Lady Antebellum Triumph in Their Own Ping Pong & Songs Tournament
By Dawn Wyatt and Bob Doerschuk
The 2013 CMA Music Fest was about more than Country Music. It was also the setting for the big “Ping Pongs & Songs” showdown: “The Browns” vs. “The Dynasty” (Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley) to benefit LadyAID.
Their challengers, Homer Brown, 64, and his son Adam Brown, 32, both of Birmingham, Ala., won the right to play the band mates through a four-day tournament played at the Lady Antebellum booth at Fan Fair X. Money raised through entrance fees from the players is being donated to LadyAID, founded by the group in 2012 to generate support for children in need locally, nationally and globally.
The event was hosted by Roger Dickson, head table tennis coach for Newgy’s Table Tennis Training Center in Gallatin, Tenn. Referee Mike Wetzel, Assistant Sports Editor for The Decatur Daily in Decatur, Ala., was tasked with keeping the contestants in line.
About 100 spectators had gathered to watch the finals as the players made their entrance – Haywood and Kelley in white shirts and headbands, the Browns in no-nonsense black.
“I’m a big Country Music fan and I like all the artists,” said Liz Toomey, 21, Rochester, N.Y. “Especially when they do this kind of event and give back to the community.”
Tricia Cooper, 49, Augusta, Ga., claimed a personal connection to Haywood and Kelley. “The two guys are from my home town, Evans, Ga.,” she noted. “They went to high school there. They’re a great group.”
Another attendee at the event met Lady Antebellum before they were famous. Tracy Fairweather, 35, Toronto, Ontario, won a radio contest to meet the group when they came to Canada. “They were very friendly and down-to-earth,” she recalled.
Not surprisingly, the fans that comprised almost all the onlookers rooted for the Lady A men. Following some warm-up volleys, the competition began. Playing best two of three games, The Dynasty won the first one, 11-8. Their strategy seemed clear: Haywood concentrated on finesse and setting up kill shots, which Kelley delivered energetically, sometimes slamming the ball clear off the table but often nailing a point decisively.
After Kelley pumped up the crowd by waving his arms upward, the second game began. This time, The Browns delivered a dogged, determined offense, battling The Dynasty into overtime. As the score shifted back and forth, all four players grew more serious. Though charity was aim of the game, it was obvious that neither side intended to lose.
Ultimately, Haywood and Kelley prevailed, 21-19. As their fans cheered, Kelley adopted comic muscular poses, draped a red Pepsi towel around his shoulders and joined Haywood in exchanging man-hugs with their opponents.
Then, after autographing guitars with his teammate for Homer and Aaron Brown, Kelley suddenly grinned, moved toward the crowd, whipped off his towel and gave it to a wide-eyed, thoroughly delighted young girl.
Afterward, Hallie Burns, 8, from Booneville, Miss., was speechless. But when her mother, Jennifer Burns, was asked if Lady Antebellum was Hallie’s favorite group, she laughed and answered, “They are now!”
As for The Browns, who are veterans on the table tennis circuit, they admitted to being impressed with their superstar opponents. “They should get into the sport, if they ever want to,” said Homer, who has played in 45 consecutive U.S. Open table Tennis Championships and currently runs Bumper Nets, a retail table tennis store.
Asked if he had any advice to share with other players getting ready to face The Dynasty, Homer kept it brief: “Good luck! They’ll need it.”
Newgy Robo-Pong, which manufactures table tennis products and machines, is holding an auction for the Ping Pong table used during the tournament. It has been signed by many of the Country Music artists who took part in this year’s Music Fest. Bids can be submitted at www.newgy.com.