Growing up in Philadelphia, Jo Kidd played casual games of ping-pong at the local rec center. She developed a new appreciation for the game while traveling on a series of Fulbright exchanges in her thirties. In every country she visited, she saw people playing ping-pong. But “this was different,” she says. “This was
a sport.”

The Fulbright program sends teachers abroad to develop new skills, and as a physical education teacher, Kidd explored other countries’ games and sports. Studying table tennis in India, she liked that it was easy to learn and accommodating to players of all ages.

“The older ones can teach the younger ones, and the younger ones can get very good at a young age,” she says. “The older ones can still play it because they don’t have to run, they don’t have to jump … but it is a good hand-eye coordination game.”

In 1963, Kidd was hired to teach at Santa Monica College, where she’d work for the next 50 years. She brought her love of table tennis with her, founding SMC’s Community Recreation (Co-Rec) Program and introducing table tennis as a physical education course. In 1971, SMC student Glenn Cowan was part of the “ping-pong diplomacy” exchange that opened the doors for diplomatic relations with China.

Kidd actually prefers teaching the sport to competing herself.

“You become humble,” she explains, “and you say, ‘OK, let me see if I can help you. Let me listen to you — what you want to learn — and then we’ll
work it out.’”

In 2015, SMC’s Table Tennis Program was inducted into the California Table Tennis Hall of Fame, and Kidd, now retired, was honored for her work with the Co-Rec program. The program has held open table tennis sessions for the community for more than 40 years. Open games are held on Sundays at noon in SMC’s Pavilion Gym, with a round-robin tournament starting at 4 p.m.

“We get children coming in with their parents, and the children can be playing over on one side and getting a little coaching, and the parents can be playing,” Kidd says. “My philosophy is that it should be for everybody in Santa Monica. Our college is still Santa Monica Community College, even though it’s just called Santa Monica College now.”

Stop by on a Sunday afternoon and you might see Kidd walking around with her cane, making sure everything is running smoothly and that players are treating the equipment with respect.

“Right now I’m 94, so I’m still flowing, I’m still going,” she says.

And if she finds any problems, she’ll bring them to the next department meeting.

“They listen to me, because I’m still around.”

— Lisa Beebe