USA Table Tennis

History of U.S. Table Tennis Volume 13: 1984

CHAPTER NINE 

            1984: USTTA  Potpourri. 

            Tournaments continue on in much their usual way, but by 1984 more USTTA members have become outspokenly critical of the Association—perhaps because I, as Topics and then Timmy’s Editor, have given them voice to. I’ll begin this Chapter with Nancy Persaud’s “When Will T.T. Be Taken Seriously in the U.S.?” (Timmy’s, Apr., 1984, 12), then follow with Terry Canup’s “The Real Reason Why T.T. Isn’t on TV” (Timmy’s, Apr., 1984, 2).

            Here’s Nancy: 

            “Many of you have probably seen the panels from the above comic strip already. They show what the average American thinks of table tennis. I believe that T.T. will never be taken seriously in the U.S. until the perception of the Sport by the average American is changed. Will this happen? Maybe…

            When the USTTA stops paying editors $1,000 a month while refusing to pay Danny Seemiller what he’s worth as a coach. [This is the first of several allusions in Nancy’s article that she hopes Association readers will be familiar with, and that I’ve covered in detail in a previous volume.]

            When E.C. members, editors, staff, officials quit having their way paid to meetings, tournaments, and events while players have to sell equipment in the hallway to finance THEIR way to tournaments.

            When every time a great player comes to town he stops being expected to hit (free) with everyone in town who knows which end of the paddle to hold. This happens because neither top players or grass-roots players (separate but equal) have constant, meaningful competition of their own provided.

            When the USTTA and paid staff stop resting on their laurels just because they got T.T. into the Olympics and REALLY do something to improve the image of T.T. at the grass-roots level. Does anybody really believe that one more person has taken up T.T. or become a knowledgeable avid spectator just because of all those coaching clinics and other activities in Colorado Springs? Or that participation in the Olympics will change any average American’s opinion of T.T.? Luge is an Olympic sport, but is the U.S. wild about it? Of course, not everyone has played luge in somebody’s basement at one time or another. But that may be to luge’s advantage in that preconceived notions have not been formed about it being as exciting as hemorrhoids (see comic strip above).

            When Scott and Eric Boggan, Mike Bush and Charles Butler stop having to go to Germany for action, financial satisfaction, and crowd reaction.

            When people stop WONDERING why all the good Korean U.S. players didn’t come to the Closed and make it a point to go find out why they, or any other top players, don’t make it to important tournaments. Officials and E.C. people always seem to me to be more concerned with their own little power struggles than with the MOST BASIC THINGS, like attracting top players to tournaments. This sport should be about the PLAYERS, not the editors (sorry, Tim), the committees, the umpires, or whoever else. Sure, they’re important, all the others, in so far as they support the players first (Yes, Tim, I believe you do).

            Previous efforts, like the players’ strike for higher prize money several years ago in Philadelphia, have just focused on part of the picture. Good players AND grass-roots-level players AND spectators (not E.C. members, visiting equipment company representatives, low-level journalists, half-dead and drunk ex-tennis celebrities, and USTTA officials) MUST be wooed, pampered, made to feel important and TREATED RIGHT for T.T. to ever be truly popular here. If that’s REALLY the goal, making t.t. popular. All other elements figure in, but what’s best for the players is paramount. And that too often doesn’t happen. I speak from experience (as do so many others) with a number of examples. Here’s one: in 1978 Korea invited 8 women and 2 ‘officials’ to Korea—check it out on the TV coverage of the U.S. Open that year—8 and 2. The USTTA took 6 women and 4 ‘officials.’ I cared—I was the 8th woman on the list.

            So do I have any ideas instead of just complaints? Sure, take the editor’s salary and moving and travel expenses, and the Executive Director’s salary, and pay Danny and Eric to travel all over the U.S. showing the average American just how exciting T.T. really is. Danny and Eric would probably hate the idea, so pay Perry Schwartzberg instead of spending so much time worrying over his compliance with the no warm-up-pants rule. Or, if not Perry, SOMEONE qualified.

            Now, do I have any realistic ideas that could ever happen? Not really. I’m not a community organizer, just an ex-player who quit after going from a 1200 to a 1900 player in four years and who was asked to get out of the USTTA by Mike Bush, Paul Therrio, and the ever-loveable Pat Collins who all said I’d hurt table tennis terribly. That’s been five years ago. Table Tennis is good in the same ways it was then too, maybe has even improved in some areas, but it’s not at all improved in the minds of the average American who WILL make or break the Sport.” 

            Now for Terry Canup and his thoughts on T.T. and TV: 

“First of all, let me introduce myself to those of you who do not know me. My name is Terry Canup. I have been in the entertainment business for the last 12 years. I have produced commercials, news pieces, promotional tapes, and television shows for both cable and network on the local, regional, national, and international levels. I am quite successful. I have also played table tennis for 21 years, carry an average tournament rating, and am a Regional Umpire under Manny Moskowitz’s good graces. But what makes me qualified to write this article is my first-hand experience in TT television.

            Certain questions must first be asked and answered before we consider the main point—why there is no table tennis on TV. Here are the questions. For one, is table tennis a ‘television sport’? Is there drama? Is it exciting? Does it contain the level of competition required to sustain a viewing audience? Is it marketable as a television package (that is, can you pack it with enough commercials to make a profit)?

            Here are the answers to those questions. Yes, TT is an excellent television sport—it carries all the earmarks of winning TV. What then is wrong? Why are we 20 years ahead of tennis in technology and technique and 20 years behind in exposure?

            You already know all the stock answers. You’ve heard Sol Schiff and company mouth them over and over. (1) You have to know somebody. Golly, if anybody knows somebody with a magic wand, would you just ask him/her to contact the EC?...(2) There are just no AMERICAN manufacturers. Look at all the Panasonic, Suny, and Toyota commercials on Baseball, Football, and Basketball. WE NEED GOOD AMERICAN COMPANIES LIKE THEM FOR TABLE TENNIS TV TO WORK. And look at all the tennis equipment that NEC and Lacoste manufacture… (3) The networks aren’t interested, and without them you…

            The simple truth is it takes hard work, money, and no short cuts to establish yourself in the minds of the viewing audience. Remember when we had TV on ESPN? Have you ever heard a satisfactory answer from Sol’s EC as to what happened? I thought not. Schiff would much prefer that matter be conveniently forgotten. When you get taken for a ride it hurts, and poor Sol saw it happening. The USTTA was bamboozled into ludicrous contracts and tied ESPN to them on ‘good faith.’ When the production company naturally failed to meet its commitments, it left everybody holding the bag.

            But the real problem is not that the USTTA was taken, it’s the way we were able to be taken that has continued to hurt us. When you have an organization conduct its business in secret it naturally leads to corruption. The USTTA is the El Salvador of American sports. We know more about the Russian KGB than we do about how Sol gets away with conducting his business through the EC.

            The prime example that comes to mind is the televising of the 1982 U.S. Closed. Beautiful on the outside—but foul! Sol, that was a finger-spin serve, and we got the finger! Sure, to the layman those TV people looked like they knew what they were doing, but when you looked under all that gloss, and there was a bunch of it, you found seedy little men who didn’t want to answer questions. Where did the money come from to produce that spectacle? You guessed it—from the good old USTTA treasury! (Why do you think all those E.C. members keep resigning?) Did I miss an EC vote somewhere? No. There was none. Who do you think has enough guff to pull something like that off?

            Let me speak frankly here. When I approached the television broadcasters with the idea of producing the Chinese 1981 matches at the U.S. Open, doors slammed in my face. I was stunned until finally one network executive told me that it was because they had been warned not to deal with Sol Schiff’s USTTA! It was only after I specifically stated that I was acting independently that I received any favorable response. I produced that show on a shoestring and it still cost me $28,000. We are not talking peanuts here. When the ’82 Closed was shot, was I consulted because of my recent experience doing the ‘81 show? No. Why? Could it be there was a conscious effort to prevent anyone from finding out what was going on?

            When it turned out our old friends at Triple T were involved [Dorsett Gant, Bill Addison], wasn’t there somebody somewhere who turned over in his grave! I called ESPN. The production company had never showed them ANYTHING was what I was told by an irate programmer who had previously answered that question more than once. ‘The USTTA never made any formal presentation to us before they shot it.’ How the hell does Colorado Springs come off announcing that they had an agreement with ESPN to air that show!

            What happened to the show? Sure it was a hack job, but it was still video tape of one of the best U.S. Closed finals in recent history. Where is it? If the guys out in CO don’t want it, give it to me. I’ll take it, make money on it, and, God forbid, produce more Table Tennis Shows.

            It is all very simple. If you want to be successful you can’t have people who are concerned only with their own image investing your money. Television is expensive. That Danny Seemiller Training tape I sell cost me $10,000 to produce, but to me it’s worth it. People are used to seeing $1,000,000 each and every time they turn on that knob. We can’t in our wildest imaginations expect $15 per year X 4,000 members to even begin to pay for that. I have also explained that people are leery of dropping money into the current USTTA. And I made reference to the USTTA as the El Salvador of U.S. Sports. This analogy goes further; these banana republics have shown us that overthrowing one inept leader for another just perpetuates the ineptitude.

            I for one am not willing to invest another dime in televising the USTTA until it shows me it’s worthy of its Olympic cloak. Congratulations to Paul Therrio and his 7-11-built velodrome. That was a fine piece of work, and efforts such as yours on behalf of table tennis are sorely needed….” 

            Also sorely needed, too, are Tournament Directors—as witness Patrick Hernan’s “Perils in Paddledom” [SPIN., Feb., 1984, 13]: 

            “Just for this article’s sake, let’s define ‘Paddledom’ as that state in which the inevitable trials and tribulations that virtually every tournament director has experienced exist at one time or another. For those of you who have never experienced a director’s frustrations, I’ll give you a few examples.

            It’s eight p.m., the night before your tournament and the phone rings. The operator announces a collect call from Larry Looper. ‘Will you accept charges?’ she asks.

            ‘Operator,’ I say, ‘I don’t know a Larry Loo’—whereupon this Mr. Looper yells, ‘It’s about the tournament!’ You accept the charges.

            ‘Oh,’ says Larry, ‘I just called to tell you I’m not coming. Will you please send me a refund?’

            Being the fair-minded person that everyone knows and loves, you respond, ‘Sure, Larry, no problem. What event were you in?’

            Larry says, ‘I was in all 15 events, but I’ll be a sport about it: you can deduct 20 cents for the postage when you mail my refund.’

            ‘Thanks, sport,’ is all you can say as you hang up. Time to rework the draws that took you a week of blood, sweat, and tears to finish. Hours later you’re done but you get little satisfaction. You know you’ll be changing these same draws again in the morning when the players will inform you why they can’t play this guy or that guy. You go to bed.

            It’s two a.m. when the phone rings again. You muster all your courage to answer it. On the way you stub your toe on the nightstand and trip over two of the 19 players sprawled out on your floor. In unison, all 19 voice their displeasure at having their sleep interrupted. Blessed am I, for they’re all only staying the one night.

            ‘This is Mr. U.N. Rated from L.A.,’ says the caller. ‘I hope I didn’t wake you, I know 11 o’clock is a little late.’

            You swear you’ve heard this same conversation before, but you’re so tired you just can’t place it. ‘What is it you want, Mr. U.N. Rated?’ you ask wearily.

            `’Oh, I was just checking what time my first match is tomorrow.’

            ‘It’s at nine a.m., and you’d better hurry if you’re going to make it in from L.A.’ you respond, thinking the jerk has no chance of getting to the tournament in time.

            ‘Don’t worry,’ he says. ‘I’m not really in L.A., I’m just from there. I’m in the lobby of the tournament hotel right now.’

            You get the distinct feeling as you slam down the receiver that you haven’t heard the last from Mr. U.N. Rated.

            Your worst fears are realized by noon the next day when Mr. U.N. Rated zaps everyone in the Class events and is looking like a sure semifinalist in the Men’s. But you don’t worry, there are more pressing problems that demand your attention.

            The beer man is bothering you to pay for the post-tourney keg to be used at the post-tourney party at your house. The nets are too high.  The floor is too slippery. The lighting on Table 5 is bad. There are complaints about the balls, the barriers, the tables, the PA system, and the air-conditioning that’s blowing the ball around. You hear things like, ‘Those Pittsburgh players have no strokes; they rely on anti to win.’

            There’s a rumor circulating that the 1500 players are forming a union and striking your next tournament because they want more money in ‘their’ event than semifinalists would make in the Men’s.

            Enough! You really look forward to relaxing at the post-tourney party.

             Finally the competition ends and you head home to the party, hoping that just maybe someone will offer a kind word. No one offers a kind word, no one offers a nasty word. No one comes to the party.

            Fact or fiction? You figure it out.”           

            A mite pessimistic you found these voices? Well, how about a change of pace? Time now to be lookin’ up. Here’s Larry Hodges—on “Lobbing” and “Smashing Lobs” (Timmy’s, Apr., 1984, 18 and May, 1984, 14): 

            “In 1967, Nobuhiko Hasegawa shocked the table tennis world by not only winning the World Championship, but by using the lob as a primary weapon in doing so. Since then, the lob has become the most spectacular shot in table tennis for both players and fans. It has also become one of the least understood shots in the game.

            Many players lob far too often. A lob is a defensive shot, but it is unlike all other defensive shots in that it invites the opponent to smash. Only against a much poorer player or a very poor lob-smasher will you score a majority of points while lobbing. Therefore, it is advisable to lob only when absolutely necessary, unless your opponent is very poor against the lob. The advantage of a lob is not that you will win most of the points with it, but that you may score a few points that you otherwise wouldn’t—and those points are often all it takes to win.

            The theory of lobbing is potentially this: If you lob the ball high and deep, the ball will bounce very deep, and your opponent will have to smash the ball a good distance from the table. This not only forces errors on his part, but gives you time to react to his smashes which, due to air resistance, slow down quickly.

            A lob is basically a very high loop. A good looper can often learn to lob very well very quickly because the strokes are very similar. When lobbing, first get to where the ball is going as fast as you can. With experience, you can learn to anticipate the direction of the smash. Try to arrive in a sideways stance, even on the backhand. Taking a low backswing, drive the ball mostly upward, dissipating the ball’s speed by sending it upwards. Try grazing the ball, as in a loop, to put topspin and sidespin on the ball. A good lob can require a lot of power, so try to use your legs and upper body in a sweeping motion, as in a loop.

            When a smash comes straight at you, try to turn sideways, taking the ball with either forehand or backhand, rather than standing square to the table and lobbing with the backhand, using only the arm. You may have to do this sometimes, but then the lob will have little spin.

            The three important aspects of a lob are its height (for control), depth, and spin. Depth is most important of all, since without it your opponent can smash at very wide angles, giving you no chance at all of returning the ball. A good lob should land within a foot of the end-line. Good

height and depth make the ball bounce deep.

            Putting spin on your lob can be very difficult, since you have very little time. It takes lots of practice, so the only way to develop it is to practice. Learn to mix topspin and sidespin, making the ball break violently when it hits the table. The idea is to force your opponent into a mistake.

            When lobbing, you should always be looking for a way to counter-attack, or to get back into the point. If you find a chance, a sudden counter-drive, chop, or loop return will usually change the rally in your favor. Counter-smash if you see a chance. Off a weak smash, counter-attack. If your opponent doesn’t force you to lob, don’t.

            Placement of lobs can also be very important. Some players are slow on their feet, and will make mistakes if forced to move too much, even off a lob. If you lob best from one side, a deep, spinny lob to the side diagonally opposite will make it difficult for your opponent to smash to your weak side, down the line.

            One final advantage of lobbing is that it tires your opponent. This can be a critical factor against anyone not in very good shape. When way behind, some top players actually lob intentionally to tire their opponents out for the next game. Also, after smashing a series of lobs to win a point, many players get careless on the next point, as well as a little out of breath.” 

            Lobbing of course can be fun. But so can smashing lobs—and Larry, bless him, tells us how to do that too: 

            “Smashing a lob is much more difficult than it looks. There are several reasons for this. The height of a lob makes the ball bounce mostly upwards, something you aren’t used to hitting. If it bounces higher than your head, hitting it can be awkward. When the ball hits the table, it jumps up quickly, making it difficult to attack unless you wait on it. But if you wait on it, it will bounce away from the table, so that you may have to hit it as far as 10 feet from the table, and about 15 feet from your target. And if it has spin, it will force you into additional errors. So what should you do?

