The Scarborough Kings Table Tennis Club may be victim of its own success.
The locally based organization has spent the last four years trying to promote the game at Henry Hudson Senior Public School by running a program meant to introduce the students to the sport. But they may have to start rethinking their strategy because of increased competition from other clubs.
This has already led to the postponement of the students’ program, which had also included access for the club to hold Tuesday evening practices open to the public at the school.
“This is probably the most difficult period in the club’s history,” Laughlen says.
And that’s saying a lot for what he describes as the oldest operating club in metropolitan Toronto.
Though the club had long boasted a robust membership, reaching close to 200 members at its height, it has recently dropped to close to 50.
“The problem is fewer people doing most of the work,” he says.
But as he explains it, the issue is not one that can easily be solved.
Unlike other clubs in the city, which are usually focused on churning out competitive players, the Scarborough Kings is a non-profit organization whose first objective goes beyond just competing.
“We have, actually, a charter and a reason for being in business and that is to promote table tennis,” Laughlen says.
Ironically, however, it has been this drive to promote the sport, which involves costly equipment rentals and public demonstrations, which has been at the heart of the shrinking membership and the reduced programming.
The club’s vice-president Doman Nandalall says they’ve been losing players, and consequently membership fees, to neighbouring clubs who can offer more competitive coaching.
“It’s very difficult to turn a profit if you’re promoting the sport,” says Laughlen. “If you don’t have sponsors and government funding, you can’t make much money with the sport.”
In some ways, part of the problem seems to be a misconception that Laughlen says is popularly associated with table tennis, which the club had been trying to dispel as part of the Henry Hudson program.
“The conception is it’s ping pong in the basement and it’s not athletic,” he says. “But it is [athletic]. It’s very hard to dispel that when that is all we see [in the media].”
Nandalall says this skewed image has made it even harder for the club to progress with their plans because it has impeded them from receiving the funding they need.
“This whole city is based on hockey, everything goes hockey,” he says. “Because this sport is not as popular in the [general] community, it gets less [support].”
Laughlen says he wont just sit back and watch the club sink, though. He says they are doing their best to try different strategies to try and rebuild the club, the most promising of which is to try and get a more systematic inclusion of the sport in the school curriculum.
“There’s a program that is put on by the government that is tailor-made to show sports how to get into schools and how to connect with school organizations,” he says. “I’ll be going to that to see if we can develop something out of that.”
For the time being, though, Laughlen says students may have to wait until as far back as November to get back on the tables.