Having a ball


Having a ball

words Heidi HELBIG
>> Travis Schiller, Wade Gripton, Chris Jones, Michael Heinrich, Paul Kremmer, Jacob Law, Charlie Braunack and Matt Jones.

In Langmeil Church Hall on a Wednesday night, the banter is flying across the table almost as quickly as the little white ball.

In a typical display of competitive spirit, the blokes at each end of the table have come to play, both for points and bragging rights.

Leading the charge is Tanunda A grade player, Travis Schiller. 

While he’s known by day as your amiable Barossa Pharmacist, with a table tennis racket in his hands, it’s no more Mister Nice Guy.

“I once took a set off a guy who went to the Olympics – it was not the year he went, obviously,” chuckles Travis.

Travis is representative of a new guard of younger players and professionals joining the ranks of the Barossa and Light Table Tennis Association.

This lesser-known but no less competitive Barossa sport is experiencing a resurgence in popularity, with over 100 registered male and female players competing across three grades, ranging from juniors through to people aged in their 70s.

“For people who are time-poor in terms of committing to weekend sports, they like the idea that you can go for a hit, it’s relatively social and active and you can do it once a week without committing to training – it’s a very social sport in that way.”

- Travis Schiller

Travis says there’s lots to like about a pastime that’s physically challenging but social in nature, and doesn’t demand too much time for busy people.

“Once you’re past that age for footy, hockey or netball but you still want to be active, you can choose something that won’t break you,” laughs Travis.

“For people who are time-poor in terms of committing to weekend sports, they like the idea that you can go for a hit, it’s relatively social and active and you can do it once a week without committing to training – it’s a very social sport in that way.”

But don’t be deceived – there’s more to this sport than meets the eye.

“There’s quite a lot of movement and a really fast pace; if you look at the international players, they can be whipping the ball from four to five metres back from the table and have 30 to 40-hit rallies,” explains Travis.

While the sport demands speed and precision, it’s also a game of strategy and tactical manoeuvres, as illustrated by former Association player-turned-Commonwealth Games representative, Amanda Tscharke of Nuriootpa. 

“First of all you need good eyes and fast reflexes, and the fine motor skills are amazing,” says Travis.

“The little bits of spin, the placement of the ball, reading the spin from the other player… you can go the entire match trying to read their service and still have no idea what their spin is doing!

“It’s very much a cognitive sport and it’s great in that way to keep the brain ticking over.” 

Travis is equally keen to entice younger players to the sport, introducing an accredited junior coaching competition.

“Post-Covid we ended up with 20 per cent growth in player numbers last season, which was great.”

Despite international changes to the ball size and playing rules, at a local level, longstanding traditions still remain.

“There was a strong Lutheran youth league back in the day and that was a standalone competition in its own right,” explains Travis. 

“You can see that now in some of the venues we play, like Langmeil Church hall and Ebenezer Church hall.

“We also have the old town competition and the two competitions eventually merged as the youth league became the ‘40s and ‘50s league.”

The Barossa and Light Association is perhaps best known for its annual German-inspired Meisterschaft competition, literally translated as ‘mastering’ or ‘championship’.

Travis says this year’s competition produced an excellent showing from the State’s top juniors.

“There was a 12 year old lad who was unbelievable…he absolutely flogged me but it was a joy to watch from the other end,” says Travis.

“The way he played the ball, his consistency, precision, spin – I couldn’t help enjoy being beaten.”

Ebenezer veteran player, Charlie Braunack has been involved in Meisterschaft since the tournament’s inception in 1968, and brings a uniquely German feel to proceedings.

“I run the oom-pah music and before our morning sessions I play Ein Prosit – it’s our national anthem,” chuckles Charlie.

After 54 years in the sport, including over 30 years as secretary, Charlie’s enthusiasm hasn’t waned.

“As far as table tennis goes, it’s been an absolute joy and pleasure,” Charlie says.

“People are very friendly and always say g’day. Yes, there’s animosity on the table, but once you get off the table the friendship is there.” 

For Light Pass player, Paul Kremmer, it’s less about the competition and more about the camaraderie. 

“I play tennis on a table tennis table,” he quips. 

“The table’s about eight feet too short for me and the nets aren’t high enough!

“I’ve got three of the grandkids playing now. We were short last year so I sucked them into it, and they have enjoyed it and are going to continue playing,” Paul says.

“The second time we played them we gave them a five point start; let’s just say they used it to their advantage!” 

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