Thursday, May 29, 2014

And The Dillon Ping-Pong Champion Is ...

TigerBlog's mid-afternoon adventure started when he needed to get a copy of a key made yesterday.

He walked out of Jadwin to go to the hardware store at the Princeton Shopping Center, figuring that he could walk there and back in about 45 minutes and have that take the place of riding the bike.

As he made his way to Lot 21, he ran into Jim Barlow, the men's soccer coach, who had just finished with lunchtime basketball. Barlow was hurrying back to Dillon, hoping to catch the end of the championship match of the Dillon Gym ping-pong tournament between his assistant coach Steve Totten and field hockey assistant coach Mike Pallister.

Glancing at his watch, Barlow suggested the match might be over by then, and he and TigerBlog hopped in Barlow's car to head to Dillon to see the end.

Oh, and if you want to capture Jim Barlow in a nutshell, then all you had to do was see what happened when the two reached Dillon.

Parking in front of the building can be a bit hit-or-miss, and Barlow found the last possible place to park near the tower. In typical Jim Barlow fashion, he was 1) very concerned if the place he was parking was a legal parking spot and 2) if every other car around him could easily get out if he were to park there.

When TB and Barlow went inside, they found that the match had not yet started, let alone ended.

The ping-pong table was set up on the main floor of Dillon, as opposed to on squash court No. 16, where the rest of the tournament had been played. And what do two people do when they see an unused ping-pong table?

They play, of course.

Barlow beat TigerBlog 21-10 and 21-15, but TB is confident that he could get Barlow in a rematch or two down the road, as it's been awhile since TB played and of course Barlow is in top ping-pong shape.

A few minutes after Barlow held off TB, the two finalists came onto the court. Attendance for the championship match at one point swelled to at least 10 people, including Chris Sailer, the women's lacrosse coach, who insisted that she not only could beat either one of the two who were playing but also basically should have been an Olympic ping-pong player. TB could not for the life of him figure out if she was serious or not.

The final, unlike all of the previous matches, was best-of-five. Pallister, an Australian who goes about 6-7 or so, played more of a power game than Totten, who was methodical and steady and whose game was to try to force Pallister into losing his patience and going for the kill. Sometimes it worked. Other times it didn't.

Pallister got off to a quick start in the first game before Totten made it close, getting to 18-17 or so before Pallister won 21-18.

To TigerBlog, it looked all the world like both players were trying to make it seem like they weren't taking it all that seriously, even though both of them clearly were. Pallister played with a baseball hat on backwards and no shoes after kicking off his flip flops.

Back and forth it went, Pallister with some great putaways, Totten with some great saves. Totten won Game 2, and then Pallister went up two games to one. Game 4 wasn't close, as Totten rolled to a 17-4 lead at one point and cruised.

That set up the decisive winner-take-all Game 5. This time, it was Pallister who built the huge lead and was never really threatened at the end. TB thinks the final was 21-11.

The players switched sides after each game, and for some reason the player to the right looking from the front of Dillon won all five games. TB chalks that up to coincidence.

When it was over, Pallister was given a big trophy and the distinction of being the first winner of the Dillon ping-pong tournament.

Events like that are a small way of bringing the larger community of Princeton Athletics (in this case, the Dillon subset) together.

Tonight offers a bigger way.

Tonight will bring the 17th annual senior athlete awards banquet, now known as the Princeton Varsity Club Class of 1967 banquet. As is the case each year, it's the second time the entire class of Princeton athletes gathers, after the group was together early in its freshmen year at freshman student-athlete orientation.

There are awards to present - the Roper and von Kiensbusch to the top senior male and female athletes, the Lane Award for service, the Class of 1916 Cup for the top student. Others will be honored as well for the long-time service to the University's athletes and to society as a whole.

The night will begin with the informal reception and will end with the senior-athlete video, where every athlete will have an action shot in recognition of his/her time as a Princeton athlete. The video is always TB's favorite part, in that it shows the wild athletic diversity of Princeton University, with 38 different varsity teams and athletes who came here from incredibly different athletic upbringings.

The time between freshman athlete orientation and the senior banquet is substantial, even if it never feels that way. Universally the theme tonight and every other year is how fast that time flies by.

It's a special time for all of them. Reunions begins tonight. Graduation is on the horizon next week.

Tonight is a special night for them, and for all of Princeton Athletics. The athletes are the focus, of course, but their coaches and parents will be there to celebrate with them.

It's like the Dillon ping-pong tournament in many ways. In that way, whoever came up with the idea to have a bunch of co-workers play a single-elimination ping-pong tournament was a genius.

After all, it's what it means to be part of a special community.

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