‘Balls’ to ‘Balls’
Gay Games VIII was held in Cologne, Germany from July 31st until August 7th, 2010 with much fanfare and coverage. The games held during the first week in August were a memorable experience for Rodolfo, Lee, Kevin, Rodel & Hai representing the only gay Ping Pong group in New York and especially for the team’s founder, Wolfgang Busch.
Most of us are familiar with Wolfgang through his 25 years of community services and his award-winning and historic Harlem drag ball documentary ‘How Do I Look’. He’s also known as a driving force and community activist in the LGBT artistic empowerment movement in New York City. His well established Art From The Heart foundation is a nationally recognized LGBT non-profit organization, serving the underserved communities by lecturing and is sending HIV/AIDS hope messages.
Wolfgang made the switch from drag balls to ping pong balls in 2002. His dream at the time was to build a table tennis team and to bring back the gold to New York. Through years of hard work and dedication the team has since gone on to win four gold medals, one silver and three bronze at the 2010 Gay Games VIII in Cologne. The Ping Pong NY team, which Wolfgang built from its conceptual inception and also won two gold and one bronze medal himself, dominated the recreational division and brought home eight medals total. Quite an achievement considering that the Ping Pong NY team beat out more seasoned rivals in this highly competitive category.
In 2002 Wolfgang was dating Paulo Fraitas and together they re-discovered their mutual passion for playing ping pong. Initially they started to play on a regular basis at a ping pong venue located in downtown Brooklyn. They were both on the same playing level and it was always a lively match which also made their dating relations all the more interesting. At the same time both Wolfgang and Paulo would hang out in the Village area with bear groups where they picked up a few more players from the Dugout and Ty’s on Christopher Street.
Personal friends, the Internet, social networks, and the LGBT Community Center provided even more interested parties to join the team effort.
Wolfgang says; “Everyone’s story was the same. Either they had not played for many years or felt completely out of shape and form to start.” He reassured them not to worry about it and that he would go easy on them as their coach. Wolfgang also reminded them of how much fun it is to play, how the exercise and team spirit benefits the mind/body connection – and that keeping quick reflexes active benefits the aging process in a positive way.
“In 2002 ping pong was not very popular in New York City. Few places were clean, roomy, and reasonable in price;” Wolfgang recounts. “For two years we played uptown, downtown and in-between looking for a home base. As the group grew in popularity it was becoming more difficult to find a place to accommodate everyone.”
In 2004 Wolfgang moved from Brooklyn to Astoria, Queens and discovered a local indoor sports venue called Paradise located in Sunnyside. Paradise is a large pool hall with several professional ping pong tables, good lighting, air conditioning, and at $3.50 an hour for play time is the best deal around. For further inspiration, Paradise had semi-pro and pro ping pong players practicing on a regular basis – it was truly the most perfect place.
Watching the pros and getting friendly with them helped to bring in Ernesto Ebuen, a Filipino table tennis champion and a coach for the US Youth Olympic team, who gave us the team group lessons, along with sweat and tears. Ernesto, who is straight, knew he was working with a gay team which made the dynamics even more interesting and fun for all.
Fast forward to the present and Wolfgang’s motto still is ‘No pain = No gain!’ His mantra is one of dedication and commitment to play every week without fail. An excellent mantra as it has paid off with newly acquired skills through the rigorous practices.
Five to seven players come together on a weekly basis and sometimes out of town player also join in. The team is gaining in notoriety through the Internet and is creating buzz in places outside of the New York metropolitan area. Once in a while a lesbian joins in the mix, but after gaining some pointers will eventually leave for the women’s ping pong club in Manhattan. This is perfectly fine with Wolfgang and his welcoming mates as they look at it from the point of a growing community with a natural progression.
In 2008 the team came up with the Ping Pong NY name and branding. Originally a friend of Wolfgang’s had recommended the cleverly queer name of Pink Pong NY, but the team thought it was too gay. That said, at the recent Gay Games, the team was straddled with the name Pirates of Men’s Pants. Go figure!
Since 1989 and Gay Games III in Vancouver, Canada, Wolfgang has been actively involved with Team NY and the Gay Games Federation. His club promotion expertise brought him to produce a highly successful Team NY fundraiser at the legendary Palladium dance club. The funds raised helped to pay for the Team NY uniforms worn during the athlete’s walk-in at the opening ceremony.
Wolfgang at the time of Gay Games III was the Vice President for Tuesday Night Bowling, the largest and oldest LGBT sports league in the country. After winning first place trophies, along with prize money, Wolfgang participated in bowling at the Gay Games III held in Vancouver, Canada, almost winning a Bronze medal in doubles. While at the games, Wolfgang was also an official Gay Games reporter for Lou Maletta’s Gay Cable Network public access broadcasts. Subsequently, Wolfgang was instrumental in producing and directing the video for the bit presentation to bring the Gay Games IV to New York.
The Gay Games in Cologne was not only a memorable experience for everyone on the Ping Pong NY team, but for all of the nearly 10,000 athletes who participated from around the world. It is something all participants remember for the rest of their lives. The cultural diversity found at the largest LGBT sports event of its kind with people from seventy countries is truly amazing. For the Ping Pong NY team to exchange their team pins with others was very inclusive and connecting in a safe and supportive Gay Games tradition.
Going forward Wolfgang wants to use the recent Gay Games momentum to further develop LGBT ping pong in the US. His efforts are also leading him to spearhead talks with directors from the table tennis club Spin, which has current locations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Part of this initiative is for Wolfgang to become a member of the Gay Games Federation and to promote ping pong in Cleveland, Ohio for Gay Games IX in 2014.
Wolfgang Busch with openly gay German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor of Germany Guido Westerwelle.
To contact Wolfgang Busch, please email: WolfgangBusch@earthlink.net
Photo credits: Rodolfo Simons, Lee Hao, Kevin Wallace, Hai He, Wolfgang Busch
Graphic designs: Julio Granados and Hao Lee