By Michael Wetzel
HUNTSVILLE -- Ernesto Kawamoto of Huntsville knew he was a marked man. The
Pongland tshirt he was wearing on tournament day might as well have had a target
on the back. The other top contenders had him in their crosshairs. Studying
for his finals at the University of Alabama in Huntsville had to take the day
off. He had a more immediate test awaiting him -- defending his Alabama state
championship crown at Brahan Spring Recreation Center in Huntsville.
One of those players eager to test Kawamoto's talent was University of
South Alabama professor Jiang Gu of Mobile. While Ernesto was running through
the preliminaries with just a single game loss to Tommie Dailey of
Birmingham, Gu, the tournament's third seed, danced through the morning
without stumbling.
In the quarterfinals, 1999 finalist Terry Hamilton of Birmingham nearly
ambushed Kawamoto -20, 15, -10. Kawamoto breezed past 63-year-old Dr. Ronald
Peters of Brewton in the semis to await a challenger in the finals.
Gu, meanwhile, saw two past champions ready to add to their titles in his
path. In the quarterfinals, Gu eliminated three-time champion Ralph Kissel of
Huntsville in straight games. Adam Brown, the 1999 state champion, took the
first game vs. Gu at 16 before falling at 22 and 16. The penholder Gu was on
top of his game going into his first state finals.
Gu was able to counter Kawamoto's strong forehand loop and won easily at 15
in the first game and had match point 20-19 in the second. Kawamoto, however,
refused to miss. He relied on his speedy loop shot after shot and won the
second at 22 and third at 18. Kawamoto won $100 and Gu $50.
"My match with Gu was so tough," Kawamoto, a native of Brazil, said. "He just
kept hitting my shots back and if I slowed a little, he would rip his
forehand at me. I am so lucky to have won for the second time."
Kawamoto joins Don Gaither, Keith LaFrance, Rafael Zambrano, Jungki Lee and
Kissel as the only multiple state singles winners in Alabama history.
But Ernesto's work wasn't finished. He teamed with his brother Leo, an
exchange student in Huntsville, to win his fourth doubles championship. The
pair dropped the team of Brown and Peters at 16 and 13 to win the doubles
crown. Ernesto has won the title with three different partners since 1995.
Other winners were:
Seniors: 1st, Gu of Mobile; 2nd, Kissel of Huntsville.
Juniors: 1st, L. Kawamoto; 2nd, David Landry of Huntsville
Women: 1st, Jane Ng of Tuscaloosa; 2nd, Kim Nguyen of Birmingham.
Class A: 1st, Barry Putman of Gasden; 2nd, Dr. Saji Joseph of Guntersville
Class B: 1st, Tom Alexy of Jacksonville; 2nd, Mike Lowder of Huntsville.
Class C: 1st, Mike Lewis of Huntsville; 2nd, Robert McNeal of Fairfield.
Class A doubles: 1st, Morgan Tang of Birmingham and Phil Sorensen of
Prattville; 2nd, Charles Israel of Wellington and Tom Alexy of Jacksonville.
Sponsors were Robbins Table Tennis Specialties (
and BumperNets (
and The Trophy Place in Trinity.
Tournament committee members were Michael Wetzel, director, Walt Chenault,
Danya Budiman and David Wilder.
The tournament was hosted by the Huntsville Parks and Landscape Management
division and the North Alabama Table Tennis Club. It marked the 17th
consecutive year the NATTC has hosted the state championships.