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Thunderdome Ping Pong

When I was in my 20s I worked at a local TV station handling the robotic cameras, teleprompter, sideline duties at professional sporting games, etc. It was a great gig but there was a LOT of down time. Then one day the nice folks in HR purchased a ping pong table and placed it in the center of the carpenter area where they used to make sets.

Things were great for a couple weeks with regular use and impromptu tournaments then the monotony of routine set in and the shine of the table lost its luster. Then my buddy Jason and I made a suggestion, “why don’t we make it interesting” we said to the others. Thunderdome ping pong was born in a very innocent way and quickly evolved into a menacing all out balls to the wall intense sport.

We began by implementing nontraditional use of the paddles with each player wielding one (or more) in each hand and progressed to tennis rackets, baseball bats or whatever we had within reach. The problem was the balls were too light and too slow moving for our taste. One of the field reporters was an avid racquet ball player so we spent some time using those until it reached its logical final step, golf balls.

Courtesy of my friend Amie this is Jason and I in the final match as seen from the safety of the stairs

Golf balls were great in that they can travel a great deal of distance with a high velocity strike. The problem being of course that when they make contact on skin they would often bruise and with anything else they would shatter or ricochet erratically. This was when we decided to reduce the table to a simpler purpose: to divide the world in half. It allowed us more distance from the other player and more reaction time when the ball was stuck. There was an imaginary line extending infinitely in either direction of the little net expanding the field of play as far as the ball could reach and beyond.

Thunderdome ping pong finally earned its name, there were no real rules. You could move the table, strike the ball with whatever you wanted wherever you wanted. So long as the ball was in motion it was in play and if it stopped moving on your side of the table (world) the point went to the other player. Maneuvers like opening doors to the back parking lot and spiking it out were called into action. The table moved from the carpenter shop (but made its way back on occasion) to the center of the loading dock. From here the balls (yes we used multiple too) could end up in either of the main studios, the rafters 30’ up, the producers booth, master control, etc.

A different kind of game but we used to play HORSE from the rooftop too (man I miss that job)

The truly amazing thing was that while everyone knew we were playing this wild invented sport (how could they not hear us) nobody ever told us to stop. (Also that nobody ever went to the hospital.) We were young, wild and full of adventure! Ultimately the station transformed the way many local TV affiliates do and they outsourced and automated a vast majority of their production staff.

Leading up to the final day we had an all-out tournament with no holds barred. It could take well over an hour for a point to be scored at times. In the end yours truly, OrigamiFolder was the champion. To this day when I encounter my former coworkers we speak with reverence and fond remembrance of the insanity that was Thunderdome Ping Pong.

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