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Follow the bouncing ball

Table tennis provides judgment-free zone for seniors to stay active


You don’t need to buy an expensive pair of running shoes and hit the pavement or purchase a pricey high-tech bike to stay active and in shape.

A group of mostly Las Cruces area seniors gather at the historic Frank O’Brien Papen Community Center, 304 W. Bell Ave., in Mesilla Park at 2 p.m. each Tuesday and Thursday to play table tennis.

It is an informal group, no official club or membership required.

Instead, they meet to chase that little bouncing ball around while working on back spins and top spins. Most important, there is no cost to play.

While the group has some skilled players, anyone can just show up and play. They have players ranging in age from their mid-20s to their late 80s.

“The only way you will get better is if you play and practice,” said Bess Hobson, the unofficial organizer for the group. “We are very nonjudgmental, noncompetitive. Some people will criticize you if you miss; we aren’t like that.”

Hobson said playing table tennis has a lot of benefits.

“First of all, it’s very sociable,” she said. “We take turns and play with different players and as you can see, we move around a lot.

“We get a lot of exercise; you get a lot of good hand-eye coordination,” she added. “Then, the most important one, is your brain. Trying to remember the correct score is an excellent mental challenge.”

Dennis Black said he saw a story in the Las Cruces Bulletin a few years ago and was inspired to pick up table tennis. He is now a regular with the group and plans to play in both singles and doubles during the upcoming Doña Ana County Senior Games, which will run from March 12 to April 30.

“If you watch people playing here, you can see it’s good exercise,” Black said.

The big benefit of playing table tennis is: You can stay active but it’s not too strenuous, Black said.

For Susan Gutierrez, it is a great way to meet other people her own age and stay active.

“It doesn’t seem like you are working out,” Gutierrez said. “You are having a good time. I think it is a very accepting group. We all get along really well; we laugh and enjoy our time together.”

Ernst Bolleter says he burns more calories playing table tennis than he does riding his bike.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” Bolleter said. “Nobody takes it too serious. Come and join us.”

Trudy Buck said she finds the game to be “pretty entertaining.”

“You watch everyone chase that little orange ball around,” she said. “You definitely get a good workout, and it’s built up my stamina, but anybody can play, any level.”

Anyone interested can just show up at the O’Brien Papen center on Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons. You can also email Hobson at bess.hobson@gmail.com for more information.

table tennis, Frank O’Brien Papen Community Center