In an April, 1988 article for Table Tennis Topics, Anne Scholl Boyer tells us that Chartchai Teekaveerakit (reportedly pronounced “Tee-ka-wee-la-git), “the youngest of eight children, weighed just three pounds at birth, and spent his first days of life in an incubator.” He’d soon be out of that of course…and later out of Thailand.
Growing up in Bangkok, he first learned to play table tennis “with a piece of cardboard for a net, a cement floor for a table, and his oldest sister, Punnee, for a teacher.” When “he began to play regularly, even skipping classes at his school to do so,” you knew he had the desire, and maybe the talent, to be good. Would he get the professional coaching he needed?...
….Prompted by a request from former Thai and Australian Champion Charlie Wuvanich, who in the mid-to-late ‘70’s had made a claim to be the U.S.’s #1 player, I, as USTTA President-Elect, wrote a May 8, 1984 letter to the Thai Association to officially invite Chartchai Teekaveerakit to come to our June 27-July 1 U.S. Open in Las Vegas, as well as some June warm-up tournaments in Maryland and Florida—all expenses paid. Chartchai, also supported by our International Chair Gus Kennedy, had honed his penhold attack game in Bangkok by coming under the tutelage of Wuvanich and his close friend, Chuchai Chan, another Champion Thai who for a few-years-stay had also been a top U.S. player. Not only was this Chartchai “a very nice and honest boy, almost like our son,” Charlie had written me—but he had credentials. At 16 he’d become the Thai National Men’s Champ and had played for his country at the 1983 Tokyo World’s.
Back in the ‘70’s while in the U.S., Chan had been coach to young Sean O’Neill and for a time had lived at the Pat and Kathy O’Neill family home. Absolutely key to Chartchai’s coming was a set-the-stage Wuvanich phone call to the O’Neill’s asking if for a time they would host this young Thai who, hoping to get a “Green Card,” would be an excellent practice partner for Sean. The O’Neill’s agreed—and Chartchai, now known by the nickname “Hank,” had a home away from home.
Boyer in her article says that Hank wanted to come to the States not so much to play table tennis but to follow his oldest brother whose aim had been “to study in Washington D.C. but who ended up working as a waiter and bartender there before leaving after four years.” “At the O’Neill’s home in Virginia,” says Boyer, “a dinner party was held for Hank. Steak was served. Because of his religion, Buddhism, Hank had never before eaten meat.” But, yes, he was going to adapt to life in the States. Though it was against his feelings, he swallowed chunks of the stuff without chewing. Later, meat became a regular part of his diet.
As for his table tennis—in his initial U.S. matches, good as he was, he had to start taking his lumps there too, right?
Tom Wintrich (Spin, July-Aug. ’84), in covering Hank at his first U.S. Open in Las Vegas, June 27-July 1, might say he had one hard swallow when in the U-2500’s he lost in the semi’s to Perry Schwartzberg. But he beat 1979 U.S. Champ Attila Malek in that event, and though he lost the 17 final to Sean and went down in the Men’s semi’s to a strong Chinese Taipei player, those losses were relatively easy to digest. The more so because he’d been able, with preparatory tips back home from Wuvanich, and bothersome-to-his-opponent vocal support from O’Neill on the sidelines, to savor a five-game Men’s eighth’s win over multi-time U.S. Champ Danny Seemiller. Heartburn there was, but only for Seemiller who could score just 25 points total in the 4th and 5th games. Hank’s high-toss, spin-changing serves prevented Danny from opening, and that made all the humiliating difference.
Of course Hank wasn’t eligible yet to play in our U.S. National’s. But just prior to that ’84 Closed, at the Detroit USOTC’s, he had a 9th-match, 19-in-the-third win over Randy Seemiller (another blow to brother Danny) that allowed his Yasaka I team to finish second behind the Nigerian Skypower team, and Hank himself to win the Most Valuable Player Award.
Teekaveerakit would have to jump a year before he and his Canadian teammates Alain Bourbonnais and Horatio Pintea would win the 1986 USOTC’s. But in a tournament where only U.S. players could win prize money—Bill and Liz Hornyak’s ’95 Duneland Open—Hank took the Men’s from Sean and third-place finisher Danny who, after objecting to Hank’s entry as a foreigner here, would balance the score, later eliminate him in the semi’s of the $10,000 Maryland Open.
Power Poon’s April, ’86 Louisiana Open saw Hank’s five-game final’s win over Brian Masters and his strong finish in other events net him $950—not a bad weekend’s work.
At Miami Beach’s $20,500 ‘86 Capital Bank U.S. Open, Teekaveerakit won the U-21’s from, first, future Olympian Khoa Nguyen, then the world-class Brazilian star Claudio Kano. In Aug., Canadian Joe Ng was too strong for Hank at the $16,500 Columbus, Indiana Open. But Hank quickly rebounded to win the Singles and Doubles (with Sean) at the annual Labor Day CNE tournament in Toronto. And though Jimmy Butler defeated Hank in the Nissen Open final, at the U.S. Team Trials that immediately followed, Hank came second behind O’Neill, and Jimmy didn’t make the Team to the ‘87 New Delhi World’s at all. Hank would then go on to be a member of two more U.S. World Teams—in ’89 and ’91.
Eligible now for the 1986 U.S. Closed, Hank was hugely successful, nearly accomplishing the rare “hat trick.” He won the Men’s—defeating in the eighth’s Dhiren Narotam (in five), in the quarter’s Quang Bui (in four); in the semi’s Ricky Seemiller (in five); and in the final Defending Champion O’Neill (from down 2-0 and deuce in the third!).
