PRESCOTT VALLEY - Stroll into the back room of Moose Lodge No. 319 on a typical Wednesday, Thursday or Sunday afternoon, and you'll hear the rapid pitter-patter of ping-pong balls hitting painted wood tables and paddles.
That's where the members of the Tri-City Table Tennis Club congregate each week to practice their games on four regulation-sized tables in a jovial, lighthearted atmosphere.
For the past eight years at the Moose Family Center, adults of all ages and skill levels from Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley, as well as their outlying communities, have met to play table tennis for the fun and/or the competition involved.
The club has about 40 players, many of whom are men. To participate, they pay modest yearly dues after a one-time registration fee. During sessions, players take turns and aren't tied into a specific schedule.
"Somebody who hasn't even touched a paddle is very welcome here," said Steve Grassel, one of the club's most serious competitors, from the Moose Lodge, 6501 E. Sixth St. in Prescott Valley, last week.
Grassel, a gifted 61-year-old table tennis veteran, moved to Prescott from Wisconsin four months ago to live in a warmer climate.
Before he left the Badger State, Grassel won 12 straight Senior Olympics state championships in table tennis. One year, he took home a Senior Olympics national gold medal in the over-50 division in Milwaukee.
Shortly after arriving in Prescott, Grassel said he was concerned that he wouldn't find a strong table-tennis community here for seniors. After all, he joined the circuit 13 years ago. But that all changed once he found out about the Tri-City group.
"I came down and I just enjoyed the people," Grassel said during a break from a playing session last Wednesday. "It's a great social experience."
He soon connected with a couple of the club's more talented players, including Bo Karlsson, 60, also of Prescott.
Grassel and Karlsson now play doubles together and practice once a week at Karlsson's home. On Feb. 24, they captured a gold medal in Men's 60-64 Doubles at the Arizona State Senior Olympics in Phoenix. Grassel also claimed an Arizona gold in the Men's Advanced 60-64 Singles, thereby continuing his run from his days in Wisconsin.
These were two of the highest singular achievements for any of the players in the Tri-City club's short history.
"I've just been working out every day ever since (I won at nationals) to keep playing at a high level," Grassel said.
Karlsson, a native of Sweden who retired two years ago from the U.S. Merchant Marine, is reliving part of his past. In retirement, he currently practices at the lodge three times a week and enjoys meeting players from cities around the state at tournaments.
"In table tennis, there's a lot to learn - the backhand, forehand, footwork," said Karlsson in a slight Swedish accent. "It's a lot of strategy. It'll keep you very fit. It requires very good hand-eye coordination. It's my hobby, and I like it."
Senior players swear by the health benefits of table tennis, saying that it wards off age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's and dementia.
Table tennis also is not a physical grind. Grassel said it's particularly easy on players' joints and requires more upper-body than lower-body strength.
"It works two sides of the brain simultaneously, with the forehand and the backhand," Grassel said. "You probably can play at a high level longer in this sport than any other sport. The reflexes from the waist up last longer than from the waist down. It's a lifelong sport."
The club's eldest members are in their 80s. One of them is Bill Hannig, 87, a sharp man who has lived in Prescott for the past 30 years and has been with the club since its inception.
Decades ago, when he was a teenager living back east, he played quite a bit of table tennis. He did the same while in college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
But once he began working full time, Hannig didn't play much over the next 40 years. The club, which he learned about from an ad published several years ago, offered him the chance to recapture a slice of his youth.
"It takes lots of practice," Hannig said, "but I was always interested in playing."
For more information about the Tri-City Table Tennis Club, including its registration fee and annual dues, call club president Rod Moyer at 928-778-2825 or log on to www.tricityttc.org.