On Thursday, it’s paddles down in the Belle Isle Brewery. Someone will make the final serve in a ping pong tournament that started nearly two months ago as a fundraiser for Easter Seals Oklahoma. As competition has narrowed, event organizers are taking note of how much they’ve accomplished.
The bracket began with 33 two-person teams on Sept. 20. Every Thursday night since, novices and a few serious Oklahoma City Table Tennis Club members have faced elimination.
Bona fide pros were given byes initially so amateurs wouldn’t be shut out, said event creator Randy Colton, who had been batting around the idea of starting such a competition for almost two years. It struck him while doodling.
“I came up with the idea of a ping pong paddle climbing the Empire State Building like King Kong,” Colton said. “Whenever you hear a songwriter say that he or she has written a song and they just knew, I just knew this was a great poster.”
Suddenly, the tournament — the largest of its kind in Oklahoma history, he said — was in play.
“Everybody loves ping pong,” Colton said.
With space provided by Belle Isle Brewery and equipment from Amini’s Galleria, the tournament was able to donate 100 percent of players’ $50 registration fees to charity; when a member of his rock band, The Wise Guys, mentioned Easter Seals Oklahoma, Colton found a cause.
“We’re big fans of Easter Seals,” he said. “It’s a brick-and-mortar facility where you know help is going on under that roof.”
Samantha Pascoe, Easter Seals Oklahoma child development director, said the tourney could raise not only funds, but also the nonprofit’s profile.
“A lot of people don’t know exactly what we do,” Pascoe said. “[The tournament] was a new way to reach a different demographic.”
The organization has operated an adult day health center and a medical rehab center in Oklahoma for many years. In 2002, it opened a child development center that provides specialized care for children with behavioral and developmental challenges in an integrated setting.
Already, Pascoe has heard from people who learned about Easter Seals through the ping pong tournament.
Colton’s goal was to take fundraising to an informal, competitive setting. Above all else he wanted people to have fun.
“There’s no reason that ‘fun’ can’t raise money,” he said, “And that’s exactly what it’s done.”