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EVERYDAY PEOPLE: For the love of the game

Table tennis enthusiast Dave Johnson demonstrated his skill on his basement tabl

Some people call it ping pong. Others table tennis. So which is it?

Table tennis/ping pong enthusiast Dave Johnson said it doesn’t really matter. 

“It’s like a nickname or like when you shorten someone’s given name,” Johnson said. “Like Jim for James. Ping pong is not as formal.”

Table tennis is the sport. Ping pong is the game novices with inexpensive wood paddles play in their basement. Johnson, who prefers table tennis over ping pong, said some people take the name calling very seriously. “There a lot of intricacies — details — that make it different,” he said.

So the debate goes on. 

Johnson said there are some formalities that make table tennis unique. You can’t sneak attack your opponent like you might in a friendly game. “You have to present the ball,” he said. Plus, players can’t wear clothing that are the same color as the ball, they have to allow their opponent to inspect the rubber on their paddle because of the way it affects the spin of the ball. 

“They key is countering the spin from your opponent,” Johnson said. “It’s all about the spin.”

Johnson, a native of the Twin Cities and resident of Staples, played tennis in high school and started playing table tennis his senior year. “There are a lot of correlation and transfer of skills,” he said. “But you don’t have to play tennis to play table tennis.”

Johnson said as a high schooler his team won the state tournament. 

“It felt like you were in the Olympics,” Johnson remembered. He went on to play in college, along with playing collegiate tennis. Two decades later, he still loves the sport as much as he did when he started.

“I’m really fortunate and blessed to have quick hand-eye coordination,” he said. “And I have a little competitiveness in me still.”

Johnson moved the lakes area four years ago in the midst of a career change. He and his wife, Carrie, eventually settled in the Staples area where Johnson took the position as the director of the Staples Kinship Partners. “I’m a city boy,” Johnson said. “The country has been an adjustment for us.”

Part of the adjustment for Johnson has been the lack of table tennis competition in the area. Johnson is trying to change that. “Almost everyone has played,” Johnson said of the popularity of recreational table tennis. “It’s addicting, and it’s a good social environment because you’re so close.”

Johnson, who also coaches boys and girls tennis and volleyball at Staples-Motley High School, said that while table tennis reaches Olympic level in competition it also spans into recreational play. “It’s as serious as you want it to be,” he said. 

Johnson said the rules of table tennis have changed over the last four years to accommodate more international play. “It’s not easy because they changed the rules for more consistent players,” he said. Changes include going from a 21-point game to an 11-point one, though Johnson said he still plays to 21. The changes also include an adjustment to the size of the ball. “That’s a huge change after 100 years of the same sized ball,” he said.

Johnson hopes to see the sport grow in the lakes area and said he was excited to learn that Brainerd High School started a table tennis club last year. “There is obviously some interest,” he said. 

Johnson said he doesn’t have the opportunity to play as much as he used to, but is shamelessly looking for some competition in the area. 

“I just want to create a conversation about it in the community,” he said. 

Johnson said he just set up is own basement table weeks ago. Now he’s just waiting for someone to return his serve. 

SARAH NELSON may be reached at or 855-5879.