Table tennis

Dongi (left) and Newton Tran show off their gold medals from mixed doubles play in the 2016 Senior Games regional in Clearwater.

CLEARWATER – Regional competitions have taken place throughout the state, and now the Florida Senior Games wraps up its annual competitions with championships in Clearwater for the first time, starting Saturday, Dec. 1, and running through Sunday, Dec. 9. The events are geared toward those 50 years of age and older.

All totaled, 17 Clearwater and Pinellas County facilities will be used for the nine days of competition, and the events are expected to attract 3,000 athletes to the area. 

Open sports that did not require a qualifying performance are: archery, badminton, bag toss, basketball (3-on-3), billiards, team bowling, lawn bowls, powerlifting, power walk, race walk, racquetball, road race, tai chi, volleyball and dominos.

It’s the first time that dominos will be part of the games.

Those that required a qualifying performance are: basketball shooting, bowling, cycling, golf, horseshoes, pickleball, shuffleboard, swimming, table tennis, tennis, and track and field. 

In most cases, the top four finishers in each event advance to next summer’s national championships in New Mexico. In sports like swimming where times are scored, the top finishers can advance from regional competition if their times aren’t topped in the championship round.

Visit www.flasports.com/daily-schedules/ for the times and locations of events.

One of the most exciting competitions comes in the form of table tennis, and a local couple is eager to show off its skills at the Long Center starting Tuesday, Dec. 4, when its age group begins play. 

“It’s exciting to have Clearwater be the host,” said 75-year-old Newton Tran, who with her husband, Dongi, won the mixed doubles gold medal here at the 2016 regional games. “People like the sport here and it’s perfect for elderly people. It really gets the blood pumping.”

Beyond their gold, the husband-and-wife team won a silver medal in 2017 in the 70-74 age group, a gold in 2016 in the 70-74 age group and a bronze in 2015 in 70-74. Last year, the Trans even competed in the national championships in Alabama. 

Newton Tran said she hopes the events will help bring awareness to the sport, which has a nonprofit club in Clearwater in the form of the Sunrise Table Tennis Club.

“It’s very competitive and brings all kinds of emotions,” Tran said of her sport. “Best of all, it’s a great sport for all ages.”

The Trans defy age with their abilities, and 77-year-old Dongi’s list of accomplishments in regional play is impressive.

He has been playing singles and men’s doubles since 2013 and has won a medal every year in both events. That includes a singles gold medal in the 75-79 age group in 2017, plus a bronze in 2016, 2015 and 2013. In men’s doubles, he captured gold in the 75-79 age group in 2017, 2016, 2014 and 2013, and a silver in 2015. In recent years his partner has been Clearwater resident Al Palumbo.

Dongi Tran is excited to see the best of the best coming to town.

“I can see my effort during practice time is far from regular practice,” he said as he prepares for the stiff competition.

Win or lose, the Trans enjoy the way the sport keeps them active.

“It helps strengthen the body, but also helps increase focus, control and sharpens reflexes,” Dongi Tran said.

As far as the Senior Games are concerned, the variety of players at the tables makes it even more enticing,

“Table Tennis in the Florida Senior Games is a very diverse group of athletes,” said Nick Gandy, communications consultant with the Florida Sports Foundation. “I am always amazed when I see the variety of folks from different countries and ethnicities on the medal stand at the games.”