Table Tennis makes the claim that it is a sport from the “cradle to the grave” and can be played by virtually everyone. It takes it’s place as one of the most popular sports in the World and is proud of this accessibility. In Ireland table tennis is a minority sport but it still provides both recreational and high performance opportunities for those involved. A clear example of this accessibility is Lissagriffin National School located in the far South West of Ireland 5 miles from the end of the Mizen Peninsular. The school sits on its own, surrounded by the fields of this rural farming community and overlooking Barleycove one of Ireland?s finest Blue Flag beaches and an area of outstanding natural beauty.
The school recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary and is well supported by the parents and local community. With only 27 pupils and two classrooms the future of the school is under threat of closure from the McCarthy Report as many other schools of its kind are, with a student population of under 50 students. With small class sizes and quality teachers many may argue that the children are privileged with the care and attention they receive but it is difficult for a school of this size to provide the varied physical education programmes and opportunities that larger schools take for granted. However the students at this school have approached table tennis with remarkable enthusiasm and they have a success record many larger schools would be envious of.
Over the last few years the school has regularly entered the West Cork Schools Cup, one of the largest schools events in the country and have won the Primary School Mixed title 3 years in a row. With only three players required per team the school has increased its level of participation from a single team to four at the last event, with virtually half the school taking part! The school also entered the Munster Schools Cup in 2010 and won a silver medal in the final. Currently 20 students attend regular training which is held in the local Goleen & District Community Hall with students as young as 5yrs old taking part.
The standard in the school is surprisingly high and two of the students are ranked in the Top 10 in Ireland at U12 and another in the Top 10 U12s in Munster. This year the school celebrated the success of one of its players who was crowned Irish National Under 10 Champion. With all this success it would be easy to focus on the performance aspects of the sport but it is the level of participation that the school and local coach are proudest of.
This year the school intends to make the 600 mile round trip to Banbridge, Co. Down to represent Munster at the All Ireland Primary School Championships, the journey itself will be a remarkable achievement! There are few expectations of titles or medals but the journey both in geographical and in the terms of life experience for the students will provide an experience that will be simply inestimable. For the students who do not travel knowing that the possibility of such experience is possible, even if living in the remotest corner of this country, could provide them with both motivation and inspiration for the future.
Table Tennis caters for all ages and abilities and this is just one example of how a sport of this nature can change peoples’ lives.