Ping pong pioneer

Jim Weiland was a pioneer for local table tennis. A Badger State Games tournament April 7-8 bearing his name will draw players from around the Midwest


Long Le and Brian Weiland play at the Wausau Table Tennis Club, held that night at the First Universalist Unitarian Church in Wausau

A year ago, Nick Ockwig was at a sports event conference in Sacramento, Calif. to find out what events the Sports Authority of the Wausau-Central Wisconsin Convention & Visitors Bureau could bring to the area.

Ockwig develops events for the Sports Authority, and when he got to the table tennis section, all he had to say was Wisconsin and Jim Weiland’s name instantly came up.

Weiland and the Wausau Table Tennis Club he founded helped bring table tennis to the Badger State Games. And now this year, following Weiland’s death in January, the tournament will bear his name. The Jim Weiland Table Tennis Tournament will be held April 7-8 at Northland Lutheran High School in Kronenwetter.

Weiland, a pastor as well as a table tennis player once ranked No. 6 in the state and No. 4 for doubles, died in January following a car crash. He was 58. His funeral was attended by table tennis insiders from throughout the Midwest. Weiland was a pioneer in table tennis, says fellow club founder Long Le. Together the two set up an exhibition in Edgar High School that eventually led to the school creating its own table tennis program. “We wanted to promote this sport,” Le says. “It’s a lifelong sport for all kinds of people, of all ages and abilities.”

The table tennis club for years has met twice a week at various locations around Wausau, inviting people to come and play and learn tips if they want. Promoting the sport was almost more important to Weiland than playing, says his son, Brian Weiland. Jim would help teach anyone new to the club, showing them top and bottom spin, and hitting the ball right back to a newcomer’s paddle.

Weiland was a gentle teacher, but a fierce competitor, says Le, who sparred with Weiland since the two met in the early 2000s. “I would lose to him on Tuesday, then spend the next couple of days thinking how to beat him on Thursday. Then I would beat him on Thursday and he would spend the weekend thinking how to beat me.”

With many Badger State Games events, registrations tend to come in at the last minute; but the Jim Weiland Memorial Tournament already has seen a steady stream of registrations from a wide-reaching area, Ockwig says. It’s a testament to how important and well-known he was.