It’s been two years since Savannah College of Art and Design advertised for a coaching position for their future table tennis team. As of this date in 2017, no such team exists. Between their Savannah and Atlanta campuses they do have cross country, tennis, golf, bowling, track and field, lacrosse, and soccer teams. Why did the table tennis program never get off the ground?
When I first heard that SCAD was looking for a coach and was offering scholarships, I was only slightly interested. All of this was happening near me at their Atlanta campus, but even though I lived relatively close, I didn’t consider applying. I was hearing rumors that a number of highly qualified coaches had not even been granted interviews. Then it looked like they had hired a young coach who had only recently graduated from college. A few months later the coaching position was being advertised again.
I was getting some encouragement to apply this time. Considering I would not have to relocate, I had recently retired from a career at United Parcel Service, and I was already doing plenty of coaching, it seemed like it was worth a shot. I pulled together a resume, filled out an application, and let SCAD know of my intention to build a first class college table tennis team. While I knew there were more qualified candidates, I had built clubs and teams from the ground up, and decided that that experience might set me apart.
What happened next was truly surreal. I had jumped the hurdle that several other coaches had failed to. I was granted a telephone interview. While I thought the interview went well, there was almost no discussion of table tennis. There was little discussion of building athletic programs, or my qualifications as a coach. There were questions about art, and why I had chosen to work at SCAD. I gave honest answers and emphasized that while I might not be the most artistic person, I knew table tennis, had valuable connections to other prominent coaches, and was familiar with Atlanta.
Several days later I was informed I had not been hired. I’m not sure I would have hired me either, but it seemed like they weren’t hiring me for the wrong reasons. I suspected that if I had gone into detail about my love for modern art, and my proficiency in sculpting, using only peanut butter and marbles, I might have been hired on the spot. Somehow I needed more closure than their polite notification provided. I decided to contact the Athletic Director and voice my concerns, as well as offer to help them find a qualified coach.
Incredibly, the Athletic Director agreed to meet me for coffee and wanted to discuss the coaching search. Our meeting was pleasant and I gave all the helpful advice I could think of. What stands out most about the meeting was the moment when I finally had to say, “I don’t think anyone at SCAD knows anything about table tennis.” He assured me that they did know about table tennis. This struck me as odd because I was essentially telling him he didn’t know what he didn’t know. Of course he said he did know what he didn’t know. I’m pretty sure that’s not possible. Anyway, I didn’t get the feeling anyone there was qualified to hire a table tennis coach.
A few months later I became aware of a highly qualified coach who was interviewed but not hired. So two years later it looks like table tennis will never come to SCAD. This may have been a unique situation, and SCAD is likely not typical of other universities and colleges. There is a lesson to be learned though. To get table tennis in the door at a school, a recreation center, a sporting club, or anywhere else, there will likely need to be some time spent educating. Those in charge of a facility don’t need to know how to return a serve or how to keep score. They do need to know what a table tennis program looks like. They need to know that there are players who would welcome a place to play or a new team or club. They need to know a little about the table tennis community and the benefits of our sport. Somebody will have to tell them, because they don’t know what they don’t know.