Sam Bowman Mixes Charity and Ping-Pong

Sidestreet Tavern's upcoming tournament will benefit the Cancer Society.

Do you finish a whole tournament in one evening?

Usually by about midnight. There's a maximum of 12 players a week, and we play one-on-one, double elimination. Tuesday evening tournaments run 12 weeks, with prizes, and the 13th week we invite back the top 10 players. People pay $5 to enter, and we donate the money we make to a charity—we just finished a tournament to benefit the Knox County Humane Society.

Is anyone particularly talented?

A couple of guys are really good. One guy's mother used to play for the Colombian Olympic team. We're trying to get her to come down and play but we're worried she would kill us.

How do players hold the paddles?

A couple play Chinese style, holding the paddle upside down, but most players hold it tennis style.

Do people carry their paddles in fancy cases?

A couple do, but most just leave it in their car all week. It's more about playing with a paddle you're used to. They're rated for speed, control, and spin; the more control it has, you lose spin and speed, for example.

Do the best players use a certain kind?

It depends on the player. The best thing is to come out on Sunday, Monday, or Wednesday and try our house paddles—figure out if you're a spin or speed player.

You play, too—are you good?

In a year, I've gone from a backyard player to where I'm usually in the top 10, and might even be in the top three.

Ever win?

No, but I'm happy knowing where the entry money goes. The first tournament benefitted the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Knoxville, for example—I've had two customers die of MD. We're going with the Cancer Society for this tournament because one of our former bartender's sister just died of cancer. That one starts July 7.