For decades table tennis on the Big Island of Hawaii survived, but just barely. When I began to play the game, back in the Neolithic Period there were about six players competing on two warped tables in a tiny recreational center on the local college campus. While the television blared, someone played honky-tonk on an out of tune piano. College students clad in their last remaining clean underwear dragged bags of laundry to the machines located just behind the rec room, while new players struggled to master the basics, avoiding pool cues intruding from the felt table three feet away.
Once a year John Ramoa and Clyde Young, two of the most persistent and civic-minded participants in our sport, would create a tournament, and a dozen of us would get together to watch the inevitable final between Clyde and Yen, our two top players. Occasionally a high level player touched down between the U.S. and Asia to offer a workshop, but otherwise the pickings for table tennis in the islands were slim.
When Len Winkler arrived in Hawaii a few years ago, table tennis sported a few ragtag venues in several locations around the island. Suddenly there was a professional table tennis coach on the Big Island of Hawaii! Month after month dedicated players drove from across the island to experience something we’d never had before, a USATT certified regional level coach. Len organized a club in the little town of Hawi, and created tournaments with the efficiency of a pro, offering cash prizes which tempted players from the state and around the country to visit our island.
Currently Len orchestrates two tournaments a year on the Big Island and in 2010 ran the Aloha State Games, the largest tournament in the state, for the first time USATT certified. He has initiated programs in schools and run juniors programs supporting a new generation of players for our budding sport. From a couple of dozen part time participants in our sport three years ago, there are now more than a hundred regular participants in table tennis on the Big Island.
Len’s tireless promotion of our sport and his support for our club and its players, has helped spawn new independent clubs on the island. Providing equipment at reasonable prices, doubling the numbers of tables we have, driving many hours to coach at clubs around the island, Len Winkler has brought his vitality, enthusiasm, personality, and passion for the fastest growing sport in America, to our island outpost in the Pacific.