Follow the bouncing little white ball and you may just find Dean Johnson. The Virginia Beach resident has made most of his life about the game of table tennis or ping pong. “Whether its table tennis or ping pong is a good question. Very simply, ping pong is a game and table tennis is a sport and no matter what you call it, everybody knows what you are talking about,” says Johnson.
Johnson first discovered the game back in 1957 when he found a book at a New York Barnes & Noble book store. “After reading that book I had to see what world-class table tennis is all about. So I found some of the best players in the world at a basement club on 96th and Broadway. I waited for hours before they would show up and once they did I witnessed four of the world’s greatest battling and driving each other into the ground. It was amazing! When they finished the sun was coming up in the morning. I said to myself, I’ve got to learn more about this game,” said Johnson.
Johnson quickly picked up the game and got better each time he picked up the paddle. “The thing I like about table tennis is there is no limit to how good you can get. There is nothing holding you back but your own energy, the time you are willing to spend to technique,” added Johnson.
Johnson met his wife Helga at a tournament in 1962. They’ve been married for more than 50 years.
In that time, he has published 6 books on the history of table tennis. “The game between 1931 and 1966 was the golden age of table tennis in the country,” said Johnson.
At age 83, Johnson is keenly aware of the benefits of playing table tennis, “The benefits are many. Quickness, hand-eye coordination, brain fitness, physical fitness and the social aspect. You know I met my wife playing the game. Benefits for juniors and seniors. Benefits for Alzheimer’s patients, Parkinson’s patients… too many benefits to mention.”
For his efforts and contributions to the game, Johnson was recently inducted into the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. “Being inducted into the Hall of Fame means to me credibility. I’m introduced as a Hall of Famer. That’s big! It gives me a platform in some ways to speak on the benefits of the game of table tennis,” added Johnson.
Johnson is still very much involved in table tennis at the international level. He most recently helped lobby to host a 40-and-over tournament in the United States.
He took part in petitioning the World Veteran Table Tennis Championship committee to hold its event in the United States in 2018 for the first time in 29 years.
Johnson continues to work on his game and he has a wicked quick backhand. He and his doubles partner recently won their third straight doubles national championship in their age group.