USA Table Tennis
History of the Hall of Fame
The Hall of Fame goes back to a magazine called "Tennis," which was founded and published in 1965 by Asher Birnbaum, of Highland Park, Illinois. "Tennis" was originally known as "The Magazine of the Racquet Sports," and featured Tennis, Table Tennis, Badminton, Racquetball, and Squash. It was subsequently sold to Time Magazine and continue to be the #1 Tennis Magazine in America.
Initially, the table tennis editor was Wally Gundlach, a tennis pro originally from St. Louis, who was living in Chicago. Gundlach had been the 1949 U.S. Junior Table Tennis Champion, as well as a member of the 1949 U.S. Team and the Austrian Open and English Open Junior Champion. After a few issues Wally and Asher Birnbaum asked Steve Isaacson if he would assume the Position of editor, which he did.
After a few months, the idea of a table tennis hall of fame suddenly occurred to Steve. He reasoned "If Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb...Wilt Chamberlain and Bob Cousy...could be members of a hall of fame, why not Dick Miles and Sol Schiff?" