Sporting Goods: The Dedicated Association of Ping Pong Players
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Sporting Goods: The Dedicated Association of Ping Pong Players

The DAPPP ping-pong tournament, now back after a two-year hiatus, is Toronto’s largest.

Sports coverage tends to focus on major league teams, but every day in Toronto people make fun (and sometimes wacky) activities an important part of their lives. Sporting Goods looks at some of these.

In the centre: "commissioner" Jamie Nicholls.

It had all the trimmings of your typical fraternity: a group of Western University guys living in a triple-story mansion for four years. They were all varsity athletes. Six guys lived on the first three floors. There were more living in the single apartment in the basement. Parties were so frequent they took to calling the place “The Pleasure Dome”.

One fall evening back in 2000, they decided to throw a party for one of their friends, Matt Smith. It was called the “BYO Smitty” party. The rule: bring someone who had the name Smith. The house had a big backyard filled with trees. In the middle of it sat a rickety old ping-pong table. Members of the house threw Christmas lights in these trees to make it easier to see when playing in the dark. That night, eight guys set up a casual tournament. They dubbed it “The Matt Smith Invitational”. During the semi-final, someone jumped on the ping-pong table and the legs snapped, causing it to fall flat on the ground. It was used as a dance floor for the rest of the night. There was no winner.

That was the first unofficial Dedicated Association of Ping Pong Players (DAPPP) tournament. The league has grown significantly since then. The 2012 Commissioner’s Cup—held on January 14 at SPiN Toronto, a new ping-pong palace on King West—saw 250 racquet enthusiasts back in action after a two-year hiatus. Every year, proceeds go to a Toronto charity. This year, the recipient will be Parkdale Community Food Bank.

The first men’s match kicked-off at 6 p.m., and SPiN Toronto was filled with guests wearing the most unlikely sporting apparel, including cowboy hats, wigs, headbands, long socks, white pants, and tennis v-neck vests. One participant even wore a karate suit, while others chose to strap on some farmers overalls.

A few days before Saturday’s event, Jamie Nicholls, “the commissioner,” and DAPPP’s mastermind, sent an email to all participants outlining the rules and regulations for the tournament. One of the rules: you had to dress in all-white. “This year we have a disciplinary committee that will be circulating giving yellow and red flags for costume violations as well as those not adhering to the DAPPP spirit”, the email read. (On paper, the tournament seems more regulated than the US Open.)

“We rule with an iron fist,” Nicholls said. “We have over-the-top rules, over-the-top dress requirements, over-the-top organization and it makes it really easy for someone to come and have a great time—whether you are playing or not.”

“All of us grew up playing a lot of racquet sports,” he continued. “We loved the idea of taking something simple, fun, and recreational and making it as serious as possible.” Nicholls wore a white top hat, a tuxedo with tails, short white shorts and red shoes. “People love an outside-the-box event,” he added. “Over the years we’ve raised 25-30k for charity. It’s the opposite of a black-tie charity event.”

Luke McGoey, “chief finance officer,” who is one of the original DAPPP members from 2000, organizes registration. “We knew this was getting big about four years into it,” he said. “We were playing a tournament at a friend’s house in the Annex and girls wanted to play. I remember Jamie and I were talking about it and saying this could work on a bigger scale—so, we just kept making these events slightly bigger.”

Carrying the Commissioner’s Cup in the palm of his hand, Kipp Wotherspoon, “VP of security and celebrations,” walked through the sea of white-clothed participants. “I had to clean this cup out,” he said. “It’s been a while since we’ve used it—I think I saw a band aid in there.” A former varsity rugby player, he was the only one who monitored security before the event attained its current level of organization. Once, he said, a “friend of a friend” got caught spraying graffiti in a bathroom and on the cars outside the venue. “We dealt with it, but that was kind of weird. Who does that at a ping pong tournament?”

Standing over by one of the centre courts, Mike Schram, “chief information officer”, looked on. “It doesn’t look good,” he said. The commissioner, Nicholls, was taking on a long-time friend in a cut-throat round, but was losing. And badly. The crowd erupted into cheers. Nicholls looked mortified. He went down 21-10. “This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened in DAPPP,” Schram said. “He usually plays well, and has never lost to this guy, but this, this is crazy.”

“It’s funny,” Schram continued, “in the old days when we finished the tear-down and dropped off the rental van that we used to pick up and drop off the tables, we’d all be like, ‘ok, don’t speak to me for a goddamn month’. We’re best buddies that are inseparable but you know, we also get into fist fights,” he said. “It’s a tight group. We’ve been together a long, long time. Whether we’re playing at a venue or playing ping-pong at someone’s cottage, we all know this is something we’ll be doing till we’re 80.”

Photos by Thaddeus Maharaj.