Posted August 5, 2015 by Willy Leparulo 

Transforming the Table Tennis Experience: My Journey

This post is the first of a two-part series Leparulo is writing on his table tennis journey with ACUI. In his second post, Leparulo will talk about more recent events and experiences he’s had through table tennis, as well as the transition of table tennis tournaments to the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association.

Picture it… late 1990s, Florida State University campus, and the “ping” sounds of a table tennis ball being swatted back and forth. I was an FSU student about to start a master’s degree in a completely new field (at that point) called sports management. 

I thought to myself, how can I get involved and make my favorite sport of all time—table tennis—bigger and more respected and treated like every other sport? 

How can I get more people involved with the sport? 

Was I going to have to “settle” and just focus on one of the bigger, more popular sports? 

How can I develop the leadership skills for people to follow me in this great sport? 

Well, my day would come in 1998 when I was in my first semester of graduate school. Trying to find my direction, I randomly found out about an intercollegiate table tennis tournament hosted by ACUI Region 6 at the University of Georgia. I saw a poster at the FSU Union with the letters “ACUI.” 

We had Internet back in the day, albeit very slow and not as informative, but I found out more about ACUI, and the excitement began to build that maybe, just maybe, there was a way to reach my goal of promoting and managing college table tennis. 

To pursue my goal, I went to our school’s union director, Dr. Nancy Turner. Now, understand that I had never gotten up the nerve to approach any administrator about anything, much less a director of a university union. I was a nervous, sweaty, stuttering mess, and I was completely out of my comfort zone, but it was exactly what the doctor ordered! 

The task was to get Dr. Turner to agree to sponsor the FSU Table Tennis team to the 1998 ACUI Region 6 tournament in Athens, Ga., at the University of Georgia. She was so kind, and I will never forget her words of encouragement. Dr. Turner was very welcoming to the idea and sponsored the whole team, and we represented our school, our sport, and ourselves. 

Playing in my first ACUI tournament in 1998 was such a rush that I had to replicate it as much as possible. I and the club I had just created (FSU Table Tennis) continued to be a part of ACUI Region 6 for the next 15 years. As to me personally, I continued to play in ACUI events as a student growing more confident year by year until my graduation in 2002. 

Willy TT 1

In 2003, I contacted the then–recreation and leisure coordinators, Jack Voorhees (who is now the director of business services) and Dave Timmann to request that they revamp the ACUI Table Tennis program to improve a number of areas that I believed were missing the point. I look back on this moment and know I never would have been able to call them out to insist upon improvement had I not been given the chance to break out of my shell. 

I was coming into my own, and maybe they sensed something as well, as they said “Willy, why don’t you instead make these changes as our new ACUI table tennis director?” I was shocked and overjoyed—my first leadership position in the sport!

Around the same time period (late 1990s), an organization called the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association (NCTTA) formed, and together with the NCTTA, we started to build a platform for a successful college table tennis league. In 2004, just months after ACUI had made me their table tennis tournament director, I was elected to be the president of the NCTTA’s Board of Directors! 

Willy TT 2From 2004 to 2015, I served as ACUI’s table tennis championship director and also as Region 6’s regional director, influencing many people’s lives and encouraging them to form, organize, and play college table tennis. 

I was in charge of the championships for ACUI, and with my relationship with NCTTA, we arranged for the two championships tournaments to be in the same facility on the weekend. We shared sponsors, players, and passions throughout countless tournaments from coach to coast from 2004 to 2011. Below is a picture from the first tournament I conducted, which was in Fremont, Calif., near San Francisco; it was a tournament I planned from scratch with no detail left out from transportation to competition play, meals, and a banquet. 

Willy TT 3
ACUI would handle singles and doubles while NCTTA would run the team portion, and all athletes could experience a mini Olympics of College Table Tennis. My dream has always been to reach as many people and schools as possible to encourage their participation in college table tennis, be it through ACUI or NCTTA competition. 

I always thought I would have to “settle” and never be able to follow my dream of promoting college table tennis. It is amazing how life works out. I have ACUI to thank for this incredible chapter in my life.
Willy Leparulo

Willy Leparulo is the Academic Advisor at Florida State University.

Willy serves as an academic advisor for the FAMU/FSU College of Engineering within Advising First in Undergraduate Studies. He oversees and manages a roster of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors in the basic division of the college, helping them with the ebb and flow of the collegiate environment, including academics. He has a master’s degree in sports management and is the president of the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association. In 2014, he was named Sports Planner of the Year by CONNECT Sports. He continues to promote college table tennis, spurred on and influenced by his early participation in ACUI’s recreation and leisure activities program.

Comments

Willy - Thank you for your dedication to the ACUI program and the sport!
Michelle Smith
mjsmith1@acui.org
Comment posted 08/05/2015 4:41 PM
So interesting...I did not even realize table tennis was that big of a thing! Is it considered a sport under athletics or does it still fall within the "club" categorization?
Comment posted 08/06/2015 9:13 AM
It is a hybrid, it is both a club sport and under athletics. It is only under athletics in 3 schools in the USA and 8 schools in Puerto Rico. Our goal is for NCAA and we are getting closer, year by year. Thanks for your support!
William Leparulo Jr
Comment posted 08/06/2015 11:20 AM
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