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How One Woman Brought Ping Pong — And Feminism — To Work07:19
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Kinsey and her mother, Debbie, playing ping pong at Brooklyn Bridge Park. (Courtesy Kinsey Crowley)
Kinsey and her mother, Debbie, playing ping pong at Brooklyn Bridge Park. (Courtesy Kinsey Crowley)

Kinsey Crowley is 23 years old. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. She works in partnerships for the Wing, a co-working and community space for women. And she loves ping pong.

"Oh, I have, like, so many things to say about ping pong," she says.

Recently, Kinsey has started to see ping pong as something more than just a game played in basements and rec rooms.

"I know that sounds kind of crazy, but for me it's been — ping pong has become a small form of feminist resistance for me," Kinsey says.

"We had a table at high school, and I would play. And even if I would beat a guy, he'd say, ‘Well, you’re pretty good for a girl.’ And, you know, back then, I’m not sure I would have labeled myself as a feminist. But of course it made me angry. Because I was good, and I didn’t deserve to be downgraded just because I was a girl."

The Best In Delaware

Kinsey had a good reason for feeling that way. She learned how to play ping pong from her mom who, according to family lore, was once the “best in Delaware.” Kinsey didn’t quite believe that — until one day, last fall.

"She sent me a news clipping that I had never seen before," Kinsey says. "And she's the cover photo. Just clearly smashing a cross-table ball."

(Courtesy Kinsey Crowley)
(Courtesy Kinsey Crowley)

The year was 1977. The small news item accompanying that photo identifies Kinsey’s mother as the winner of the Delaware State Closed Ping Pong Championship in both women’s singles and women’s doubles — with Kinsey’s grandmother as her partner.

"So, she has a pretty epic bowl cut, and she looks really intense," Kinsey says. "And her paddle's up in the air, and the ball is just going over the net. She's trying to balance, and she's really intense. Um ... and her hair's just, you know ... very ’70s. she's like ... it’s a great photo."

Growing up in Maine, Kinsey says her family was always "game oriented." They’d play Scrabble. Other board games. Tennis. But for Kinsey, her brother and her mom, the game of choice was always ping pong.

"I always knew when my brother was home. Because I’d come in, and you’d hear, you know, yelling from the basement," Kinsey says.

When Kinsey went off to college, she took her love of ping pong with her. Whenever she grew tired of studying or writing papers, she’d play ping pong. She calls it her “productive procrastination.”

"It'd just be like hours would pass on a Saturday afternoon," Kinsey remembers. "I’d be down there, like, sweating and taking my shoes off, so I could move side to side quick enough."

Entering The Workforce

After college, Kinsey settled in New York. And like a lot of recent graduates, she was a bit lost.

"Definitely not prepared for real life, that was for sure," she says. "The first few years when you graduate, after you graduate college, are so confusing — and there's so much to learn. And, kind of, it uproots everything you’ve been doing for the last 12 years or 16 years — however long you’ve been in school."

Kinsey’s first job was organizing community events in downtown Brooklyn.

"And when I got there, they had a few ideas in place. And it was my job to execute them," Kinsey says. "And lo and behold, the first event that they had planned was free outdoor ping pong. And I was like, ‘This is perfect. This is going to be so much fun.’ And it became a running joke in the company, because everyone could tell how excited I was about it.

Four tables were set up in the courtyard of a business center. DJs provided the music. And, believe it or not, ping pong was a huge success.

"What was supposed to be a four-week event turned out to be a four-month event, because it ended up being so popular every week," Kinsey says. "Sixty to 100 people would come. Everyone from students to women in their pencil skirts and heels, and then there’s people than come in sweatband and full athletic gear. People just walking through. People who would come out specifically for this event every week."

Kinsey’s next job was at a legal startup. She was now spending a lot of her free time playing ping pong. Her coworkers all knew about her hobby.

"They would poke fun at it, like, ‘Oh, its Monday night, Kenzie’s got to run because she has the ping pong league.’ "

(Courtesy Jared Sochinsky/The Push)
(Courtesy Jared Sochinsky/The Push)

In this new environment, Kinsey must have thought her days of organizing ping pong tournaments for work were over.

"It was a completely different setting," she says. "We weren’t sitting around brainstorming the most creative event idea we could possibly do, but more stuff that works for our target market."

Until one day, when Kinsey and her coworkers were brainstorming ideas for an upcoming conference in Las Vegas.

A Spot At The Table

"Trade shows are really competitive spaces, and you’re trying to do everything to get your booth to stand out," Kinsey says. "And I think it started as a joke. We were like, ‘Oh, well, I’m sure Kinsey would love it if we had ping pong.’ And I was like, ‘Ah, yeah. Very funny.’ And a beat passed. And I was like, ‘You know, its actually not the worst idea. Like, I think we could do it.’ "

And they did. They rented a table and ordered a bunch of ping pong paddles with their company logo to pass out like business cards.

"It was effective," Kinsey says. "I mean, there was this enormous conference room at the Bellagio. Instead of us just being at our booth, we kind of pushed the counter aside and pulled out this mini ping pong table. And people would walk by, and at first they're like, ‘Is this a ping pong table at a legal operations conference?’

"The irony did not escape me that I’ve somehow had two jobs since college, and both of them have managed to include ping pong in some sort of way. I laughed at it a little bit, but on the inside I was like, ‘This is awesome.’ "

Kinsey playing against her brother at her parents' home in Maine. (Courtesy Kinsey Crowley)
Kinsey playing against her brother at her parents' home in Maine. (Courtesy Kinsey Crowley)

And this is where we get back to that idea of ping pong as a small form of feminist resistance. Because in just her first few years out of college, Kinsey realized something: her love of ping pong was helping her get ahead in a competitive workplace.

"It’s hard as a woman to know your worth out there," Kinsey says. "That is a part of how we're conditioned is that we should not be competitive and not step up to the table and think, ‘I’m going to beat this person across the table’ — a conference room table or a ping pong table. Keeping that competitive side of me alive has really been helpful."

So Kinsey has some advice for women just coming out of college and setting off on careers for the first time: Don’t be afraid to bring your passions to work — because you never know where they’re going to lead you.

And one more thing: Never underestimate a woman’s ability — especially when it comes to playing ping pong.

"Everyone that I say, ‘Oh yeah, like, I learned to play it from my mom,’ they're like, ‘Your mom? Your mom plays ping pong?’ So, like, ‘Yeah, she'd probably beat you. So watch it.’ "

We first heard of Kinsey Crowley’s ping pong journey in a piece she wrote for ForbesWomen.

This segment aired on March 16, 2019.

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