            When you see a lob coming, the first thing to do is read the spin. If it has topspin it will jump at you from the table, so don’t get too close. If it has sidespin, it will jump sideways, so move to that side. You should also read the depth, and back up some for a deep one.

            You should hit a lob just above eye level, either as it goes up or as it comes down. If you are tall, this gives you an advantage. You should practice taking lob shots as they drop—at least until you are consistent. If a lob lands short, you should take it while it is rising, unless it is so short it will not bounce back far. This way, you can get such a good angle on the ball that it will be impossible for your opponent to anticipate just where it will go. So off a short lob, always try for a winner.

            Many players make the mistake of going for an outright winner even off the best lobs. It is low percentage to try to smash a good lob for a winner against a good lobber. Instead, keep smashing hard, but place the ball, usually to the backhand. This way, your opponent has no choice but to lob again. What you want to do is to force a weak lob, preferably a short one, but also one with less spin, and put that one away. Often a smash to the middle will force a weak lob, but, be careful, you don’t want to let your opponent counter-hit, so usually avoid his forehand side until you go for a winner.

            There are many advanced techniques for hitting a lob. It is a good idea against all lobs (for righties) to raise the right shoulder. This gives you a better angle on the ball. A good way to do this is to start with your weight on your right foot, then, as you transfer your weight forward, lift your right leg off the ground, raising your right shoulder in the process. Make sure you put all your weight into all smashes.

            Another way of smashing a lob is to jump in the air, so as to contact the ball high in the air. Although this can make you look foolish if you make a mistake, and is considered a poor method by many, it has been perfected by many top players in the world, including the Seemiller brothers. To do it, you back up from the table, take a short running start, and jump in the air, sideways to the table, with your right leg leaving the ground first. As you smash the ball, you do a scissors kick—that is, your right leg goes backward, your left leg goes forward. This helps you thrust full power into the shot. By jumping into the air, you get a better angle on the ball, and contact the ball closer to the table, but it may hurt your timing.

            Many advanced players like to smash lobs right off the bounce. This takes great timing, but, once perfected, your smash becomes almost unreturnable. Only an advanced player should try this.

            A bad habit many players have is killing with chop or sidespin. Off a short ball, such shots can be effective, but they are pointless, since a short ball is just as easily put away with a flat hit. Off a deep ball, such shots, especially a chop kill, will hurt your consistency. There is some cause for some sidespin kills, since the sidespin may make the ball break so much that your opponent may not be able to reach it.

            You should avoid a drop shot off a lob unless you think it will be an outright winner. If your opponent gets to it, you’ve let him back into the point. Since it is hard to drop-shot a deep lob effectively, and a short ball is easy to put away, a drop shot is usually a low-percentage shot.”

 

            Might as well try to stay high-minded (what I and others of this USTTA time in History can’t always be). Here’s Larry again—on “The High Toss Serve” (Timmy’s, Jan., 1984, 17): 

            “One of the most effective serves in table tennis is the high-toss serve. First used effectively by the Chinese, it is now used, at least sometimes, by almost all top players. Since the ball drops further on the high toss than on the short toss, and so at contact point is traveling much faster than it would be otherwise, the high-toss receiver can often deceptively throw an opponent’s timing off by unpredictably choosing to put more or less spin on the ball than he would ordinarily.

            The most common high-toss serve is the forehand one with the racket tip down. Before attempting this serve though, you should first perfect it by using a short toss. To start this shorter toss, whether you’re a shakehander or penholder you will have to change your grip. You need to put your index finger further down on the racket (some put it almost straight down the center), pointing towards the tip. The thumb should be on the side opposite the index finger and should be pressing down on the base of the handle (where it meets the blade) against the other fingers.

            This grip should unlock the wrist, allowing minimum wrist action. [Sic: should of course be maximum wrist action—Editor Tim’s mistake which Larry later called his attention to]. Now stand over towards your backhand corner and serve by just grazing the ball from right to left. For maximum sidespin, contact should be midway between the back and the left-hand side of the ball. For chop, go under the ball. For topspin, go more over the ball—though this may be awkward at first. The racket, for maximum deception, should travel in a semi-circle, going down and then up. This way, you can use the same motion and get either chop or top merely by changing the contact point.

            Practice the serve until you can control the ball at full speed and can also keep it low and short. Contact the ball near the racket tip for maximum spin. The wrist, arm, and shoulders should be loose throughout the serve for maximum whip action.

            Now you’re ready to try the high toss. First you must practice the toss—it’s not as simple as it looks. To be effective, you must be able to toss the ball up about 8-15 feet high and have it drop right where you want it—otherwise you’ll have to reach for the ball, hurting your service motion. When you can control the toss, start serving just like you did for the short toss. Because of the ball’s increased speed it will be harder to graze it and contact it. To keep the ball lower and shorter, try to contact the ball as low as possible—just above table height. Practice serving both long and short, to the right and left. And don’t be afraid to experiment. For example, by contacting the ball on different parts of your racket you can create different spins. And by varying your delivery you can add deception—a sudden herky-jerky motion right after contact is especially effective.

            It should be clear that you can create spin with a high toss that you can’t with a short toss. To do this, try contacting the bottom of the ball from right to left. This will create a sidespin, the axle of which points away from you rather than up and down as in normal sidespin. This is called screwspin (also called the Chinese Unknown Spin). Screwspin will make the ball jump sharply to the right when it hits the table and will create difficulties for your opponent. For example, a normal high-toss serve will break to your left off your opponent’s racket. But screwspin, which looks so similar, will break right if pushed back, and left if attacked. Imagine the spin on the ball and why it’s there—a push contacts the bottom of the ball, while an attack controls the top. However, since a player rarely contacts the very bottom or very top of the ball, he will rarely meet the full force of the screwspin, so the ball won’t break off the racket as fast as off a normal sidespin—but it will be very difficult to read the break or the jump when it hits the table.

