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History of USA Table Tennis: Volume III1953: Illinois Wins NTC’s. 1953: Shahian, Robinson best in Women’s East-West Matches. 1953-54: New England Tournaments/Eastern’s. 1954: Midwest Tournaments/Western’s. 1954: Southwest Tournaments 1954: California Tournaments. 1954: USTTA Selection Committee At Work. 1954: Miles/Shahian Win U.S. Open.

            Round robins in the 7-team NTCs and the 8-player Women’s East-West Matches were played simultaneously Dec. 5-6 at the Northside YMCA Gym in St.Louis. After Elmer Cinnater resigned as USTTA President, he took over as St. Louis District President, but has kept such a low profile that almost nothing’s ever written about him. A bevy of experienced officials—including George Hendry, surfacing here as Tournament Referee, not player—helped their Skipper keep the matches running smoothly. Pauline Robinson’s “main complaint” (she didn’t voice any others to Topics) was that “back space was not adequate for first-class playing.” I suspect that, privately, she didn’t feel the East-West women’s matches, including her own, were being given the same attention that the NTC men’s matches were—and likely they weren’t.

 

NTC’s

            One of the favorites, Illinois, opened against Indiana, whom they judged rightly to be one of the weaker teams (they’d finish 0-6), and so, anchored securely by Bukiet and maybe not so securely by Holzrichter, they gave their #5 Dave Freifelder a chance to play. So Dave lost all 3, so what? Except when Bukiet was upset by Morris Johnson, 1948 U.S. Open Boy’s Champion, there’d better not be another miscue—and there wasn’t.

            In the second round, Hazi, who had no D.C. team but, as “an outstanding player whose ability deserves consideration for the U.S. Swaythling Cup Team,” was able to join with George Ferris and, despite the two of them having to carry poor Fran Delaney (0-17), their “New England” team forced New York into the 8th match, for Hirschkowitz went down twice, and Tibor had a fine win over Somael.

            There were some very tight ties through the third and fourth rounds. Against Ohio, Michigan sat out U.S. # 15 Harry Lund (who had no Minnesota team) and gave Irv Stone a chance to play (his only tie)—with, alas, 4-5 consequences. Irv couldn’t win a match, and U.S. #18 Max Hersh was upset by both Ralph Ramsey and Harry Sage. Much to the disappointment of the home crowd, St. Louis was stopped early, 5-4, by New England when Hazi beat Jim Tancill and both he and Ferris conked cold Don Lasater and Wally Gundlach. However, St. Louis had a chance to stay in contention, caught a break when Holzrichter didn’t play against them, but Bukiet led a 5-4 team effort that included Tharaldson’s win over Tancill and Meszaros’s win over Gundlach.

In the penultimate round, Michigan avoided a last-place tie by beating Indiana 5-4: Lund took 3, and Hersh, though losing to Dave Krizman, beat Johnson and Dick Winkle. Hazi’s New England team lost 4th place to Ohio (3-3) when Tim Boggan took 3 and Ramsey and Sage beat the hapless Delaney. Many of the Sunday afternoon spectators got a lift when St. Louis 5-4 edged by undefeated N.Y. U.S. #10 Hirschkowitz and U.S. #3 Somael (jeopardizing his chance for the World’s?) lost to both unranked Tancill and U.S. #22 Lasater; Gusikoff’s one loss—to John Stewart—was one too many.

Sunday evening, against Indiana, Hazi (13-3) came through with 3 wins, and Ferris 2, that kept New England out of a last-place tie. St. Louis eked out another win, got by Michigan 5-4. The St. Louis 5th, Kansas City’s Joe Dragosh, lost all 3, but at least he was part of this elite tournament, and, besides, Lasater swept his 3 matches and Tancill scored over Hersh and Eddie Brennan. The very next weekend Kansas City would host a Missouri Valley Intercity tourney, and though his team didn’t win, Dragosh himself “won all his matches, and for the third year was declared the outstanding individual competitor.”

In this final session, New York, despite its afternoon loss to St. Louis, could force a play-off if it beat undefeated Illinois. But that attempt was thwarted when Holzrichter (13-0) deservingly won the Outstanding Player Award by knocking off the whole New York team, and Bukiet (11-2), though losing to Somael—a win Johnny (12-4) needed—likewise rose to the occasion by downing Hirschkowitz and Gusikoff.

You’ve noticed of course that the U.S.#1, Dick Miles, didn’t play in these Championships. He’d be entered in the Feb. Easterns’s, but, meantime, for months he’d be out of the country on a Department of Defense Tour to the Far East—Hawaii, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan—with Freddie Borges. Being with the eccentric Borges was such a novel experience that Dick would later “immortalize” Freddie as Hugo Batzlinger in a 1966 Sports Illustrated article. During this 1953-54 winter, Dick would be playing practice matches (and, as he said, more than hold his own) with Ichiro Ogimura and Yoshio Tomita—two of Japan’s best—at the USO’s Ernie Pyle Theater in Tokyo, where four tables were set up and the playing conditions good.

Dick’s absence raised the question of whether he and/or who else would be picked for the U.S. Men’s Team, providing there was a Team, to the 1954 London World’s. But as this NTC tournament was no longer the be-all and end-all to the selection process that it once was, it’d be a while yet before the Selection Committee would make its final decision.    

 

Women’s East-West Matches

            The mimeographed Program put together by the St. Louis TTA showed a schedule of Women’s matches that included Easterners Leah Neuberger and Lona Flam—but neither showed. Consequently only Pauline Robinson and Jean Gere properly represented the East. Millie Shahian, who’d moved from St. Louis to Chicago, was 7-0 undefeated and won the Outstanding Player Award. Other players’ records are as follows: Pauline Robinson, 6-1. Sally Green Prouty, 5-2. Sharlene Krizman, 4-3. Carolee Liechty, 3-4. Shirley Lund, 2-5. Jane Allison, 1-6. Jean Gere, 0-7. Jean’s maybe not at her best against opponents (like Lund and Allison) whose games she’s not familiar with?

