[Morgan Anderson | WOUB]

An Athens native builds community and promotes growth through table tennis

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Gaelan Mullins handed out paddles and balls to the players around him, who took their positions at the tables lined up across the room. What followed was two hours of furious table tennis.

Mullins was hosting his first table tennis league competition inside a former shoe store in the Athens Mall.

And he said it doesn’t get much better than this.

“It’s my favorite thing in the world to do,” Mullins said. “I have a deep passion for spreading the sport because I think it has a unique ability to benefit communities and individuals.”

Hot Shot Table Tennis, located in the Athens mall, is across from Maurices in a former shoe store.
Hot Shot Table Tennis, located in the Athens mall, is across from Maurices in a former shoe store. [Morgan Anderson | WOUB]
Five months ago, Mullins opened Hot Shot Table Tennis, where anyone and everyone can play — for free. Between renting the space in the mall to the professional tables, he pays for all of it out of his own pocket. Mullins only suggests a walk-in donation of $2, if attendees are able.

Hot Shot first started in Jersey City, New Jersey, which is just along the New York and New Jersey border. Mullins lived in New York for 10 years before moving back to Athens nine months ago.

“Where I was living, it was really densely urban so there weren’t a lot of parks or cheap recreational activities for families and for people to do,” Mullins said. “Everything is really expensive there. I wanted to open a club there to give people a healthy activity that was cheap and also deep.”

Mullins, 37, grew up in Athens and graduated from Ohio University. He lived in Australia for a year before moving to New York for an internship that later turned into a job.

Mullins said he climbed up the ranks all those years to become the head audio engineer at Malka Media, which is a bicoastal creative company based in Jersey City and Santa Monica, California.

But when he wasn’t working, Mullins said he needed something more fulfilling — like table tennis.

Mullins said his passion for table tennis started young because of his mom, who loved to play. But growing up in Athens, there were not many places to play.

‘There was one table in the old Baker Center and I would beg my mom like, “Let’s go play table tennis, please,”‘ Mullins said. “I always wanted to play, and she would probably say she took me there all the time, but my memory was like maybe once a month for five seconds. I just desperately wanted to play and there was nowhere to play and no one to play with.”

So, once he graduated college and moved to New York, he started Hot Shot’s first location, which has been open for over five years now.

“I created a club and it had nine tables,” Mullins said. “I put up thousands of posters and marketed it, paid for the tables and slowly found a space to put it in. We got going and it grew and grew, and then I left.”

When the pandemic ended, Mullins said Malka allowed him to continue his job remotely, which led to him moving back home.

“As soon as I came here, I knew I had to do the same thing,” he said. “It’s so incredibly enriching for the community and for people and also for my own life. It has provided me so much, so I knew had to do it as soon as I got here.”

Twelve players participated in Mullins' league on June 22.
Twelve players participated in Mullins’ league on June 22. [Morgan Anderson | WOUB]
Mullins founded Hot Shot on two guiding principles: building a community to help humanity and promoting individual growth. Both of these principles Mullins believes can be done through the sport of table tennis.

“There’s a lot of ways to approach the sport,” Mullins said. “That, by itself, makes it really valuable for even people with mobility issues, old people playing young people, poor people playing rich people, different cultures, age groups and different genders. It’s egalitarian.” 

Mullins said table tennis is more understood as a leisure and social activity in the United States. His time abroad showed him that the sport can go even further.

“It’s really dynamic,” Mullins said. “But there is a next level to it that just keeps going deeper and deeper. All sports are like that, but table tennis is real deep. I tell people, ‘This is a real deep rabbit hole. Be careful because you’ll get addicted and never come out of the rabbit hole.'” 

Mullins balances his time between Hot Shot, his full-time job and his personal life with his wife. Making the time he puts into the club is truly an investment that he said has great returns.

“It’s like a manifestation of the dream seeing these tables here, having this activity and it being available in this community,” Mullins said. 

Asked about his end goal with Hot Shot, Mullins said his answer was simple.

“I want to retire happily as an old man providing value to the community,” he said. “I would love to retire with this club.”

Hot Shot held its first-ever league in Athens last week where anyone could come and compete in a bracket-style competition. Close to 20 players of all different ages filled the room, battling it out table tennis style.

Over the course of two hours, players filtered out of the league as the winners remained on top to continue on to the next round.

Gaelan Mullins, the founder of Hot Shot Table Tennis, smiles with his first Athens league champion, Pranay Byreddy.
Gaelan Mullins, the founder of Hot Shot Table Tennis, smiles with his first Athens league champion, Pranay Byreddy. [Morgan Anderson | WOUB]
Pranay Byreddy, a graduate student at Ohio University, was the league’s champion for the night. Byreddy went to high school in India where he would play in intramural tournaments with his friends. He said Hot Shot has given him a chance to get back in the groove.

“It’s a great hobby,” Byreddy said. “Usually my schedule is to go back home and sit in front of a laptop, but coming out and getting excited playing something I love is a lot more fun.”

As the league’s first champion, Byreddy said his win was not expected since he was rusty from his high school days.

“I was surprised I still had some of it – obviously not good enough to beat Gaelan or any of the good guys – but with enough practice it will happen slowly,” Byreddy said. 

For those interested in checking out Hot Shot Table Tennis, visit its website at hotshottabletennis.com or contact Gaelan Mullins via email at gaelan@hotshottabletennis.com.

Hot Shot’s current hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.