Ping pong diplomats don’t only exist in Beijing.

The “Table Tennis Center” will see Santa Barbara’s head honchos pong it off at the “64th annual” Extreme Pong Challenge, August 19, to benefit the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation.

However, it isn’t actually the “64th annual,” nor is there any “Table Tennis Center,” according to event sponsor and pong-player Eric David Greenspan. “There’s never been one before 64 is actually Les Carroll’s age,” said Greenspan of one of his fellow event sponsors. “And there’s not a table tennis center either; it’s actually the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce.”

Greenspan, who really is the cofounder and CEO of Make It Work, and a board member of the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, said the idea sprung from a longstanding pong-off struck between him and Carroll, the general manager of KZSB Radio. With organizational help from the third sponsor, mayoral candidate and Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce President Steve Cushman , the challenge which once hung over Greenspan’s office pong table now has a greater aim supporting the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation’s gift of paying up to $5,000 in bills for families affected by cancer who need assistance. Greenspan says attendees should expect to feel all around love-love during a friendly game of Extreme Pong.

“I’m going be dressed as a cross between Forest Gump and Napoleon Dynamite,” said Greenspan. “And I have to give [Les Carroll] 20 points because the game plays to 21, and that’s the chance he’ll need to win!”

The Real Winners: Nikki Katz, cofounder of the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, said the tournament is “perfect,” and she is grateful for its supportive players. She credited “the community coming together” for the Foundation’s birth and growth. “I can’t tell you how many volunteers we’ve had over the years and how much they’ve jumped in full force,” said Katz.

Katz said that in 2002, after her friend’s godson fell ill with cancer for the second time, she experienced a kind of revelation about a way to help not only her friend’s child, but other children with cancer whose families were struggling financially. “They had another child they never got to see, the dad was working three jobs,” explained Katz of her friend’s situation. “When I got off the phone with [my friend], I had an epiphany, and when you know you just know.”

After calling several agencies in the yellow pages “with the word ‘cancer’ next to them,” and speaking with numerous doctors and nurses, she rallied up volunteers to help her cause. By the following year, The Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation was established.

Katz said the Foundation reviews families that have been referred to them by a social worker, and typically offers direct financial aid to those of medium-income. Though they serve families from the entire tri-county region, Katz said most find treatment at the Santa Barbara Pediatric Oncology Clinic. The foundation works, she said, to help families under financial stress pay for not only medical bills, but also car payments, mortgages or rent, and household bills. “We cover the balance,” said Katz.

Katz said other families not receiving direct financial aid also participate in support groups, day-to-day activities, story-telling, and various fundraisers put on by the Foundation, such as the annual Christmas Party.

Katz said she hopes that the money raised by the Pong event will help 15 newly diagnosed children and their families survive financially. “The money goes directly to paying our families bills,” said Katz. “We set a certain amount of money aside for 15 new diagnoses every year, but we are already at 14 new diagnoses and it’s only August.”

A Cushion from Cushman Katz said the event was undoubtedly the brain-child of Cushman, who she says has “been there since day one. He is a huge reason we are accepted in the community,” said Katz. “He’s awesome.”

But Cushman said he just can’t wait to see the “big match” between Greenspan and Carroll, between “young versus old, internet versus radio.”

“Eric and Les did a lot of business together, and Eric as a joke put a framed photo of Les on his ping pong table, but still no match took place until I organized it,” said Cushman of the “long awaited” challenge. “We’ve been waiting years to see who’s the better.”

Cushman said he plans to play too, but has yet to find a worthy competitor. He said he’s considered Santa Barbara businessman Earl Armstrong, and possibly another mayoral candidate. “Maybe I should challenge Helene Schneider,” joked Cushman.

But, he said, the event is really about raising money for the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, selling a limited 50 tickets for $50 each. “We’re going to sell out the arena here at the Chamber of Commerce,” said Cushman. “The table tennis arena will be full.” Wine and hot dogs will be available during the five matches. For tickets, contact the Chamber of Commerce at 965-3023. For more information about the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, click here.


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