Peter Jakab: Midnight table tennis

Some twenty years ago Mr. G. Van Standyfer, a social worker from Maryland, studying night life, realised that juvenile crime and drug trafficking suddenly increase after nightfall. He did not remain insensitive to young people’s getting lost, and in cooperation with friends he organised moonlight basketball matches for those hanging around in the streets. The results exceeded all expectations, in just one year the magnitude of juvenile crime dropped by fifty percent in the region, and in two years similar sports clubs sprang up in almost every state of the United States. This program is still going on in the USA. Their web page is

On hearing about this program paediatrician and child psychologist dr. Sándor Faragó decided to start something similar in Hungary, but instead of basketball he invited young people to play ping-pong. He had his own ping-pong table brought from his home to his surgery with the intention to organize ping-pong games for youngsters loitering about in the streets at weekend nights. First it was only him and some enthusiastic colleagues who played table tennis, but soon more and more young people turned up in their room. They drank soft drinks and ate sandwiches, and spectators soon turned into players. In a month twenty-thirty young people were regularly playing ping-pong at night. The ‘night program’ became more and more popular with youngsters, and parents could also be sure that their kids were off the streets. They started to call him ‘Ping-Pong Doc’ at that time. The program got widely known in the country, and moonlight sporting clubs were established all over Hungary. At the moment there are more than thirty such clubs in our country. The idea was taken over by some neighbouring countries, and moonlight clubs were started in the Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia, and Serbia. The best example is Serbia, where, thanks to an enthusiastic volunteer, in two years’ time five such clubs were founded.

Moonlight Program

Young people often leave home without money and destination, and they have no idea where they will end up during the night. The aim of the Moonlight Program is that these youngsters without money and sports equipment should spend the night in safety and under civilized circumstances, and they should have an opportunity to do sport, compete, talk, and eat. Ping-pong meets these demands best, as no special sporting skills and equipments are needed to play this game. In addition the players are separated by a table, there is no bodily contact, so there is less chance for possible problems. Among the team sports basketball is another game, which is very suitable for this purpose, and those who choose this branch of sport bring their equipment with them and most of them can already play basketball. Football has turned out not to fit into the category of moonlight sports; the game often had to be suspended because of fights and threats.


Our aim is that there should be a competition on each occasion, and every participant who remains to play to the end of the competition should get some prize. This is usually some bigger or smaller bar of chocolate, and the first three best also get a medal. The competition is needed to engage their interest and energy and to meet their demand for excitement. To participate at competitions is not obligatory, but recommended. This used to be a problem earlier, because they did not like to be defeated, and as a result they did not like to take part at competitions. The assistants who can also play ping-pong or foosball also play these games with the youngsters and in this way can be on more intimate terms with them. There are few adults who treat these young people as equal human beings, and there is something similar the other way round, there are few adults who are accepted by the visitors of our clubs. I am proud of the fact that wherever we meet in town, they do not turn their head away, but greet us. I do not think their teachers have the same experience with them.


Another condition to run a club is to have assistants. It is good to have a main organizer as well, who does all the paperwork and represents the club at all levels. The latter need not be present at the competitions on all Friday or Saturday nights, his task is to provide the conditions of running the club. The ideal number of the assistants is between three and five, depending on the size of the club. In the case of a small club even one person can be enough on an occasion, but bigger clubs should rather have several of them. It might be necessary to have one or two weeks’ breaks between the weekends, because nobody can be expected to be in charge of a program every week. The qualification of the assistants is not essential, though it is good if they are somewhat skilled in the field of handling young people and their problems, or they can do sports. It is highly important that assistants should be volunteers and they should not work for the sake of money, but out of a sense of vocation. If they seemed to be more interested in money making, the persons should rather be replaced.


The venue of the sporting activities should be in a hall where at least two tables can be set up, and there should be additional rooms. Of course the scale can be extended, but no bigger hall is needed than a gymnasium. In our country moonlight clubs vary in size and according to the way of running them. There are clubs in big sports halls, in activity buildings next to churches, in schools, in cultural centres, in hired rooms, and who knows in how many other types of buildings. The organizations that run the clubs also vary a lot; associations, foundations, local governments, the Reformed Church, private persons can all be responsible for the program.


It is evident that the whole thing would not make sense without the participation of young people. The composition of the youngsters may depend on the size of the settlement and the location of the club. There are different types of people visiting such clubs in a town or in a small village. The location of the club might also influence the composition; when the competition is organized in a school, it is more likely that pupils of the school will attend in a greater number, compared to a competition organized by a family counselling centre. I do not discriminate among children, as in today’s world all young people are exposed to danger. People working for the Moonlight Program are convinced that the program has a preventive character, we cannot help people who are already drug addicts, or have similar serious problems. Anyone can visit our clubs who accept and observe our rules.


  1. No charges – all participants can attend the activities free of charge (no membership fee either)
  2. Catering – The participants of the activities get free food and drinks (bread and dripping, tea, etc)
  3. No cigarettes, alcoholic drinks, drugs – Activities should be organised in venues where there are no such harmful things available. That is, no discos, pubs can be venues.
  4. Night opening hours – Activities are normally between eight and midnight. They can start earlier and finish later, but the place should be open at least between eight and midnight.
  5. Regularity – The activities should take place all the year round at a regular time. Preferably the club should be open on Friday or/and Saturday night.
  6. Competition + prizes – Preferably there should be some kind of competition each time, and the participants who stay to the end should get some prize. (The prize should be a bar of chocolate, or some similarly cheaper thing, but not something expensive.) Those who do not want to compete should be involved in some other way.
  7. The character of the sporting activity – Leisure sport activities are needed, and the emphasis should be on ping-pong. Besides ping-pong there can be other sorts of activities, but not instead of it.

Further pieces of useful information:

Besides the programs organized by the clubs there are two or three national competitions annually, where all clubs try to participate. Every year we organize a conference, where club leaders and assistants can meet, discuss their problems, and the leaders of new clubs can get to know the others. On the basis of an agreement with an association on the riverside of the Danube, the young people of the clubs can spend three days on the Danube side, where they have such experiences which they could not have otherwise (biking tour, tour on the river, trips, toboggan etc.). MÉSE publishes the journal HÍRPONG every third or fourth month, which reports about the events of the preceding period. The clubs contribute to the editing of the home page of the Association. They can add photos, articles. From time to time we try to call attention to our activities by organizing moonlight competitions on some special venues, like the Budapest Zoo, the ice rink in Városliget Park, in the ceremonial halls of the Mayor’s Office or the Hungarian Radio, in the table tennis hall of the BSE sports club.

Official website: