O.B. Fon could be Denver’s winningest table tennis player.
Earlier this year, we told the story of his long trek through Central America to claim asylum in the U.S. Soon after he arrived here, he started dominating a local table tennis league and using the money to support his family.
Now settled in Aurora, he’s looking for more intense competition. Ace Eat Serve, the table tennis joint on 17th Avenue, has given him $500 to play in the California State Open next month.
It’s the first time they’ve sponsored a player, and they say it’s largely because of the energy that Fon brings to their weekly Tuesday tournaments.
Fon has never lost on a Tuesday night, and he’s only missed two weeks since he won the $1,000 grand prize at their annual New Year’s Eve tournament last December.
“He’s gotta have like $1,000 in $25 gift cards,” said Ace general manager Tabitha Tobias, referring to the weekly prize.
Despite his domination, he hasn’t created ill will among Denver’s table tennis regulars. It’s actually had the opposite effect. “He’s just inspiring,” Tobias said. “Immediately, everyone was attracted to him.”
When Fon approached her to ask for help getting to California, she said the answer was clear. “He just deserves it,” she said.
Fon spent the better part of a year traveling from his native Cameroon to the U.S. border and then in immigration detention before he was finally granted asylum. Before he got authorization to work, the money he won playing table tennis was his main source of financing. He had to win, he said, otherwise he couldn’t buy phone cards to call his wife and young daughter.
Fon said he’s excited to compete against higher caliber athletes at the California Open. He’s also excited to return to California. He passed through the southern part of the state and spent a few weeks in a lockup there before he was transferred to the private immigration prison in Aurora.
As for Ace’s support, Fon said he’s grateful: “It means a lot to me. Ace is like my second home.”
This will be a good opportunity for him to hone his skills, he said, as he prepares to sweep the next $1,000 New Years Eve tournament. His personal motto: “I always win.”