Player Profile – Jeff Pepper
Jeff Pepper has been a mainstay at both the South Park and Pittsburgh Oakland clubs. Jeff has made significant contributions to each club, including building state-of-the-art ratings software for the POTTC, a great tool likely to be adopted by clubs across the US. Jeff is known for his energetic approach to any project, his wonderful sportsmanship, and passion for the game. As a player, he is known for his modified ‘Seemiller’ game, combining strong blocks with solid pushes, backhand flips, and counter-attacks. He consistently participates in the SPTTC and POTTC leagues, in addition to playing in USATT tournaments. He’s trained at both Pittsburgh clubs, and at the Zhending Table Tennis Training Base in Shijiazhuang China. Jeff is is currently rated #20 in Pennsylvania among actively competing players over age 60.
What have you enjoyed most about the sport?
I got back into table tennis about 7 years ago, after deciding that I was too old to continue rock climbing. I wanted to focus on a sport that was challenging and fun and that I could play for the rest of my life. (I suppose I could have been a rock climber for the rest of my life, but it would have been over pretty quick!).
How did you become interested in the sport?
I started playing as a little kid growing up on Long Island. I played in the basement and at summer camp, using sandpaper and the old hard rubber paddles. Then I got serious about playing in high school and college, and probably played a couple of hours a day.
Do you still have any of that basement game in you?
Unfortunately, yes! I learned without benefit of any coaching, and adopted the Seemiller “window washer” grip because I simply didn’t know any better. That’s how I spent most of high school and college. I played hard, but without any coaching at all. I’ve been really fortunate to be living now in the Pittsburgh area where so many of the great players, including my coach Chip Coulter, use the same grip.
What are your strengths as a player? Weaknesses?
Well, I have a decent blocking game, using my unusual grip and quick reflexes to punch and flip the ball past my opponents. That’s helped to make me a decent “B” level player, but I know that’s not enough for me become an “A” level player. So now I’m working on mastering the rest of the game, primarily the forehand and backhand loops against topspin and backspin. Those 4 shots are my biggest challenge right now. I need to learn them, and integrate them smoothly into my blocking game.
Who would you like to model as a player?
Chip Coulter and Randy Seemiller are the best players I know who use my style of grip, so I am always watching their games to see what I can learn. But I’ve found that nearly every “A” level player has something unique that I can borrow, especially serves. There must be thousands of different serves in table tennis, and I like to have as many as possible, so I bring out some odd serve late in a game and confuse my opponent!
Best victories or matches?
When I was a student at Clark University in 1971, I played all the time, and had developed a high speed game using the old hard rubber paddles. The 7th rated player in the US came to visit our dorm, where I had home field advantage. We played and I scored 19 points against him. Unfortunately, he got 21 against me.
Favorite players, either locally or nationally?
I love watching videos of Jan Ove Waldner, the Swedish player they call the “Mozart of Table Tennis”. His games are absolutely beautiful. At the top of his game he had a complete mastery of each volley, and could place the ball exactly where he wanted, at just the right speed and spin.
What are your favorite events or tournaments?
That’s easy! My favorite tournament is the annual Pittsburgh Regional Amateur Ping Pong Championship that we hold every fall at South Park. This was originally Chip Coulter’s idea, and the two of us have been organizing the event every year as a way to attract new players to the local clubs.
What is your view of table tennis in western PA?
I think the two clubs (POTTC and SPTTC) are great at serving the needs of the regular players, but there’s so much more that we could be doing. I mean, this is Pittsburgh, the City of Champions! We should be doing our part to attract and train young players so they can become part of the nation’s top players. Right now we do have some terrific players, but only one of them (Anthony Lewis) is younger than 40. And second, we also should be doing a better job of serving the thousands of “basement” players who want to play the sport better.
How can we improve pong locally?
Easy. First make sure we have enough capacity, then get serious about outreach. Right now our two clubs each max out at about 40 players at a time. That needs to at least double. Once we have more capacity, we should systematically reach out to the community through social media, incentives like Groupons, and partnerships with radio and TV stations, corporations and nonprofits. All told, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have 200 players coming every week to the two clubs, and for us to have a training program that produces a half-dozen players who compete at a national level. This region has done it with football, baseball and hockey, why not table tennis?
Any advice for novice players or aspiring tourney players?
Well, I’m still a “B” level player with a weird grip, so I don’t pretend to have much technical advice to offer. But my advice would be: get a good coach, practice every day, and don’t forget to move your feet!
Tell us more about yourself. What is your profession?
I’ve got a computer science and business background, and have been working in the software industry since 1980. Currently I’m founder and Chairman of Touchtown Inc., a company in Oakmont that improves quality of life for older people in over 1200 facilities across North America.
One wife, two kids, and a dog.
What do you enjoy outside of pong?
During warm weather I love kayaking, and every year I try to go for a week of ocean kayaking and camping in Canada. And for the last few years I’ve been learning to speak and read Chinese. At the moment I can carry on a somewhat muddled conversation with my teacher, but the Chinese players at POTTC still think I must be speaking some other language when I talk to them!