By Harry Kane
There’s a man in Somerville who has devoted his later life to the game of table tennis. His name is Nicholas Gangi. He’s 85 and still playing. Just recently he was awarded the gold medal in the 2013 National Senior Games of Table Tennis. But that wasn’t the first time Gangi has received medals for his skills.
As a boy, Gangi belonged to the YMCA on Huntington Avenue in Boston. He would play table tennis near the billiards room. “I used to try to get in there whenever I can, and whenever there was an opponent around,” he recalls. “It was difficult to find people that wanted to play.” Gangi frequented that YMCA for nearly 8 years.
Later, Gangi played while he was in the army. He was stationed in Korea following World War II for 13 months during the occupation of Japan. While there, he honed his table tennis skills in the recreation room.
He was drafted into the Marines in 1946, but didn’t weigh-in. “I passed the physical except for one thing, I didn’t weigh enough. You had to be 128 and was 118 pounds. So the Sergeant says, ‘Nick, come back in a month, get on the scale, if you weigh 128, you’re in.’ I never bothered to go back. I didn’t gain an ounce. I wasn’t the type who could gain weight at that time.”
Gangi ended up joining the army instead, which sent him to Seoul, Korea. When he got back to Somerville, he went back to his former job at Sears Roebuck in the Mail Order department for a year. Soon after, he found employment at the Defense Department and would work at the Boston Naval Ship Yard for some 20 years. When they closed the shipyard in 1973, Gangi was transferred to the Department of the Air Force, where he stayed until retirement.
In 1982, when Gangi actually began to play competitively, he got his start in a 3-star tournament. “I’ve always loved table tennis,” he says. “I went to my first tournament in Princeton, New Jersey, and I was unrated at the time and I was in the final and I got a trophy.”
Every year the National Senior Olympics hosts a bi-annual table tennis tournament in a different city. “I started off in Baton Rouge in 2001,” he said. That was where he met his doubles partner.
“It was quite accidental that he became my partner,” said Arthur Lekousi. “I go around different places, you know, and somebody said ‘You should team up with Nick Gangi.’ I says who’s he?”
There was a tournament that they were both playing in and Lekousi introduced himself. They became partners and have been playing together ever since.
In 2003, Gangi and Lekousi competed in Norfolk, Virginia and won gold in the doubles tournament. Then in 2005 they went to Pittsburg, and won a silver medal. But in 2007, Gangi didn’t place so well in Louisville, Kentucky.
Gangi didn’t compete in the National Senior Games in 2009 and 2011. He doesn’t fly, and the drive was too long, he says. The 2009 tournament was held in Houston, Texas and the 2011 tournament was in San Francisco.
But In 2013, Gangi made his comeback in Cleveland, Ohio. It was drivable. In truth, it was Lekousi that flew from Maine, picked Gangi up, and then drove them to the tournament in Ohio. Gangi won seven matches to win the men’s single table tennis gold medal. He says he lost a couple games, but that’s no sweat off his back. In the end match, he played his partner, Arthur Lekousi. “Fortunately we were able to play each other. I beat him three games to one.”
Gangi said it didn’t matter who ended up winning, rather it was nice that they both made it to the finals. Gangi and Lekousi also won the men’s double table tennis silver medal.
These days, Gangi spends a lot of his time at the Boston Table Tennis Center, a local club with six tennis tables, located at 407 Mystic Ave. in Medford. He’s on the staff at the club, too, but he’s not paid. “It’s all volunteer,” he says. He’s been there 13 years, ever since it opened.
“Maybe it keeps me going, too, I dunno.” He goes there to play table tennis and socialize. One guy comes all the way from Newport, New Hampshire, two to three times per week, he said. “The people that like to play come to our club, because it’s not only flexible, it’s available.”
Gangi has lived in Somerville, Massachusetts since 1944, following his move from East Boston in his last year of high school. He plans on playing table tennis until the day he dies.