Every year, you see me write a story about the annual Jason Taylor Ping-Pong Smash and how wonderful it is, its goal of raising money to help kids ever-present and ever-enduring as it kicked off its 15th year on Monday evening.
"It's been great," said former Dolphins defensive end and Hall of Famer Jason Taylor. "Fifteen years, it continues to grow, we have amazing support from all of our sponsors, mainly the Seminole Hard Rock Casino. It's always a fun event, it's great to come out, you see a bunch of kids get to participate, kids that come out and do the free clinics and get haircuts, and all the other things going on, Best Buy always outfits us with a bunch of stuff. This is one of the events that are for everybody."
Every year, this statement is always true. Kids do get involved, and the joy in the room is always palpable, even as a bystander. This year, over 80 kids came to the UPS Kids Clinic, and the event raised over $40,000 for the foundation's mission to empower children and youth in South Florida. Players come and are always ready to compete for a win, especially Kiko Alonso, who has made it to the "playoffs" every year since he's been with the Miami Dolphins, even winning the whole thing in his first year participating in the tournament.
"The reason I won the first year, which was two years ago, was because I had the greatest Ping-Pong player there ever was, and last year I got second because I had another good partner," said Alonso. "But this year, I've had a Ping-Pong table for a year now at my house, so I've gotten better. I can carry my weight now."
And a few rookies appeared for the first time, including Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki and linebacker Jerome Baker, the latter also made the playoffs for the tournament, and it was clear that both of them were anxious to get started.
But here is where the story takes a turn, one that adds a whole new dimension to the experience, one that I did not foresee but was quite happy it happened. For the first time since I began covering the Ping-Pong Smash, I didn't just watch the event unfold.
I got to play too.
Due to some unfortunate happenstance, some alternatives were needed to fill out the tournament bracket, and together with Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post, we filled that role and played through the "regular season" (which in reality is just the preliminaries to decide who moves on).
While we didn't actually do that well (it took me a while to get used to the rules), because of this experience, I now truly understand why this event is so anticipated year after year. The feeling is electric, even the most casual players let their competitive side out...and those who are already competitive (like myself) got even more competitive.
So often, these stories feature players saying how great it is to come out and be with the community, hanging out with fans, kids, sponsors, etc. But it isn't until you actually hop into their shoes and experience it for yourself that you realize that these players are telling the truth when they say they enjoy doing what they do.
In the end, Dolphins tight end Nick O'Leary, paired with Jared "Orange Tux Guy" Wische of Dolfan Project, defeated Kiko Alonso and Luke Freeman of Wizard Creations for the title, with Aja Crowder (wife of former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder) and Rich Goodman of Northwestern Mutual taking third place.
Having experienced it firsthand for the first time, I feel I have a better understanding of why this event is so successful each year, and why so many come out to offer their contributions to the cause. Who says philanthropy can't be fun at the same time?
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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