Sparking Atlanta’s ping-pong revolution

Lyle V. Harris

Since my return to writing for Saporta Report, I’ve been accused of shilling for the cannabis industry. Not true, although I support the right of every adult to use cannabis for his or her own medical or recreational purposes. Anything less is inarguably cruel and arguably unconstitutional.

Some critics have also claimed my unabashed support for mass transit – and for MARTA, in particular – is selfishly motivated by my enrollment in the agency’s pension plan. I only wish that were the case, but it’s not. Long before I worked at MARTA, it was abundantly clear that robust transit was critical to metro Atlanta’s continued prosperity and quality-of-life. While it’s rewarding that state lawmakers and former naysayers are belatedly embracing transit, there’s no financial windfall for me being an early adopter.

The bottom line is that I’m creating my own bottom line; I’m my own boss and my only employee, which often sucks. After a productive and (mostly) profitable career as a journalist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and, more recently, as the main mouthpiece at MARTA, I knew the time had come to strike out on my own. Beside that, my beloved twins – Adia and Jason – are all grown up now.

In October 2016, I launched BounceATL, a ping-pong business rooted in my longtime passion for a game that’s one of the fastest moving, and fastest growing sports in the world.

Courtesy Jerome A. Bailey

I threw my first successful event, a pop-up party, at the Gathering Spot in Midtown that year. Much like the club’s youthful co-founders, Ryan Wilson and TK Petersen, I was inspired by an irresistible, Obama-esque desire to live on my own terms while building a pro-social enterprise that benefits my community while sustaining me financially.

Call it a shameless plug but, on Saturday, April 14, BounceATL is hosting its next ping- pong party, called PLAY. This time, I’m working with a new partner who shares my unconventional and unrelenting belief in the power of ping-pong and music to bring people together, regardless of their differences. That’s exactly what I want for the city and region I love.

So, why ping-pong? Simply because I’ve seen firsthand the positive effect it has on people. Whether they’re competing at the Olympic level (where it’s formally called “table tennis”) or haven’t touched a paddle since they were kids in their parents’ basement, the game is timelessly universal and inherently egalitarian.

Courtesy Jerome A. Bailey

Ping-pong is accessible to people of almost any age, background or ability. It’s a Paralympic sport with armless and legless champions. And there are international tournaments for super-seniors who are still stroking smashes into their 80s and 90s like it’s nobody’s business. When you’re pushing 60, like I am, that really matters.

Granted, my entrepreneurial immersion hasn’t been easy nor gone as smoothly as expected. As I work to build the BounceATL brand, I’ve been freelancing media consulting gigs and editorializing about controversial issues, including cannabis reform, for Saporta Report and for Fox 5, WAGA-TV.

There’s no doubt that my professional decisions and unapologetic positions on some issues have had predictable consequences, which I accept without regret.

But come what may, I’m committed to BounceATL’s mission to turn every flat surface in metro Atlanta into a ping-pong table and invite every resident to become a player. Stay tuned for more details; I’ll be introducing my brand of “ping-pong diplomacy” to a desktop, conference room or dinner table near you in the months ahead.

I wish I could claim BounceATL was an original idea. But ping-pong social clubs have been popping up across the country and around the world. In the last few years, such establishments have opened in New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Austin, Portland, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Before long, I aim to add Atlanta to that list.

Until then, I’ll keep on writing about the issues that matter to me and to our community and I hope you’ll keep on reading. Who knows? One day we might even play some ping-pong.

Lyle Harris rejoins SaportaReport after seven years as MARTA’s chief spokesman. He will be covering three topics critically important to the future of our city, our region and the state of Georgia: Transit and transportation, the media, and marijuana legislation.

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