            

New England Tournaments/Eastern’s

            The same weekend of those many 5-4 ties in St. Louis, Western Massachusetts TTA President Mort Rubin was winning a tournament in Springfield over their Junior Champ Ben Masterman who’d eliminated Charles “Buddy” Forant 19 in the 5th in the semi’s. In the Women’s, Rachel Wood outlasted Lois Humphrey. 30-28 in the deciding 3rd. Rubin also won both Doubles—the Men’s with George LaPierre over Art Nichols/Len Turner; and the Mixed with Wood over Turner/Humphrey. In a letter to Topics Rubin said he was against having many players nationally ranked—“When everybody is somebody, then nobody is anybody.” Certainly Rubin was a local somebody in the March Closed up there, for he defeated former Western Mass TTA President Clarence Sage to become the Men’s Champ. Women’s went to Birnbaum over Terry Nichols. Sage and Junior Champ Phil Young came 1st in Men’s Doubles over Fletcher and Men’s Consolation winner Art Nichols. The Nichols pair won the Mixed.           

Bridgeport hosted the Feb. 20-21 Eastern’s, and Miles seemed ready, having returned from his Tour with a warm-up the week before on the West Coast—against Glaser, Ferguson, Prager, and Klein, none of whom, though sometimes coming close, took a game from him.

In the 66-entry Men’s, Monasterial, the one-armed U.N. Champion, made nobodies of LaPierre and Rubin before losing badly himself to Somael. (It’s a pity that Marcy’s U.N. Table Tennis Club, with its roughly 125 members, couldn’t affiliate with the USTTA—but by law “no organized group within the UN may belong to any other organization.”)

Except for Buki’s 5-game upset of Somael, the quarter’s were uneventful: Pagliaro in 3 over Grike, and Miles over Gusikoff, and Schiff over Hazi in 4. In the semi’s, Sol wasn’t in the match with Dick, but Buki, given an opening, was deuce-in-the-5th at Louie’s door before he finally closed him out. Then…there must be something wrong with Paggy’s circulation…in the final he got another career cramp and had to default to Dick.

The Women’s brought a talked-about upset: Pauline Robinson finally beat Leah Neuberger…in 5. In the semi’s, Leah had taken out Peggy McLean Folke; Pauline, Lona Flam after Lona had 24-22 in the 4th met unaccustomed strong resistance from Jean Gere. Women’s Consolation winner was Astrida Vanages over Irene Bondy. Leah took both the Women’s Doubles—with Folke from Flam/Robinson in 5—and the Mixed with Hazi from Pagliaro/Folke in 4. In the Senior’s, Tibor had an easy time with Bill Gunn. Fred Ek won the Consolation’s from Alan Marshall. Another win for Hazi in Men’s Doubles—a 5-gamer with Schiff over Somael/Gusikoff. Sandy Gross’s protégé, Sandy Potiker, won the Boys,’ but he and Angelo Vinci, though defeating Gusikoff/Mal Krauss (they’d recently been on The Jackie Gleason Show), lost the Junior Doubles to Philly’s Grike/Arnold Liebowitz. 

            The week after the Eastern’s, Schiff had a grand time at the 25th Anniversary of the Quebec Open. He won the Men’s over Belanger, the Men’s Doubles with Gunn, and the Mixed with Montreal’s Denise LeBrun. Neuberger took the Women’s over Huguette Parent. George Stenbar beat Gunn for the Senior’s.

 

Midwest Tournaments/Western’s

            A record field of 123 players thought What Better Way to Start Off the New Year Than By Winning Matches at the Jan. 2-3 St. Joe Valley in South Bend. Upsets in the Men’s included Bill Palmer over #6 seed Marty Prager, deuce in the 5th, and 1947 U.S. Open Boys U-15 Champ Eddie Hancock’s win over #8 seed Keith Porter. (Said a friend of mine, “Did anybody ever play more table tennis than Keith Porter?”) But the match that startled everyone was when Outstanding Player Holzrichter found himself in the quarter’s down 2-0 to Dave Krizman (whose NTC record had been a humbling 6-9). Billy then rallied to win the 3rd and 4th, but succumbed in the 5th, and Dave, eliminating Palmer, went on to the final. Another fan-favorite, Gordon Barclay (who I presume hadn’t played on the Indiana team at the NTC’s because, like the 1952 U.S. Open Junior Champ Carl Dentice, he was intent on his studies at Indiana University), had a two-game lead on Harry Lund, but couldn’t hold it. Harry lost in the semi’s to Bukiet, the “driving machine,” who beat Krizman 3-0 in the final.

            Hometown success continued in the Women’s. Carolee Liechty shocked U.S. #1 World Team qualifier Millie Shahian, knocking her off in 4 in the semi’s. On the other side of the Draw, Sharlene Krizman beat Shirley Lund in the quarter’s, then #2 seed Cleveland’s Elaine Mitchell. That brought her to the final where she met “her bitterest rival—best friend—and doubles partner, in a slambang match”—with Sherri winning…of course in 5. The two South Bend girls also took the Women’s Doubles—over Lund/Mabel Smith. Shahian returned to win the Mixed with Bill Meszaros from Bukiet and she who steadied Bernie (or at least for a while tried to) Marge Kalman. Meszaros also won the Men’s Doubles with Holzrichter over Palmer/Porter.

            Could the Junior winner be anyone other than Dave Krizman? He beat that other Dave, Freifelder, in the final. The two of them won the newly inaugurated Junior Doubles from Harley Bradford/Steve Isaacson. In Junior Miss, it figured that it was Carolee’s turn to beat Sharlene, and she did…in 5. (This, going the limit in every match, was itself a game these girls played?) Sandy Potiker not only won the Boys’ over Paul Gast but the Sportsmanship Award donated by John Varga.

            New Albany, Indiana bat-maker Bernie Hock beat Minnesota’s Clarence Smith to win the Senior’s. By now, at 41, Bernie’s a big name in what’s become for him a very precise plywood-into-paddle hobby cum small business. As he explains to New Albany Tribune interviewer Jim Linette, he uses “a balance scale he made himself” to pre-weigh “every single racket”—that includes “rubber facings, plywood forms, mahogany handles, leather grips, everything”—and he has “a special secret in the glue mixture he uses.” New York Champions Miles, Reisman, Cartland, and Neuberger all use “Hocks.” Bernie tells a reporter for the Dec. 27, 1953 Louisville Courier-Journal that there’s a problem with his “hobby.” “I’m a roofer,” he says, “and my hobby keeps me so busy I don’t have time to tend my own roof. I’m in the unhappy position of being my own worst advertisement—a roofer with the worst roof on the block.” Never mind—soon his climb up will be exclusively in the table tennis world.

            Johnny Somael, who feels the sponge bat “is just a passing fancy,” probably uses a Hock too, but whatever he uses he did hat-trick well with it at the Michigan Open. What was he doing in Pontiac? Passing through—on a Tour of schools with fellow New Yorker Warren Bondy. Exhibitions take the edge off your play, and after dropping games to Brennan and Boggan, Johnny was 24, 15, -21, 24 hard-pressed in the final to beat a tenacious Max Hersh. In probably the most exciting match of the tournament, Hersh had earlier 21, 21, -17, -18, 21 outlasted Cleveland’s Sandy Potiker.

            Women’s winner (Junior Girls too) was Carolee Liechty over…Elaine Mitchell. No, Sharlene didn’t enter. Maybe she had an accordion concert? Or, oh-oh, had been grounded? Mitchell teamed with Somael to win the Mixed over the South Bend pair of Liechty/Ben Baker. And Johnny and Warren, having escaped Boggan/Palmer deuce in the 3rd (Johnny, I remember, not known for his forehand play, got two of them in when it most counted) went on to down Hersh/Gross in straight games. Varga, after managing a deuce-in-the-5th  win in the Men’s over Detroit’s Bill Rapp (one of the first to terrorize locals with sponge), took the Senior’s from Dayton’s Howard Thomas. Steve Isaacson won the Junior’s over Dick Darke who’d earlier downed Sanford Gross beneficiaries Boys’ Champion Potiker and runner-up Ray Vinci.

            The Feb.14-15 Windy City Western’s was calmly predictable. Oh, o.k., there were some upsets. In the Men’s, early postings had Dave Freifelder over Bill Meszaros, Norm Schless over #7 seed Frank Tharaldson, and Eddie Brennan over #6 seed Keith Porter (who may or may not have ripped his rubber off and snipped it into shreds, but came back to steady himself long enough to win the Consolation’s in 5 over Bob Blecker). Harry Lund, who eliminated Tancill and Krizman, almost did in Billy Holzrichter—couldn’t have 17, -8, 20, -15, -26 come any closer. In the semi’s, Bukiet stopped Harry Hirschkowitz (Harry, too, was on a Tour of some kind or other?), then, up 2-0 on Billy, had to go 5 to put him away.

            The Women’s matches ran true to form. Shahian was the winner over Sally Prouty, but neither the final nor the semi’s (Millie over Mildred Shipman and Sally over Mary Specht) were contested. Action, though, in the 5-team round robin Women’s Doubles. Trophy takers were (1) Prouty/Marge Kalman and (2) Shirley Lund/Marion Mueller, surprise winners over Shahian/Shipman. Shahian, however, did win the Mixed—with Meszaros, who seems more effective in doubles than singles. In the final, Bukiet/Kalman, up 2-1 and at 23-all in the 4th, were might-have-wons. Holzrichter/Meszaros took the Men’s Doubles—over Bukiet/Lund in 5. Paul Buell was the Senior’s winner.

            The upset of the tournament was in the Junior’s. Freifelder, up 2-0, held on to beat Krizman, deuce in the 5th—after Krizman had survived Dick Darke deuce in the 5th. Two youths beaten early were 1-2 in the Men’s Novice: Dave Potts and Tom Culver. Junior Doubles went to strong attackers Darke/Steve Isaacson over Krizman/Freifelder. In Carolee Liechty’s absence, Sherri Krizman was the walk-on winner. This Western’s marks the first tournament appearance in Topics of Norbert “Norbie” Van de Walle, whom we’re going to see much of in the coming years. He lost in the Boys’ to John Kromkowski, runner-up to Paul Gast.    

            Know who might have sent a team to the NTCs? The Ghahramanian brothers, for there were now three of them to dominate the Missouri State Open. Harry, having joined his brothers in Parkville, was apparently, now at any rate, the least adept, for in the semi’s he lost to George, who in turn lost to Jerry. Nancy Will took the Women’s over Jane Allison in 5. Claude Edwards, who’d been entry Chair for the 1953 National’s, was the Senior’s winner over the Topeka Club President Cecil Woodworth.