            To get more spin on your high toss, you must toss the ball’s speed [sic: Editor Tim dozed off again—Larry wrote you must “use” the ball’s speed] as it contacts your racket to create spin. You must learn to put full power in the serve. Use your shoulder to rotate into the ball, and, most important, you must use your wrist. Without a good wrist snap, you can’t get good spin.

            Watch top players to see how they do the serve—and copy them. Also, the high toss is most effective when used with other serves as a contrast, so develop your other serves too. If you wish, you can also try other types of high-toss serves, such as the forehand high-toss with racket tip up (where you go up and then down, instead of down and then up), or the backhand high toss.” 

             As you’ve probably noticed, I’m pretty insistent on showing both the good and the bad in these unique pages of History—am always trying to keep my Sept. 25th Libra balance, you know. As for SPIN Editor Tom Wintrich, he hasn’t the independence I do, so how could I or anyone else find fault with his safe-and-sane editorial policy? He writes (SPIN, Feb., 1984, 5): 

            “…SPIN will not publish any article that can be considered personally derogatory in nature against another individual. Nor will there be room for petty bickering, bad language, and questionable accusations. This is not meant to imply that criticism and controversy will be disallowed, provided either is expressed intelligently, constructively, and accurately. Our national publication represents our Association’s image in print and, as the newest Olympic sport, we need to project the many positive aspects of our organizations and its game.” 

            Christopher Faye (Timmy’s, June, 1984, 2), in a mite too wordy six-paragraph article with a VERY lengthy 18-word title, in aspiring to meaningful irony makes a point. He says, “…I have been a member of the USTTA since the ‘40’s. In that time I believe I have learned what it is all about. It has nothing to do with celluloid in a rotund state, and the various maneuvers designed to cause it to engage in unnatural acts. Rather it is an Association that has been designed to engender, foster, and maintain interminable acrimonious controversies concerning any subject within or beyond the scope of human or animal comprehension….”

            Ah, yes, Christ-bearer Faye, sometimes it would seem so. 

            But not to USTTA Coaching Committee Chair Bob Tretheway. He’s upbeat about his t.t. work, feels he’s getting along just fine with everybody. In a Coaching Update (SPIN, Feb., 1984, 11), he thanks “Paul Williams and Thavaj Ananthothai of Colorado, Walt Gomes of Wyoming, and Lawrence Su of California for their considerable financial contributions to the Coaching Program.” He also congratulates the USTTA E.C. for their support of the Coaching Committee. “After patiently listening to my report and proposals at the December EC meeting, President Schiff appointed Jimmy McClure and Gus Kennedy to review the use of funds the USTTA is expected to receive from the USOC with the directive to maximize their use for coaching.” That review “produced an additional $6,000 for coaching activities. To Kennedy’s credit, some of the added money came out of his International Committee allotment.”

            Bob says that “Jimmy McClure, along with seven others, has been appointed by USOC President William F. Simon to work on a newly established committee for the development of a national program for the certification of coaches in all sports….” 

            In a further Coaching Update (SPIN, Mar., 1984, 25) Bob speaks of the “administrative systems” he’s been working on. “I have established an information retrieval system that will allow me to give the name and address of active coaches to anyone who makes such a request by state and city….With respect to players’ and coaches’ camps, I have developed a registration packet that will help both program administrator and athlete….I have put together a set of forms that will make keeping track of camp programs more efficient….I have formulated a ‘Beginners Clinic’ outline and mailed copies to 30 coaches for evaluation.”

            Also, says Bob, “work continues on the Certification Program for Coaches, as well as the Youth Awards Programs….Umpire Committee Chair Manny Moskowitz has developed an outline for conducting umpires’ clinics….I attended a seminar conducted by the American Coaching Effectiveness Program and after passing a written exam I’m now qualified to certify coaches at ACEP Level 1….The ACEP helps coaches gain a basic understanding of sports medicine and science and shows them how to teach more effectively the technique and strategy of their sport. Level 1 instruction includes: Coaching Philosophy; Sport Pedagogy; Sport Psychology; and Sports Medicine.”

            Bob presents a National Training Camp Schedule of both Official camps (at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center) and Independent camps. Example of camps at Colorado Springs: Mar. 17-25: Elite Camp (for those over 2000)—12 men, 8 women, 3 staff; and Apr. 21-29: Coaches Camp—16 men, 9 women, and 6 staff.”           

 Larry’s correction of my mistakes in his “High Toss Serve” article above appeared in one of four Letters to the Editor that I printed in Timmy’s (Feb.-Mar., 1984, 3). In showing you all four, I’ll start with Larry’s diplomatically-worded “Let’s Be Careful”:           

“To the Editor:

Keep up the good work—‘Timmy’s’ is far better than SPIN…” [Larry now points out the mistakes I corrected in his article above. He says he’s not so much concerned with the second of these, the obvious typo that’s lost the sentence sense. But the first (that speaks of unlocking the wrist for “minimum” wrist action instead of “maximum” wrist action) might “very wrongly be interpreted—I can just see a new generation of stiff-wristed high-tossers! I know my handwriting isn’t always so great, so let’s both be careful. I’ll write you something else soon—if I think of something.”           

            Next up: Colorado Springs’ Stan Wolf’s “What Is Wrong With You?” 

“To the Editor:

            Your Jan. issue of T.N.A. [Timmy’s North American World of Table Tennis] is insulting, poor, weak, and unacceptable.

It reads and looks like a low budget mud-raking mag, without an editor. What is wrong with you? We are all fighting for the same thing, but T.N.A. is an insult to all players of our sport. I was ashamed to have the mail-man deliver your mag.

Tim, slow down. I know you, you are trying to help, but not helping. Look at your cover (‘drawing’?). You’re not publishing ‘High Times’—this is a mag received by 10 to 90-year-old people. Turn to page 13. What happened to Joe Ng’s arm? Is it an arm or a growth? Also, whoever cut out those photos has no chance of becoming a surgeon. [Yeah, I didn’t do such a good job with Joe’s arm, only made it worse. I was trying to help but not helping.] I am interested in Canadian Table Tennis, but I don’t read French. [Of course, Stan, you’ve noticed the “North American” in the title of my magazine? And you’ve noticed “Timmy’s Canada Section...An Official CTTA Publication”? [I do what I can to survive.] Today is Feb. 18. I received the Jan. issue today, with articles that took place Oct., ’82. [I’d like you to enumerate those “October” articles (plural) you thought you saw in the 24-page magazine, but I’ll just say, “What Is Wrong With You?”] 

While I’m at it, I might as well include a fifth “Letter to the Editor’ that appeared in SPIN (May-June, 1984, 3) by Dubuque, IA’s Brad Klug. He says: ‘The new SPIN Magazine seems to be much more professional and more organized [than…Topics?...Timmy’s?], but it doesn’t take long to read. Will it be expanded?” 

The third Letter in “Timmy’s,” “After Devil’s Island,” is written by Reston, Virginia’s Dave Krasnow: 

“To the Editor:

            How did I miss out on hearing about your new mag? Maybe I haven’t been down to the Club often enough lately. Well, after those issues of SPIN I expect anyone would be too comatose to make it to the Club. Anyway, I’ll kill Larry Hodges and the others for not telling me.

            I was down in Miami and of course went to Newgy’s to get Marty Prager to try to put my game back to what it was, and he laid issue #2 of TNAWTT on me. I nearly O.D.’d  it was so fine. Thank you for putting together a newspaper that takes more than 10 minutes to read cover to cover. Thanks for real articles and that good old flavor of a live sport. I read that sucker from front to back cover all night till I went to sleep and finished it the next morning, feeling as though I’d just had a good steak after months of Devil’s Island bread and water. Please send me a year’s worth starting with issue #1. Enclosed is a $15 check.” 

            The last Letter, “A Clean Well-Lighted Place,” is from Minnesota’s Tom Odette. 

“To the Editor:

            I was in Duluth-Superior on business when I remembered somebody telling me that there were five players (two USTTA members) in the area. I called one of them, Bob Brown, and he picked me up and we went off to play.

            For the past 20 years, Orpheus Nelson, owner of Nelson’s bar, Superior, Wisconsin, has had a special room for table tennis players. It wasn’t a large place, like Cobo Hall, nor did it have a brand new Joola table like those being played on at the Sports & Health Club in Minneapolis, but the room (and lighting) was more than just adequate. The owner is an active player, and at age 73 he only keeps the room open so that table tennis has a place in the area. Those who play there are roughly between 1500-1700 (rated by me after playing them), and they use up-to-date blades and rubber.

            Anyway, one of these players missed your articles from Topics in SPIN—at which time I told him about ‘Timmy’s.’ He promptly gave me $15 to subscribe, and so here it is enclosed.

            Glad to oblige.” 

O..K., back now out of the heights to the mundane level of Rules, Umpires, and Controversies. 

As of course we’ve seen for some time now, a racket having a property that differs on one side from the other has been the subject of much controversy, especially when both sides were of the same color. Changes had to come. Germany’s Eberhard Schoeler, 1969 World Men’s Singles finalist, in winning the 450-entry 1982 West German Over 40 Championship, protested that 60 of the last 64 players in the draw were “bat-flippers.” He said that since he was largely a defensive player, steadying-out long points, he was so tired, match after match, of having to look so closely, so carefully, at the constant changing spin on the ball, of having to concentrate so unrelentingly, that the actual playing was for him much less fun and much more of a headache than at any time in his career.

If defender Schoeler weren’t so super-aware, his return of serve would probably be smashed down his throat. Certainly these days the bat-flipping serve-and-smash-for-the-point attacker has the advantage. “Who knows,” quipped the world-famous Hungarian Coach Zoltan Berczik, as if shrugging up his hands on being held hostage at Technology’s gun-point, “maybe in retaliation they’ll make a defensive rubber capable of so much spin it’ll bounce the ball right back onto the defender’s side of the table.”

So changes were made, particularly the two-color rule that insisted the bat be of two colors even if the rubber on both sides were the same. Thus prompting the neophyte T.T. TV viewer, if T.T. were on TV, to say, “You mean this player’s red side is the same as his black side, but his opponent’s red side is different from his black side?…Absurd.”

But not only T.T. novices were sometimes confused by the new rules.

However, before I go into the reported woes of the World Champion Chinese, best I let Larry Hodges in his “Combination Rackets: The Competitive Challenge” (SPIN, Mar., 1984, 26) give you a few tips on the combination racket’s two most deceptive surfaces—anti-spin and long pips: 

“Anti and long pip players who often have inverted on the other (different-colored) side of their combination racket use four basic shots—push, chop, block, and drive.

The anti-push has very little spin on it. To push it back, contact the BACK of the ball; to loop it, graze the TOP of the ball. Since the anti-ball will not land as deep on your side of the table as the non-anti ball, you should be positioned closer to the table where you should be able to score consistent winners.

The anti-chop will usually have less spin than an inverted chop but more spin than an anti-push. Move the ball around, change speeds, and soon you should get a ball to hit.

An anti-block is almost always dead. Your hard hit or spin shot doesn’t come back strong or long so you must move into position and adjust to the different pace.

An anti-drive produces a very flat ball that tends to go very deep. Don’t be afraid to back up half a step to return it, and stroke up on the ball, trying to use topspin to control your return.

As for playing against long pips, don’t be fearful, for it’s very much like playing against anti. The basic difference is that anti deadens the existing spin, whereas long pips reverses it. If the return is short, reach over the table and attack the ball, remembering it has light topspin if your push was heavy, or a dead ball if your push was light.

A long pips chop off a loop will give you back all your spin. Therefore don’t try to loop hard repeatedly, it’s too difficult. Try to attack also your opponent’s inverted side, but there of course there’s no need to attack softly.

A long pips block is very much like a close-to-the table chop. It returns your spin like a chop but not as heavy.

A long pips drive can be effective against chop, but is not advisable without the thicker sponge base against topspin or against a dead ball that will float long.

Of course, whether you’re defending against anti or long pips, be sure you’re very alert to which color is ‘on.’ Combination-bat players will use the anti mostly to return serves and to drop you close to the table. A fast flat-serve is hard to return effectively with anti.

As a final guideline tip, repeatedly attack the anti or pips until your opponent flips and gives you a quick inverted block return. Then simply block right back to the opposite side. He will be especially vulnerable if when you do this the anti or pips is on the forehand side.” 

Returning now to the poor put-upon Chinese.

He Zhou, Sportswriter for “China Features,” (SPIN, Jan., 1984, 21), says that the Chinese, opting, like Cai Zhenhua and Jiang Jialiang, to experiment with the new rules the ITTF passed before they become mandatory Jan. 1, 1984, are having a rough time adjusting. Here, specifically, are the rules in question: “the racket’s to be covered with distinctly different colors on both sides; the serving hand’s to be above the table so it can be seen by the opponent; the player can’t foot-stamp during service; and the penholder can’t use the wood side of the racket as a striking surface.” Now, “unable to baffle their opponents, the Chinese combination-bat users felt they’d lost their original psychological and technical edge. Some of them gave up, some were withdrawn by their coaches, and some fought doggedly, but to no avail.” [A shocking development, no?]

The strength of the Chinese team was in part due to the diversity of their styles, using technological advances as ‘secret weapons’ to beat particular opponents. ‘It’s a pity to see my teammate Cai Zhenhua play awkwardly with the new racket’ lamented Guo Yuehua. [The one October article Stan Wolf was referring to in his Letter to the Editor above was a report on the $34,000 Asian Cup—which was won by Cai Zhenhua. Oh. How in the world did he do that? Used his old same-colored racket with inverted on one side and anti on the other.]

‘The Chinese are not inventors of combination rackets,’ said Coach Zhuang Jiafu, ‘but the new rules seem to aim at us and there is good reason….Only after we Chinese [because of our successes] became the common target did the new rules come out.”

But never mind. “’The Chinese are creative,’ said ITTF Vice-President Atsushi Goto. ‘You limit them in one respect and they will bring forth new things in another.’” 

Regarding the rule that the racket’s “to be covered with distinctly different colors on both sides,” USTTA Rules Chairman Mal Anderson says (Timmy’s Feb.-Mar., 1984, 17) that queries have been made about “a Chinese rubber that comes in dark maroon and black,” and so Mal must make a ruling on its legality. Here’s what he says: 

“I asked the opinion of the ITTF Rules Chairman and the ITTF Equipment Chairman before deciding on this matter. The ITTF Equipment Chairman, Rufford Harrison, replied that he checked the two rubbers with a light meter, and ‘At a distance of 10 meters, under a light intensity of approximately 400 lux (36 foot candles), I concluded that the two colors were distinguishable—just.’

The ITTF Rules Chairman, Colin Clemett, replied that ‘As there appears to be some doubt about the matter, my view would be that they (the colors) are not sufficiently different. It is, in my view, the responsibility of the players to use colours that are so clearly different that there is no possible doubt.’

After reading these replies and viewing the racket in question, I’m ruling that any racket with these two colors on opposite sides is not legal for tournament play. [Clearly different colors will be a must for the ITTF too.]

All tournament referees please note: when examining a racket, just turning it and looking at both sides alternately is not a good test. This rule means that a player who sees one side of his opponent’s racket under match conditions must know which side was used. A proper test of this is to have a helper stand 30 feet away from you under the tournament lighting conditions and show you the racket—one side only—for a fraction of a second, and do this several times, sometimes turning the racket over, sometimes not. If you aren’t sure which side you saw each time, the racket is not allowed in tournament play.”

Of course as with many rules (table tennis ones in particular?) people don’t care to follow them. Here’s University of Chicago student Andrew Giblon in a Letter to the Editor (Timmy’s, Feb.-Mar., 1984, 17): 

“To the Editor:

            Can you tell me: why isn’t the ACU-I intercollegiate tournament either run or sanctioned by the USTTA? I’m upset on more than one count: last year, my second time entering this tournament, I won the Regional event, only to find that for the first time in several years there was to be no National final. This year, though I might win my Region, there is again no National final, though I’m told that there are plans for one next year, after I’ve finished my graduate studies here. They are also only enforcing 1981 rules in my Region! Coincidentally, the players who almost beat me last year were a penholder who used his wood side a lot, and a red pips/red inverted player who flipped and held his racket under the table before serving, all of which will still be possible this year. Why can’t the USTTA get involved here?” 

