IIn his main job, he specializes in difficult matters. Which is difficult enough. As the editor in charge of the crossword puzzle that appears every day in the New York Times, you have a reputation to lose: it’s considered one of the best in the world. As a master of challenging mind games, he has made a name for himself long ago. Among other things, with the invention of the World Puzzle Championship, a world championship held in a different country every year since 1992.
Will Shorts found balance in intense mental work and countless long-ago journeys in a sport few people of his age in America practiced. The 69-year-old plays table tennis. And the card does not calm down. “I am the only one who has played in a table tennis club in all 50 states,” he said a few days ago. “I have played for clubs in forty countries so far.” but that is not all. Since October 4, 2012, he’s been holding a racket in his hand on each of his 3,000+ days and frankly admits: “Yeah, that’s a maniac.”
But the sport probably needs such positively crazy fans in competition to get attention. Especially in a country like the United States with a population of 330 million. Anyway, Shortz makes a huge contribution to that. In Pleasantville, a small town in the northern suburbs of New York, he ran a training center for everyone with 30 tables for just over ten years: the Westchester Table Tennis Center.
“In October 2012 we organized our first tournament. We had 161 players, which is a large number by American standards. The following year we started with monthly tournaments. We have held them every month since then – with a short layover during the pandemic.” The headlines are players from all over the world. the scientist. “The last one was Benedek Olah from Finland, number 78 in the world rankings.” On Wednesday, Austrian Robert Gardus came on his way back from Texas to train with interested amateurs, ranking 27th in the world train rankings. A few days later, the Egyptian Mr. Lachin, a former African professor, demonstrated his skills.
Ongoing performances have ensured that the Shortz Training Center in Northeast America has a bare-bones status. And that sports, which in the past benefited mainly from the enthusiasm of Chinese immigrants who cultivate their cultural identity in major cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, is gradually experiencing a remarkable revival.
Although Table Tennis has been Olympic since 1988 and thus has access to funding under the US NOK umbrella, the US Table Tennis Association has only 8000 members. “A pathetic few,” Shorts says. With the usual effects such as less exposure to the media. In the US it was the elimination of American Kanak Jha in singles against Dusseldorf favorite Timo Paul in the World Cup quarter-finals in Houston, the first ever in North America, and he managed to reach the second round in doubles with his Chinese partner Wang Manyu and does not even deserve a report on publishing any rank. Of course, it doesn’t help Jha make his money at TTF Liebherr Ochsenhausen in the Württemberg Bundesliga.
The successes of the top American players, for example winning the gold medal in the men’s team competition at the Pan American Games 2019, are also not important. Shortz has always been concerned about the issue of missing infrastructure. His answer: “If you tell people you play table tennis, everyone knows what it is because you used to play it as a kid, in school, as part of the recreational activities of church communities. But the majority don’t think it’s a sport. That’s why it has no standing.” Which is why the crowd at the World Cup in Houston was also humble.
Other sports benefit from the Olympic field from being well established in high schools and universities, which attract even the best young athletes through scholarships. In addition to crowd favorites such as football and basketball, disciplines such as wrestling, water polo, golf and gymnastics benefit from this. There is a national team table tennis federation that organizes the student game and holds regional and national tournaments. However, there are no financial incentives. “In other countries like Germany you can live there if you are really good. When you are sponsored and play with a team. You don’t have that option in the US,” Schurz says. “You have to go abroad. Or if you stay here you have to work as a coach. It’s hard.”
Difficult but not solvable. Fifteen years ago, there were only half a dozen clubs in the United States entirely devoted to table tennis. There are now 75 or 80 such as Westchester. So this is a good sign. Higher prizes are offered for tournaments. We have $6000 in prize money every month, and the winner gets $2000. I hope I can increase that.”
However, the facility itself is in a stalemate and only survives because Shortz, as a successful publisher of crossword puzzles, can afford such a venture for enthusiasts. “Of course I do it because I love sports.” The plan will only succeed if powerful sponsors make an economic contribution. How to do this is a puzzle that Shortz has yet to solve.
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