 

South/Southwest Tournaments

            Though table tennis is reportedly going strong in Winston-Salem and other parts of North Carolina, there’s only one USTTA affiliate in all the Deep South and Southwest where tournaments are held but aren’t sanctioned. These players want their results published in Topics. So why, as I’ve questioned before, don’t they affiliate? Fifty adult players for a State affiliation; 25 for a District affiliation; just 15 for a City affiliation. The one USTTA supporter is in Charleston, S.C.—the affiliate under President Bill Ellis. The Men’s City Champion there is Ben Burnette—over Earl Davis; the Women’s, Lois Hass. In their North of Charleston Open, Bennett Meislin beat Doyle Dye for the Men’s title, and Dot Goodyear beat Shirley Whaley for the Women’s.

At the Louisiana State Open, held Jan. 9-10 at the Jewish Community Center in New Orleans, San Antonio’s Louie Scharlack beat Houston’s Oliver Galloway to win the 55-entry Men’s. New Orleans’s E. Jay Taul and Baton Rouge’s Hugh Baxley took the Doubles from Scharlack/Alfred Guevara. Women’s winner was Marjory Willcox over Shirley Suffrin.

            The following week at Houston, Guevara ousted #4 seed Julius Engel then upset #2 seed Scharlack—but didn’t win the tournament. On the other side of the Draw, Mort Finkelstein was doin’ Oklahoma, O.K. by rallying from down 2-0 to beat sponger Rich Puls, USTTA Southwest Regional Director for—ridiculous—the unaffiliated south. In the final, Mort beat Alfred in 5. Of course Marjory Willcox won the Women’s—over Houston’s Sally Hughes. Other winners: Men’s Doubles: Virgil Kraus/Joe Tucker over Engel/John Patterson. Mixed Doubles: Hughes/Leland Smith over Sharlene Glotzman/Tucker. Naturally Scharlack and Guevara were locks to win, respectively, the Senior’s and the Junior’s.

            The Texas State Open, held Feb. 13-14 at the Fort Worth YMCA, saw Mort Finkelstein (hard bat) win the Men’s over Rich Puls (sponge) in 5. Mort also took the Doubles with Charles Rankin. Other winners were: Women’s: Marjory Willcox over Sally Hughes. Women’s Doubles: Willcox/Hughes over Libby Skalovsky/Sharlene Glotzman. Mixed: Louie Scharlack/Willcox (San Antonio) over Alfred Cho/Glotzman (Austin). Junior’s: Alfred Guevara over George Fadal.

            At the later Mid-South tourney in Memphis, Galloway, who’d been runner-up at New Orleans, won the Men’s in 5 over Jim Smith of Nashville. Smith, however, teamed with John White to take the Doubles from Memphis State students Gene Johnson and Jack Foster. Martina Ashman beat a game but overwhelmed Betty Austin in the Women’s.

 

Northwest Tournaments

            Mayo Rolph had returned to Oregon to start a new life, but she wasn’t ready yet to give up table tennis. In both February and March she won tournaments—the Oregon State, then the Pacific Northwest, both at the Portland Circle Theater Club. Ditto Carl Cole, who in the Oregon State beat B.C.’s Sam Houston—and why be nominally surprised? If young Sam could go live with the Cherokees, this Sam could live with the Canadians. At the Pacific Northwest, Carl repeated his October victory over Ike Benveniste, then won the Men’s Doubles with him, while Ike paired with Mayo for a 1st in the Mixed. In between these tournaments, Carl was beaten in Seattle by Warren Pinnard, but took the Doubles with Tom Phillips. No mention of a Women’s at this Open, but if there was one, Chris Erickson, runner-up to Mayo at the Pacific Northwest, might have won it.

 

California Tournaments

            Erwin Klein returned to take the mid-Jan., 1954 Los Angeles Championships, but looked very shaky in the beginning (or else, ala Reisman, he was taking a leisurely warm-up?), for he went 5 games with Dr. Jack Weichman, #22 in the previous month’s ongoing CA rankings. However, in his semi’s against Bob Edwards and in his 63 to 58-point final against Stan Fields he didn’t lose a game. Best match was Stan’s 5-game semi’s win over Bob Ferguson. Bob, paired with Jerry Glaser, won the Doubles from Edwards/Gene Roseman. Paul Schaeffer, Sr. took the B’s from Murray Schneider, but Schneider teamed with Ed Hendley to take the B Doubles from Dave Billings/Gerry Ryan. C winner was Jack Sumida over Southern California TTA Secretary Austin Finkenbinder, 19 in the 4th.

            No Women played in this tournament—maybe they were all being held in thrall by talk of Mary Reilly’s marriage to Larry McIlwain, an Industrial Relations Manager at Kaiser Engineers in Fontana. The remaining events, all devoted to youth, certainly caught my attention, for it was perhaps the first time the names, Leonard Cooperman, Bobby Fields, and Mike Ralston had appeared in print together. All three would mature into nationally-known players. Junior Boys’ was won by Kal Glantz over Cooperman, but Lennie easily took the Boys Under 15 from Stan Field’s son, Bobby. Junior Doubles went to Glantz/Cooperman over Stuffy Singer/Paul Schaeffer, Jr. In both the Novice Junior’s and Novice Boys,’ Bob Petty downed Mike Ralston. Mike, however, was the Under 13 winner over Rotley Petty. Two girls were in the most contested matches. In the Singles, Susan Hymowitz edged Sandra Parsons, 19, -23, 18. In the Mixed, Hymowitz/Singer outlasted Parsons/Fields, 19, -19, 24.

Freifelder in his “18 and Under” column needs to get some stories on these comers. Pauline Robinson did hear one about the child actor and table tennis enthusiast Butch Cavell:

 

“…[He] was at a rehearsal after playing a match in California, and he proceeded to explain the game to a very nice lady who was attending the rehearsal—he explained strategy, strokes, et al, and on returning to N.Y. found out that the lady was—Ruth Aarons!” (TTT, Feb., 1954, 4).

 

            In the March issue of “Paddle Poop,” the Northern California TTA’s newsletter (print’s so tiny you need a magnifying glass to read it—but very readable, very informative this newsletter is), we learn that the Chicago-based Marvin “Marty” Prager, who was on a West Coast exhibition tour, won the Oakland Open, held Jan. 29-31 at the Bushrod Playground. First, the #3 seed Mendel Milstein was given “the worst drubbing of his Pacific Coast career,” then the #1 seed Allan Herscovich seemed at times powerless to give this stranger a game. True, Allan went 5 in the final, but he was greatly outscored, losing the 2nd game at 4, and the 4th and 5th at 12 and 9. The writer reporting on this tournament tries to answer the question, “Has anyone seen this guy Prager (PRAH-ger) play before?” Here’s the poop:

 

“…Those who know Reisman casually could have sworn it was he at the table. The resemblance in facial features, build, footwork, stance, and even in speech is so striking that Prager has become accustomed to the nickname ‘Marty.’ But unlike the famous Reisman, Prager’s principle source of potency is his defense. As he shattered Herskovich in the 5th…it was apparent that his was a brand of defense not seen before in the West….”

 

            A bit of a brouhaha erupted at the start of the tournament when regular circuit-goers Jacques and Diane Helfer didn’t want to pay their late-entry fines, but finally did. Their protest, Jack Avalos’s last-minute entry, and a flustered Tournament Committee, screwed up the draw in both the Master Singles and the A’s won by Avalos over Elson Johnson. Oakland’s Carl Bent, who’d received last year’s Sportsmanship Award, won his first event, the 44-entry B’s from Nobby Takagaki.

            Two Southern Californians did as much as they could. Manny Glaser, who, before losing to Milstein, had 23-21 in the 5th survived San Francisco’s Leonardo Lacayo, paired with Prager to upset Herscovich/Milstein and win the Doubles. And Kal Glantz, before losing to Prager, “surprised everybody by knocking off both Bob Glenn…and Don Rains,” the Assistant Manager for Budget Finance at San Rafael, and the NCTTA President. Glenn had a good chance to win the Junior’s, but lost in 5 to Don Smith who in the Consolation final beat Jerry Crumley, described as the “most vigorous TT promoter in No. Calif.” Jerry wants every Youth Center in this part of the state to be part of an all-embracive Table Tennis League.

In three weeks Crumley will be running a tournament in Hayward where the well-known bat-maker C. B. MacCrossen will be the Guest of Honor. Mac, who’s settled into retirement in California and turned his business over to Milwaukee’s Ken Kasten, will host a Handicap event, with the winner and runner-up to receive handmade MacCrossen rackets. Don Trimble in his “Drop Shots” column in March’s “Paddle Poop” says (as if in the last 20 years he’s never heard of Hock) that “a genuine MacCrossen bat is the last word in table tennis equipment….MacCrossen has made exhaustive tests with high speed cameras to determine the characteristics of a bat in action and what type of player should use each. He probably knows more about the subject than any man in the U.S. if not in the world.”

            At the 1st Annual Golden Gate Open, played at San Francisco State College, there was a mix-up: only half the gym was available and only 5 tables were usable, not the expected 10 or 12. Add to that the dull, 5-game Stan Fields-Mendel Milstein unexpedited semi’s that “lasted 55 minutes, the longest match in NCTTA records,” and you have plenty of yawns from the 40 or so diehards watching the midnight final in which Herscovich would “slowly hammer and chisel…with accent on chisel” this California Stan, the Man into submission. Reportedly, Fields had just beaten Klein in a Southern California tournament, so he “was expected to look slightly sensational, but instead he displayed an easy-going defensive game, an accurate but relatively impotent backhand drive, and even a slightly worried expression.” Maybe the more worried when in the final he was down 2-0 to Allan? His worry gradually became the tired spectators’ though, for Stan won the 3rd, and the 4th, forcing the match into the 5th where, wake up, short dream’s over, he lost anyway.

            As expected, Herscovich/Milstein won the Men’s Doubles, but not as expected, for they were tested in a 5-game final by the unseeded pair of Si Wasserman/Gene Roseman. In an early match in A Singles, Jerry Crumley 26-24 in the 3rd eliminated Bob Glenn. Bob might have been having his “worst tournament,” but he still won the Junior’s by pulling out two deuce-in-the-3rd matches, then defeating Selk Wong in 5 in the final. The A winner was Elson Johnson over Earl Adams. The B’s went to Nobby Takagaki over Jack Pimentel. Jacques and Diane Helfer won the Mixed, as they did at Oakland. What’s that?…Something gone afoul at this otherwise couldn’t be improved upon tournament? The poop: “Berne Abelew, USTTA President Jim Shrout’s “Regional Director,” came in 2 and ½ hours late and made a sizeable disturbance on being informed that he had been irrevocably defaulted.”

            Poor Shrout—he and his Association won’t be getting support from any Northern California affiliate.

 

Selection Committee At Work

            Although, like U.S. Men’s Champion Miles, U.S. Women’s Champion Neuberger didn’t play in St. Louis, she, along with Shahian and Robinson, would be named to the U.S. World Team. Making this decision, as they would for the Men’s Team, was George Schein and his Selection Committee—Ranking Chair Sanford Gross, Tournament Chair Jack Dale, Women’s Activity Chair Eleanor Potts, and Disciplinary Chair Tibor Hazi. Tibor eventually thought he should resign because, although he’d been confirmed as Team Captain, it was possible (though not likely) he could also be selected for a U.S. Swaythling Cup role and it was against the rules for him to be in contention and serve on the Committee; besides he didn’t want to actually vote for Team members, he just wanted to advise. However, President Shrout, also an ex-officio member of this Committee who was exchanging points of view with its members, wanted him to continue on, wanted the Disciplinary Chair on, and so Tibor stayed on. Since Shahian won the National’s, and Robinson at the Eastern’s gave Neuberger her only loss of the season, there was quick consensus that these three players (with Sally Prouty as 1st alternate) would make up the Women’s Team to Wembley. However, there was no such unanimity of opinion with regard to the Men’s Team. 