Sean had said after he’d won the ’85 Closed that he owed Hank a debt for helping him, but he sure had no intention of dropping this coveted match. In a Jan.-Feb., ’86 interview with Scott Bakke, Sean praised Hank as being “a fantastic coach. He is completely unselfish and cares as passionately about my performance as I do.” But not to the extent of dumping this Championship match. Dependent on the O’Neill’s for shelter and a “family” friendship that included much basement practice with Sean and a cooperative study of many strategy-revealing tapes, he knew very well “his best friend’s capabilities and vulnerabilities” and to his credit didn’t hesitate to use that knowledge to his advantage.
Competitive though they had to be on court, they very much valued one another as teammates. Which is one reason why they won the Men’s Doubles together—from the Butler brothers in the semi’s; the Seemillers in the final. And with Lisa Gee Hank almost won the Mixed, beating Danny and many-time U.S. Women’s Closed Champ Insook Bhushan in the semi’s, before losing to Sean and Diana Gee, 19 in the fifth, in the final. He also took the U-21’s from Brandon Olson. All events considered, it was probably the best tournament of his life.
Hank reached the final of the $7,200 ‘87 Eastern Open before losing to the ex-Yugoslav International Zoran “Zoki” Kosanovic, and this time he and Sean were beaten in the Doubles by the Seemillers.
Disappointment and anger for Defending Champ Teekaveerakit at the ’87 Closed where very uncharacteristically he did not get to a single final. Worse, he had a furious argument with Danny Seemiller when in a close fifth-game semi’s a ball he thought hit the edge was called out by the umpire, and when he looked to Seemiller for confirmation he was right he said Danny at first agreed then changed his mind and took the point. After Hank had lost deuce in the 5th, he had quite a five-minute eruption. Later he apologized: “I have never done this type of thing before,” he said. “I hope it never happens again.” It had been no secret that these two eventual Hall of Famers had been feuding. Seemiller well remembered how in a Doubles final he thought the ball had hit Hank’s shirt, but, despite Danny’s insistence, the umpire ruled otherwise, and Hank had taken the point.
Prior to the ’88 Closed where he reached the semi’s with a deuce in the 5th win over the fast-improving, future U.S. Champion Jimmy Butler, Hank greatly helped his Brother International teammates Sean and Cheng Yinghua win the USOTC Championship. He defeated the Nigerian Union Bank Team’s Mahab Ahmed, earlier a winner over Danny Seemiller and O’Neill, in the climactic ninth match. Sean said Ahmed’s problem “wasn’t simply getting the serve back, but stopping Hank’s bullet loop if the ball wasn’t returned perfectly.”
At the ’89 World’s, Hank beat the U.S.’s Polish nemesis Stanislav Fryczck, now playing for Austria, to win that upset tie for us. At both the ’89 and ’90 Closed, Hank finished fourth, and so qualified to represent the U.S. at his third straight World’s. Both years he also played in a Rating Doubles event with one of the many young players he was coaching at the Potomac, MD Community Center, and both times gained the final, winning once, losing once.
In 1990, at the Louisiana Open, Teekaveerakit, after being loosened up by neuromuscular therapist Kenny Owens (“Any looper’s muscles have pre-existing tenseness and so will tighten over time”), was able to beat a “not thinking right” Danny Seemiller, now the USTTA President, in five, before falling in the semi’s to the eventual winner, former China National Team member “Jack” Tong-Sheng Huang. At that year’s U.S. Open Hank played well to get to the All-American event final where he lost to Canada’s World #87 Ng. Later, he’ll advance to the American All-Star Series final where he’ll go down in a deuce-in-the-fifth killer (from 19-15 up) to his former USOTC winning teammate Bourbonnais. But back he comes to win the Nov., 1990 Houston Open.
In 1991, Teekaveerakit makes the U.S. Pan-Am Team. Then again is playing well at the Louisiana Open, but again loses to “Jack” Huang who’d also stop him in the fall Eastern Open. At the Chiba, Japan World’s, he’s part of a rallying Team effort—lots of support, lots of cheering brings the U.S. (from down 2-0) the 3-2 victory over Denmark it needs to get into the First Division. In his last U.S. Closed, Hank continued to show his strength in Singles and Doubles—beating Danny Seemiller, then losing to Sean in the semi’s, and reaching the Doubles final with Narotam.
For eight years, and for so many high-powered tournaments (the only kind that mattered to him), Hank—with his devastating forehand point winners, invariably set up by his dreaded high toss serves, backhand sidespin jabs, and follow-up fast footwork—reached the semi’s and often the final of event after event.. So many wins and so many near misses—the USTTA magazine is filled with them. And even some I overlooked, for O’Neill tells us that in 1992, Hank, by now a naturalized U.S. citizen, just missed making the U.S. Olympic Team. As First Alternate, he represented the U.S. abroad—in the Brazil and Japan Opens.
Finally, though, it was time to start another productive career. He returned to Thailand as the first man in his large family to get a University degree, actually two degrees—from George Mason as a Marketing major, and from Southeastern with a Masters in International Business. When, 16 years later, thanks to Sean O’Neill who’d urged his Hall of Fame attendance and did the Induction honors for him, we got to see Chartchai again—no, c’mon, he’s always gotta be Hank—he’d be the successful CEO of the Crystaline Jewelry Company in Bangkok.