            Rules Chair Anderson has this to say about the new serve rule (SPIN, Apr., 1984, 23): 

            “There seems to be some question on the new version of USTTA Rule 7.2 (ITTF Rule3.6.2), which states that, when serving, ‘the free hand AND THE RACKET shall be above the level of the playing surface from that last moment at which the ball is stationary on the palm of the free hand until the ball is struck in service.’

            The difference in the new version is that it requires the racket to be above the level of the playing surface. This should not be a problem for most players, who usually serve this way anyhow. The most common reason for having the racket lower that the playing surface during service is to keep the opponent from seeing which side of the racket is used. These players who use combination rackets will have to accept the fact that the ITTF and USTTA have decided to limit the effectiveness of combination rackets.

            For umpires, this is one more thing to watch out for. If you see the racket drop too low after the start of the service motion yet before the racket contacts the ball, call ‘Fault!’ and award the point to the receiver. Once the players realize this new standard is being enforced, the problems will cease.” [Apparently not—for how about any motion before the ball is stationary: is such movement allowed? (See Ken Wong’s argument in the Vancura article below.] 

            Manny Moskowitz, Chair of the USTTA Umpires Committee, says (SPIN, Feb., 1984, 22) that match officials have to be fair. He points out that “a problem arises when a rule, which has been allowed without question by one umpire, is ruled illegal by another. Both referees and umpires can avoid unnecessary disruption and argument during play by intelligent anticipation of possible causes of contention. The referee should make clear to umpires the way in which he expects laws and regulations to be applied, particularly those which are most susceptible to inconsistent application such as the service rule.”

Manny reminds umpire candidates not to wait until the upcoming U.S. Open or next December’s Closed to consider taking their umpire’s exam. (Move’s afoot to offer umpires nice new Levi Strauss uniforms —at cost too.)  Generally tournament directors (at all levels) seem to lose cognizance of the fact that it is to their own advantage to encourage individuals to pursue umpiring activity in order to help provide essential assistance in running their tournaments.”

            So does anybody want to encourage the serious umpire candidate? That’s what Paul Vancura asks (Timmy’s, Apr., 1984, 12) in his “International Umpire in 2084” article that follows: 

               “Since everybody is mad and tears are flowing all over, I will add a few of my own. I am unhappy with my experiences at different tournaments since I started to take umpiring seriously. To qualify to be a Regional Umpire, it is necessary to officiate at a certain number of matches.

            So with rule books and Regional card in hand I ask the sponsors of every tournament I attend if I may umpire. They often look at me as if I’m an enemy spy. Once I was told I would have to be paid. I have never taken money for this service even when offered pay at the U.S. Closed. I told the sponsors this, but not one match did I umpire. If it weren’t for friends like Tom Baudry of Baton Rouge and others I would still be a Club Umpire.

            Now comes the real problem. I want to become a National and International Umpire. So I started to work on my National card with all its requirements. At one tournament, the best I have ever participated in, I was allowed to umpire one match, the only one that was umpired. The two players were 2000-rated and with their experience were the ones that did not need an umpire. Can you imagine more than 80 players with only one match umpired? But we see that at every tournament. The question now is: to be or not to be an ump? Do we really need them?

            Since I am 65 and want to help the sport (my game is slowing down and so is my rating), I am disappointed because I will be more than 100 years old and broke before I can finish the requirements. Each tournament away from home costs a minimum of $200.

            I believe I know the rules, and I am unhappy when I read in ‘Timmy’s North American’ and SPIN, January editions, comments about the new addition to the service rule. Mr. Kenneth Wong writes about confusion and Manny Moskowitz in “The Umpire’s Chair” is seeking clarification. Et tu, Manny? [Wong (SPIN, Jan., ’84, 13) argues that “ the intent of the ITTF was to eliminate certain advantages enjoyed by the server, specifically increased racket speed and the various deceptions that are possible with a service motion that starts with a hidden racket. Thus, despite its own words, the ITTF apparently meant to require that the server keep the racket above the table height throughout the preparatory pause period.”]

            Now read on and let this old Bohunk clarify a few points. The rule on a good service: Service shall begin with the ball resting on the palm of the free hand which shall be stationary, etc….

            3.6.-2 is the addition quoted correctly in SPIN: ‘After reading the complete rule, we know that the service starts when the racket strikes the ball. During this period the racket will be above the level of the playing service. Simple. So, as an umpire, I will watch the server and both his hands. While getting ready to serve he can hide his racket under the table, behind his head, under his shirt, or hold it between his knees. When ready his free hand is above the table and steady. That means not moving. Just before he moves his free hand (to project the ball upwards) I will make sure that the racket is totally above the horizontal level of the playing surface and that it will remain there until the ball is struck. Very simple. Try it!

            Last year I was playing and umpiring in Prague, Czechoslovakia and in Antwerp, Belgium, and it seems that all through Europe they insist that even the club matches be umpired. In Gothenburg, Sweden, during the 1982 Senior World Tournament every game was umpired. Some umpires were young, but we were very pleased by them, even though they were not too experienced. All the young American players who are in Europe should write and suggest how and if the U.S. Table Tennis clubs could gain by paying more attention to umpiring.

            So I am crying but not quitting, Larry Thoman. And I am dreaming of being an International Umpire in the year 2084.” 

            Which is my cue to segue into chapters on play abroad.