A three-month exchange of letters regarding U.S. Team selection might be summarized as follows. Sanford Gross sees the conduct and character of Team members as being very important—an assessment echoed by Shrout who, as if confident there’ll be no problem with the women, says that members “should behave as they would if they were guests in another man’s home.” Tournament Chair Jack Dale, who of course is not the Chair of the Selection Committee, presents a plan of action that (1) in addition to other major tournaments, puts emphasis on the NTC’s, which he’d been in charge of; and that (2) establishes the formation of an International Squad of 8 men and 5 women, enhanced by the use of a weighted 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 point system that would show a Committee member’s preference—with the highest point-getters awarded positions on the ’54 U.S. World Team.

Schein, asserting himself as Chair, stresses playing strength. He insists that “we must look only at the record” of a player, that only “tournament results” can be considered, and in this context he emphasizes that the Committee can’t consider supposed reasons why a player won or lost. For example, one’s subjective opinion that “Bukiet lost to Johnson [at the NTC’s] before he was used to conditions” was irrelevant. Schein, like Shrout, thinks all major tournaments equally important, so doesn’t believe in giving the NTC’s the Selection Committee importance it’s had in the past. He argues that not all players are available for teams, and that the National Champion, who deserves primary consideration, might be left out. Schein says he thinks Miles an obvious choice for the World Team. George is opposed to Dale’s suggestion that each committee member use a weighted 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 point system. He says his 20 years’ experience on the Ranking Committee has shown him it’s better to measure a specific individual against a specific individual rather than a group. Shrout also thinks the point system “stinks.”

            Dale takes umbrage at all this, and, aside from the fact that he apparently doesn’t like Miles personally, attacks Schein, more, I’d say, to salve his own ego than to make a strong argument. He writes back—and sends copies to those outside the Committee whom I presume he sees as allies, Fighting Fund Chair Jimmy McClure and Rules Chair John Varga, both fellow Midwesterners on the E.C. with him. In no uncertain terms he says his choices in order for the Men’s Team are: Bukiet, Pagliaro, Holzrichter, Miles. He puts Miles 4th—this was before the National’s—for Dick had only that Eastern’s win

over Schiff and, as Dale says snidely, that “scintillating victory over Lou Pagliaro’s Charley horse.” Dale complains that Schein is not following his earlier directive to “look only at the record”—for what kind of record has Miles? He says he includes Miles as #4 on the Squad because he has a “very genuine respect for his playing ability. If it turns out that he enters [sic] and wins the Nationals [for the 8th time], and if his tournament record next year is good, I would not want to see him excluded from the 1955 team because he had not been named to the squad this year” [but if he weren’t named, he would exclude him?]. Actually, Dale is miffed, is just being nasty, for he’s hardly being consistent: never mind his reasons for picking Pagliaro and Holzrichter, he’s really voting for Miles if either Paggy or Billy can’t take off from work and go to the World’s—which as it happens will be the case with both of them.

Fighting Fund Chair Jimmy McClure jumps in unofficially to write that U.S. World Team members ought to have to play in the NTC’s and National’s (unless circumstances made that impossible). He questions the inclusion of both Pagliaro and Miles for U.S. Team consideration. Dick “went to Japan on a money making tour instead of playing in the Team Matches.” Apparently Jimmy would have Dick stay home a weekend rather than make a living for maybe six months. This point of view seems to be based on…what?…Jimmy’s feeling for the traditional importance of the Team Championships? Has he forgotten his own Touring days when he went out to make money, and was chastised for not playing in these very Team Championships?* As for Pagliaro, says Jimmy, he “has not competed in the Team Matches over twice in the last 7 or 8 years and has only competed in 2 Nationals since 1946.” Actually, from 1947 through 1953 Paggy competed in only one National—which he won. So, that detracts from his ability? Isn’t the question, How is he judged to be playing now?

McClure is right in this letter to urge guidelines. He’s wary of selection, is especially concerned about players who have reputations but haven’t proven their current worth. He doesn’t favor everything Dale says. He doesn’t agree that if one is on the International Squad one year, he’s automatically on it the next. He thinks the U.S. Open Champion should automatically be on the U.S. Team, providing he/she is “an American,” and “doesn’t go all to pieces before the next worlds which is very unlikely.”

It will take 20 more years before trial-by-combat round-robins, Team Tryouts, will take the place of subjective Selection with its ever-present charges of favoritism.

            Before the National’s, the Men’s Team will finally be selected: Capt. Hazi,  Bukiet, Miles, and Somael will represent us.

 

U. S. Open

            The 24th U.S. Open, sponsored by the Gross Youth Recreation Center (and with all profits going to combat juvenile delinquency), was held Mar. 19-21 at Cleveland’s Western Reserve University. In real life, Sandy was in the paint business, owned a paint factory, and could afford to be generous. Although he was offering, as he had at his 1952 U.S. Open, large trophies and, in addition, cameras, luggage, radios, and watches as prizes, the turnout had to be somewhat disappointing to him, for in 1952 he’d had 312 entries and this year, reflecting the problems Shrout was having with the Membership, he had only 244. But, hey, the Party—with its Dance Band, Amateur Hour, and Midnight Buffet—didn’t that make everyone feel like a winner?

