The Valley Youth Center in Duluth houses one of the most prestigious table tennis programs in the nation.
“We drove a van down to New Orleans with nine kids … to the Superdome to play table tennis,” said Valley Youth program director Angelo Simone. “I had nine kids that won four gold medals, six silver and seven bronze.”
Sam Scott, who is now a program coordinator, was once a gold medal winner at the Junior Olympics. He grew up coming to the Valley Youth Center (VYC), which included many years of training in table tennis.
“I began playing when I was seven years old,” Scott said. “I saw almost every state through table tennis.”
Simone has a rich history in table tennis and through the years has shared that wealth with the students at VYC.
“‘Ang’ taught everyone. He has taught about 50 different players. From basic hold-your-hand stuff all the way up,” Scott said.
AJ Simone, a program coordinator and table tennis coach at VYC, also learned everything he knows from his father, Angelo.
“I started when I was six. I picked up a paddle and immediately caught on. By the time I was eight, I was competing every weekend,” AJ Simone said. “I have played table tennis for pretty much as long as I can remember. My dad would have me stand on a chair and play. That’s my experience, my dad."
“Now I’m a coach,” AJ explained. “I help kids and do the same thing my dad did for me when I was young.”
As the class size at VYC has decreased, so has the number of students training in table tennis. When it competed last spring, VYC only traveled with three players, a big drop from the 11 that used to compete.
In the fall, the program slows down while members are tied up with high school sports. But once the weather cools down, the competitive season heats up at VYC.
Practices take place at Laura MacArthur Elementary School every Wednesday, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. For more information, contact Angelo Simone at firstname.lastname@example.org or (218)348-6539.