CEDAR CITY — Ralph Stadelman is no ringer. But don’t let the 68-year-old’s mild manner, walrus mustache and receding hairline fool you. With a table tennis paddle in his hand, he’s an assassin.
Stadelman, who hails from Las Vegas, is a shark at the Huntsman World Senior Games, where he and his partner have won gold in table tennis doubles 10 straight years. He took his talents to the Utah Summer Games this year and Saturday he put a capper on his third gold medal in two days by winning the men’s open division. (story continues below)
“I really didn’t think I’d win the open here, but I guess that’s pretty good for a guy who died 16 years ago,” Stadelman said.
He doesn’t mean he had a spiritual or mental re-birth. Stadelman literally died in 1998, at least for a few moments. No heartbeat, no brain activity, no signs of life. He was flat-lined.
“To this day, they don’t know why,” Stadelman said. “I just passed out and my heart stopped beating. They revived me and now I have a pacemaker to keep my heart going. Back then, I was a distance runner, a marathoner. But that came to a halt. I started up with table tennis again because it’s a life sport.”
Stadelman, who rose to as high as No. 35 in the US rankings before shelving the sport more commonly known as ping-pong to raise a family and develop his career as a middle school teacher, threw his passion back into table tennis after his “episode” because the doctors told him he was only allowed light exercise. When one of the other contestants commented that table tennis wasn’t exactly light exercise, Stadelman smiled knowingly and said, “Shhh, we’ll keep that between us.”
Besides his rise from death, or near death anyway, Stadelman also stuck out for another reason at the Utah Summer Games table tennis venue at Cedar Middle School.
“I use a hard bat, a table tennis paddle that has no sponge and has pips that stick out,” Stadelman said. “It’s pretty much the same as what an average player uses in their garage or basement. I use it for three reasons. It’s harder for me to get the spin the other good players get on the ball, but in return it also helps to reduce their spin when I hit it back. It’s also a lot cheaper. And I think part of it is to frustrate my opponents, who look at it and say, ‘I lost to a guy with THAT racket.'”
Stadelman took gold in the open, the over-40 and the over-60 divisions during Friday and Saturday’s two days of table tennis competition. Event director Bruce Majors, who said the number of competitors is down a bit this year, called Stadelman a heck of a competitor in a fierce field of open players.
“There’s five or six guys here that are just better than the rest, a cut above, and he’s one of them,” Majors said. “There’s another group of five or six that are just a notch below them. But that top group is really good. The best players in Utah are in Salt Lake. They get together and train and there are a few tournaments and things. Unfortunately, Utah’s not a big table tennis state. It’s an international game and so the best U.S. players are in big cities where there are more Asians and Europeans.”
There were only two players from southern Utah in the elite group, 71-year-old Dan Brown and a younger competitor from LaVerkin.
“I wish it were bigger in St. George,” Brown said. “A lot of people that used to play have gone over to pickleball. I like pickleball, but table tennis is the best sport in the world.” Brown, a Seattle native who has been in St. George for a year and a half, said he is trying to get table tennis to catch on in southern Utah.
“We play every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at the St. George Rec Center,” he said. “It’s a fun group with all kinds of skill levels and we play and give each other pointers. Table tennis is the only sport where you use all those fast-twitch muscles, thousands of them, and you have a split-second to make a decision and get in the right position to make a good return.”
The open format had each player play the others in a six-man Round Robin. The man with the best record gets the gold. For Stadelman, his record was 4-1, the same as silver medalist Fernando Calderoni. But Stadelman beat Calderoni in the head-to-head match, so Stadelman got first and Calderoni was second.
In the two men’s match, which was a best of five with each game played to 11 (win by two), the pair split the first two games with identical 12-10 scores. Stadelman overcame a 10-7 deficit to win the third game 12-10. Calderoni won the fourth game 11-6, but Stadelman matched that score in the fifth and deciding game to give him the inside track to the gold. Boyd Winnie won bronze in the open category by going 3-2.
Calderoni and Majors teamed up to win the open doubles, edging out Winnie and Bryce Parkinson. The women’s open winner was Carol Davis. She also took gold in the 50 and over group. Drew Yeates and Tyler Yeates won the A doubles group and the youth winners were Danny Nelson (17-under) and Brecken Shakespeare (14-under).
Utah Summer Games Table Tennis Results
1. Ralph Stadelman
2. Fernando Calderoni
3. Boyd Winnie
1. Carol Davis
2. Enji Lu
1. Bruce Majors/Calderoni
2. Bryce Parkinson/Winnie
3. Jim Walker/Adam Davis
1. Drew Yeates/Tyler Yeates
2. Jeff St. Clair/Anthony Davis
3. Rick Condie/Randle Timpke
1. Brecken Shakespeare
2. Milo Yeates
3. Britton Gardner
1. Danny Nelson
2. Walker Hulet
3. Britton Gardner
2. Byron Davis
3. Dan Brown
1. Carol Davis
3. St. Clair
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