Wolfgang, Rodolfo, Paulo, Jeffas teenagers, they all played Ping-Pong.
They were good. But they grew up, went to college, got jobs, came to terms with being gay, and had no time to smash a little white ball across a small green table.
Eventually, though, they realized that life is more than going to work and clubs. They came back to Ping-Pong. They were rusty at first, but according to Wolfgang Busch, "It's like riding a bicycle. You never forget." Busch, Rodolfo, Paulo and Jeff quickly discovered how much funand what great exercisePing-Pong is. "My shirt is drenched when I'm done," Busch says.
Welcome to Ping-Pong, gay style. It is one of three dozen sports associated with Out of Bounds, New York City's gay athletics umbrella group. Members play once a week, at Paradise in Sunnyside, Queens. If you didn't know Ping-Pong palaces existed, join the club.
But, Busch says, playing socially is the whole idea. "The gay community should have lots of sports. Anyone can play Ping-Pong. It's all-inclusive, and it gets people together in a positive, constructive way."
Busch describes his sport as "a fascinating game. To play well you need complete concentration. Your whole body must be focused. You must be properly positioned at all time. And it's so fast. There's no downtime whatsoever." Busch is proud of his progress. "I used to be only a defensive player," he says. "Now I like to attack, too."
Ping-Pong was not always his favorite sport. Growing up near Heidelberg, Germany, he followed the path blazed by his father, president of a local soccer club. Busch played semi-professionally for a local team, Olympia Lorsch, but a bad back forced him to quit at age 22.
He moved into the entertainment field, serving as a DJ and sound engineer. At the same time, he was hanging out in gay bars, meeting American soldiers from nearby military bases.
"It was cool [ in the 70s ] in Germany to have American friends," he says. "GIs couldn't be out, but they went to the gay bars anyway. That's how I learned English." He learned about life, too, and after several visits to new friends in the States, he emigrated in 1983.
In this country, too, sports has been part of Busch's life. In 1990, he videotaped the Vancouver Gay Games with Lou Maletta, founder and president of the Gay Cable Network. He also bowled at the Gay Games. "I don't know why there is not so much attention paid to gay sports," he says. "There are plenty of porn videos, but nothing about gay athletes. And where are the gay sports shows on Logo?"
Busch was involved in a number of nonsports projects too, many of them music and video-related. He produced How Do I Look, a documentary about the Harlem "ball" community that derived from the 1920s drag tradition. He was a promoter and booker at clubs like the Limelight, Palladium, Tunnel, Roxy, and Danceteria. He worked with megastars like Madonna, Mick Jagger and Billy Joel.
He was not just a clubgoer, however. A committed activist, Busch served on Manhattan borough president C. Virginia Field's gay and lesbian advisory council. He coordinated events for the MetroBears. And he volunteered with Senior Action in a Gay Environment ( SAGE ) , an organization for elderly gay, lesbian, and transgender people.
It was through SAGE that Busch rediscovered Ping-Pong. He saw the injuries suffered when older men and women fall, and wanted to avoid that himself. "A lot of prevention has to do with reflexes," he says. "Ping-Pong is great for developing reflexes."
Diving into the sport with his trademark enthusiasm, Busch soon joined the Out of Bounds board of directors. "It's a great way to get publicity and attract new players," he notes. "And we always welcome people. Gay people should know Ping-Pong is good fun; it's competitive, but not too serious. That's a great combination."
Nonetheless, in December 2007, Busch was busy organizing the first championship for his club, Ping-Pong NY. And he is already looking ahead to 2010, when table tennis ( the sport's official name ) will be part of Gay Games VIII.
Those Games are being held in Cologne, Germany, a site with special meaning for Wolfgang Busch. "Of course I'll be there," he says. "I've already told my parents and friends that we've got a whole group coming from New York. They must get the apartments ready!"
Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, gay activist, and author of the "Jocks" series of books on gay male athletes. Visit his website at www.danwoog.com . He can be reached care of this publication or at OutField@qsyndicate.com .