Ping Pong in the Parks?


By Doug Marrin

Dexter residents Jim and Lori Sprague have come up with a fun idea to encourage them to get outside, get moving in a low-impact way, and socialize in a socially distant way. The couple has taken the concept of outdoor Ping Pong that has been successfully implemented in other cities and presented the idea to the Dexter City Council at its April 12 meeting.

“The concept here is forward-thinking for Dexter’s future,” Jim told the Council. “It’s centered on Dexter parks. We’ve been delighted with the growth of Dexter parks since we moved here in 1988. We like how diverse they are and how the parks are increasing in the different activities that can be done there.”

Sprague reminded the Council that Dexter had public Ping Pong in the past in the form of Elmo’s Ping Pong Palace in the Country Market Plaza. “This was a unique place,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. We had a tremendous amount of intergenerational play by people of all skill levels. It was a very welcoming environment.”

In his presentation, Sprague pointed to other cities that offer public table tennis in their parks—London, Manhattan, Toronto, Chicago, and Grand Rapids. These cities and others like them have found that placing a ping pong table in a public park is a social act, creating a venue for interaction. A Ping Pong table can spark conversation and friendships among people who might otherwise live in different social circles.

Materials for some outdoor tables include steel, laminate, melamine, and resin weighing anywhere from 170 to 357 pounds. Prices for these tables range from $2,000 to $4,600. The “Stone Age Uptown Table” is made of concrete with a weight of one or two tons. The cost for the table is around $5K, but it comes with a 50-year life expectancy.

The table is only half of the cost. The table tennis setups need a pad upon which to sit. Sprague estimates these costs range anywhere from $1,600 to $4,800. The total cost for table and placement could be between $2,400 and $19,600 if the City wanted a two-table setup.

The City doesn’t necessarily have to foot the whole bill. In Toronto, Rotary International teamed up with the City to install more than 100 Ping Pong tables at the cost of about $4,000 each. More recently, Kalamazoo received a grant from the DNR for $75,000 to convert an aging public recreation space into an outdoor table tennis park.

As far as equipment goes, options are available. Players could bring their own. Paddles and balls could be provided on-site or obtained elsewhere. Outdoor ping pong balls are 30% heavier to help withstand the air currents.

“I personally think it’s a neat idea,” commented Mayor Keough. “I’m thinking about the locations. Jim, you’ve piqued my interest. I like the idea.”

Jim’s wife, Lori, also commented on the broad appeal that table tennis could have. “We’re not gym teachers or fitness nuts,” she said. “We’re engineers, which makes me think that this is something that can be accessible to a lot of different kinds of people.”

During its discussion after the presentation, the Council voiced support for the idea requesting the Spragues work with the City’s Parks and Recreation Committee on choosing a location and then making its recommendation to the Council.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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