USA Table Tennis

From the 1960-61 season on, Shonie Aki was ranked among the top 40 players in the U.S. six times, once achieving--with his unorthodox but very effective wrist-snap stroke--the U.S. #14 spot. And though as early as 1959, Shonie enjoyed, at his own expense, playing in the Dortmund, Germany World Championships, he was never content to be just a player.

In 1960-61, he served under California TTA President Ben Wollman, then the following season was Corresponding Secretary under CATTA President Austin Finkenbinder, and subsequently was himself President of the California Association.

1963 was a good year for Shonie. (1) He opened his Los Angeles Table Tennis Club--actually, ever since '59 when he was in the Army, stationed at Fort Ord and performing in the Band, he'd been coming into L.A. to hone his game. (2) He was elected to the USTTA Executive Committee. And (3) he received the prestigious Barna Award for his contributions to the Sport.

1964 wasn't bad either. The Inglewood, California U.S. Open "was masterfully run by Shonie Aki and his many helpers," including his then wife Ria. Shonie also found time to get to the semi's of the Men's Doubles with Ragnar "Ray" Fahlstrom, and to win the Open Men's Consolation. This success was not surprising, though, for in the early and mid '60's Shonie came first or second in a number of California tournaments, including wins in the 1965 Los Angeles Open and in the Arizona Open three years in a row.

In 1964, too, Valleri Smith Bellini, with whom Shonie had gotten to the semi's of the Mixed in the '63 U.S. Open, won the Women's Singles at Inglewood. On being interviewed, she spoke not only of the "practical help" but the "encouragement and moral support" she'd been given by her good friend Shonie.

Other opportunities beckoned Aki. In the movie adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools, Shonie was a table tennis stand-in for actor Mel Ferrer. He also was Richard Bergmann's performance partner in a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters.

On moving to the San Francisco area, Shonie began reactivating local play and headed a Club there for many years.

In 1969 he was Operations Director for the U.S. Open. "Hats off to everyone connected with the event, especially Shonie Aki, John Hanna, Dan Goodman...."

In 1973, a group of San Franciscans supported our U.S. Team at the Sarajevo World's. Indeed, a USTTA Topics article by Mike Greene speaks of how former Internationalist Allan (earlier Adolph) Herskovic led a "team" of San Francisco players, including Shonie and Ria, on a 26-day trip that included not only the Sarajevo World's but also the opportunity to play and sight-see in Europe. Here's Mike on Shonie playing Dragutin Surbek, one of the world's best, at Mladost Club matches in Zagreb:

"He [Shonie] was probably nervous or just plain frightened. The...match was terrible. Surbek, who is known as an animal and the man with the iron arm, just didn't give him a chance. The Yugoslav played an unbelievable game. His loop drive from off the floor was too much--all you could see was the end of the swing. Shonie couldn't even get ready for the ball. He tried some of his tricky serves on Surbek, but Surbek read them all."

Ah, well, perhaps Shonie would just have to practice more...or confine himself to opponents who'd be much less intimidating. At the '79 U.S. Closed he succeeded in being a finalist in the Senior A's.

By this time, too, he was instrumental in forming the Berkeley, CA Club.

With the advent of the '80's, Shonie would again be found working on the staff of all our major tournaments--as he'd perenially continue to do through the end of the millenium. Here's a partial listing of the positions he's held from the mid-'80's through the '90's: 1986--Control Desk Co-Director with Richard Butler at the Olympic Festival; 1987--Control Desk Co-Director with Rich Livingston at the U.S. Open; 1989 and 1991--Assistant Tournament Director at the Olympic Festival; 1994 and 1997--Operations Director at the U.S. Open; 1998 and 1999--Tournament Director at both the U.S. Open and Closed.

In May, 1988, Shonie, having served in such a capacity before, was appointed to the USTTA E.C. as Vice President to take over the vacated spot of Mel Eisner who'd been elected to the Presidency. He remained as V.P. for the next 11 years--a further tribute to his enduring popularity and staying power in serving, literally for decades, the USTTA (later USATT).

No wonder Shonie was one of the first inductees into the California Table Tennis Hall of Fame. The more so because it was known locally that for summers in the 1990's, encouraged by his wife Louise, he taught table tennis at the University of California Berkeley Sports Complex to 300 or more Juniors (8-15 years old), the more talented and serious of whom he enrolled in the Berkeley TTC Junior Coaching Program.

Also, Shonie himself continued to play competitively. At the 1996 Huntsman World Senior games in St. George Utah, in the 55-59 age group, he came first in Singles and Doubles.

Shonie is currently on the USATT and California Hall of Fame Board of Directors, and says he's maintained all his official positions over the years--and his sanity--"by having a sense of humor." That, even Surbek, off court, had to concede to him.