VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WVEC) -- It might be the most important rally in ping pong. Ken Lees and his nonprofit organization Ping Pong for Charity are trying to use ping pong to foster friendships and more interaction between different groups of kids in some of our schools.
"That's where the real joy comes into play," Ken said. "Relationships are being created, friendships are being created."
Ken has established ping pong clubs in five Virginia Beach high schools; including Kellam, Cox, First Colonial, Princess Anne and Ocean Lakes. Students there say those clubs are a smash hit because they allow kids from different groups or cliques to interact in a positive way.
"It does develop friendships for sure," said Ben James, a member of the Kellam High School football team. "It's building comaraderie among school mates which is something you can't find sometimes, unless you're playing a sport."
"At clubs we're able to meet different people and meet new people," said Princess Anne High School junior Jennifer Laio. "It lets us be able to make a better community and build upon our community."
To further his mission of creating new bonds, on Saturday, 50 ping pong players from the participating schools got together for Ken's first Battle of the Beach Ping Pong Tournament. Ken is giving away ping pong scholarships to those who excel in their school's club and in the classroom.
Some students say that's more incentive to pick up a paddle.
"That's pretty cool," said 14-year-old Michael Bishop from Ocean Lakes High School. "It gets you motivated to play that's for sure."
"My mom and I have been scouring websites looking for scholarships," Ben said. "So knowing that I can get a scholarship for winning something I like to do instead of writing an essay is the best."
For his work with students, the USA Table Tennis Association sponsors Ken, hoping to find and groom the next big American ping pong players. And sponsors have lined up to pay for the ping pong equipment that is used in those Virginia Beach schools, so there's no cost to the district.
Ken has also started ping pong clubs in senior communities to help seniors stay fit, social and mentally sharp. Doctors say ping pong helps to stimulate the brain and can ward off diseases like Alzheimer's.
Ping pong is his passion and being able to use it to benefit others in the community is the way he makes his mark.
"It makes me smile really big," Ken said. "This is big just on a grass roots level."