 

Miles Wins Again

            Ah me, in Miles’s section of the 130-entry Men’s Draw, Shrout was an early-round victim—lost in 5 to Eddie Brennan who was doubtless improving with the help of the Michigan TTA’s Metro League that had now started up on Wednesday nights in Detroit’s G.A.R. Building. Bill Meszaros (in the Doubles he’d partner Holzrichter to the semi’s) didn’t show for his Singles against Colorado Springs’s Curtis McNear, later Curtis Knight when he was performing with Jimi Hendrix. Turns out that Bill “had some things stolen from his car and was out identifying the thief” when Curtis insisted on a default. But that probably turned out to be o.k.with Bill, for he’d later win the Consolation from Howie Ornstein. Utah’s Byron Westover beat penholder McNear in three down-to-the-wire games, then fell in a close 4-game match to Eddie Hancock who’d also expunged Rich Puls. How it happened I don’t know, but one, Lex Simmons from Lexington, Kentucky, -18, 22, 19 knocked off Harry Hirschkowitz in the 1st round. Harry’s Doubles partner, Bobby Gusikoff, never got to Miles, was beaten in the 8th’s, deuce in the 4th, by 1950/1951 U.S. Boys’ Champ Alphonse Holtman. After which, Al, like his predecessors, could do no more than move Miles along in straight games to the semi’s.

            Holzrichter, mindful of that 28-26-in-the-5th match he’d played Lund in the Western’s, this time 7, 6, 15 thumped Harry so badly that in all fairness to him one must have thought he staggered out to court quite a bit tipsy/sleepy following an all-night poker game. But then Billy, after dropping only one inconsequential game to Schiff along the way, was 3-0 zipped by Dick. The best of the contested early matches in this quarter were: John Read –10, 6, 20, 19 over Gerald Grike; Keith Porter –22, 20, 21, 13 over Pranas Gvildys; and particularly N. Y.’s Jack Howard –15, 21, 21, -18, 21 over Toledo’s Bob Harlow. In the 16th’s, Erwin Klein, winning in 5, urged Bill Price’s retirement.

            Like Miles, Pagliaro moved to the semi’s without losing a game, even had an easy time with Hazi. In the tightest opening match, Akron’s Harold Gifford downed Philly’s Holly Haworth, 19 in the 3rd. In the only 5-gamer, Tim Boggan, before losing to Paggy in the 8th’s, beat Jim Tancill.

            Nor did 29-year-old Somael give up a game—not in the quarter’s to Bukiet, not in the semi’s to Paggy. Bernie didn’t seem sharp, stumbled for a moment against both Morris Meyers and Bob Blecker who’d come to Bernie with a 19 in the 4th win over Tommy Breunig. Best in this quarter’s were the 3-2 wins posted by Wally Gundlach over Hershey Miller, and Max Hersh over Jimmy McClure.

            Regarding the Miles-Somael final (the two were also finalists last year), Jack Dale, Tournament Chair, wrote in his short Topics–cover coverage of the Open that “Somael was unable consistently to score offensive points. Miles, employing a steady hit, particularly down the middle, was able to force Somael into errors” (Mar., 1954).** This was Dick’s 8th Singles title.

 

Shahian Wins Her First

            In the 43-entry Women’s Draw, there were a number of close 1st and 2nd round matches: Yolanda Sisek 21, 20, 18 over Louisville’s Theresa Brewer; Marianne Bessinger 26-24 in the 4th over Quebec’s Huguette Parent; Fran Potiker 17 in the 5th over Toronto’s Marion Jennings; and Marion Mueller 18 in the 5th over Mary Landfair who’ll rebound to win the Consolation over late-entry Stella Laikunas. Mary, 29-years-old, and the mother of two daughters, started playing at the Medical Science Building in Columbus, Ohio in 1940. So after 15 years play, winning this National Championship is her most memorable moment? Nope. As she told Pauline Robinson, that was at the 1948 Ohio Open “when she and Harry Sage defeated Miles and Mary’s sister, Joanne Kaylor, in five games, after being down 13-20 in the fifth” (TTT, Jan., 1953, 8).

            In the best of the 8th’s matches, Mueller was 1-1 and 21-all in the 3rd before losing to Liechty; while Virginia Bromley Angus, up 2-1, threatened, but only threatened, to stop Krizman’s advance. The late-round matches were all uneventful. Top half: Neuberger over Elaine Mitchell; Prouty over Flam…then Sally over Leah—all super bland. Bottom half: Shahian 26, 10, 10 over Krizman; Robinson over Liechty…then Millie over Pauline 9, 17, -14, 10. And in the final: Millie 12, 12, 14 over Sally. Jack Dale wrote that Sally “just couldn’t get started against the combination block-chop game of the new champion. Utilizing a very good short defense, Miss Shahian effectively prevented Mrs. Prouty from hitting the one-two forehand drive combination that had carried her to five previous National Singles titles.”

            In Men’s Doubles there were two 1st-round thrillers: Buki/Ornstein 24-22 in the 5th over Brennan/Dick Darke, and Holtman and Tancill 19 in the 5th over Keith Porter and Operations Desk worker Bill Palmer. In other matches, with games tied at 1-1, the 3rd game was key: it went 25-23 for Bill Price/Abbott Nelson over Lund/Boggan, 22-20 for McClure/Schiff against both Hersh/Gross and Krizman Freifelder, and 21-19 for Bukiet/Hazi over Gusikoff/Hirschkowitz. Holzrichter/Meszaros beat Gundlach/Lasater deuce in the 4th, but could muster up no resistance at all in their semi’s against McClure/Schiff. In the other semi’s, Defending Champs Miles/Somael, up 2-0 on Hazi/Bukiet, seemed on track for back-to-back titles, then lost –18, -19, -17. In the 5-game final, as Dale put it, Bernie’s “tireless forehand” and Tibor’s “blasting backhand” out-attacked the former World Champions. The average age of these four Internationals had to be at least 37.

            Women’s Doubles had a humdinger of an early match when Krizman/Liechty beat Landfair/Mitchell 24-22 in the 5th. These South Bend girls who play an inordinate number of 5-game matches have a tendency to lose focus, then resume concentration in the nitty-gritty 5th? Maybe Varga ought to say to them, “Look, if you can’t finish the match in 4 games, you lose.” They did go 4 with Neuberger/Shahian, but they didn’t win. In what was surely the most lop-sided Women’s Doubles final ever, Leah and Millie took out Flam/Robinson 8, 10, 7.

            As Dale pointed out, Sally Prouty said she came to the National’s “only to play Mixed Doubles with Sol Schiff.”  After the two had won in 1948 and ’49, Sally had taken the opportunity to win with World Champion Johnny Leach in ’50, and had come runner-up in ’51 with Miles. Sol, who’d won with Peggy McLean in ’47, took the title in ‘52 with Neuberger. Last year Sol and Sally were reunited, but still smarted from their semi’s defeat by Allan Levy and his partner Peg Ichkoff, absent this year because last I’d heard she was expecting in late February.

            Best early-round matches in the Mixed were the Canadians Paul Belanger/Denise LeBrun (she’d later be touring with Miles) 17 in the 5th over Columbus, Ohio Club owner Guy Blair/Mona Buell; Sage/Landfair in 5 over Hock/Louisville’s Mary Schook; and Jack Howard/Liechty in 5 over Hersh/Cleveland’s Elinore Kimes. Losers then but at least making a match of it were the Lunds against Defending Champs Hazi/Neuberger and Jack/Carolee against Gundlach/Lona Flam. Poor Lona—she just seems injury-prone. Pauline Robinson tells us that Lona stepped “in the glass left by Ted Bourne after his glass-eating show” [I presume at the Players Party] and had to go to the hospital to have her foot lanced. Said Lona wryly, “Next time he eats, I wish he wouldn’t leave his crumbs on the floor” (TTT, Mar., 1954, 3). Both of the Mixed semi’s were contested: Miles/Shahian, down 2-1 to Tibor/Leah, won out in 5; and Sol and Sally –18, 20, 19, 13 beat the now engaged couple, Somael/Robinson, with clutch, momentum-changing wins. Only a slight glitch in the final—and, with that overcome, winners Sol and Sally could look forward to playing with one another next year.

            Tibor Hazi had started winning the Senior’s in 1947 against then arch-rival John Varga. Now, seven years later, when Schiff couldn’t defend his title because the Age Limit had jumped from 35 to 40, he beat Varga in the final again, after John had just gotten by Bernie Hock, 19 in the 5th.  In Senior Doubles though, Bernie and his friend Eugene Bricker came through—defeated Bill Gunn/Howard Thomas in the semi’s with the help of a key 19 3rd game, then, in the final, after losing the 1st game at deuce, were much too steady for Varga/Simeon Sabre. The Esquire’s went to Louis Scharlack in a reversal of his last year’s final with Bill Gunn.

            Lots of 5-gamers in the 44-entry Junior’s: Sandy Potiker over (here comes another Varga-trained threat) Forest Milbourn; Harley Bradford over Marty Plost (how did these two young Cincinnatians meet in Bradford’s 1st match?); Al Guevara, down 2-1, deuce in the 4th/19 in the 5th, over Toronto’s Howie Grossman; K.C.’ s Tom Culver, deuce in the 5th, over Cleveland’s Angelo Vinci; Gerald Grike over Tommy Breunig; and, surprise, Montreal’s Roger Desormeaux, deuce in the 5th, over Al Holtman. The semi’s were straight-game anticlimactic—Gusikoff over Isaacson; Klein over Krizman. In the final, with the match tied at 1-1, one had the feeling that whoever won the 3rd would be the Champ. Bobby with his quick reflexes won it 23-21, and successfully defended his title.

            “Chubby” Klein, however, retained his Boys’ Championship—didn’t give up a game (which had to have pleased his aunt as well, at whose home he was conveniently staying while in Cleveland). Runner-up Paul Gast had more trouble with Angelo Vinci in the quarter’s than Sandy Potiker in the semi’s.

            Can you guess who played in the Junior Miss final? Can you guess how many games the match went? Sharlene Krizman 19, 19, -20, -21, 14 was still the Champ and Carolee Liechty was again the runner-up. The two of them conspired to go 5? Or playful Destiny did? Or was it just gutsy play on Carolee’s part?

              Certainly gutsy play was going to be needed by our U.S. Team at Wembley. Miles and Shahian hadn’t played in a World’s in 4 years, Neuberger and Somael had missed 4 of the last 5, Hazi hadn’t played in a World’s since the 1930’s, and Bukiet and Robinson had never played in a World’s. How do you think we’ll do?

              

SELECTED NOTES.         

*See my Vol. II, Chapter I. “It was said that no U.S. #1 had ever absented himself from the Intercities before.” Jimmy was “on a tour with Sandor Glancz, adding insult to injury, [by] playing exhibitions elsewhere in Pennsylvania” while the Team Championships were being held in Philadelphia. USTTA Executive Secretary wanted to suspend him.

**Miles and Somael were friends. At one World’s Dick asked teammate Johnny to “coach” him—though with Dick that meant Johnny didn’t have to say a word, just be in his corner. However, sometimes in their long competitive play, Miles would alternately hit one point through Somael, then deliberately chisel, then hit the next point through, then deliberately chisel—all to show Johnny he had no chance however Dick played. Strategic intimidation? Or just an ego booster?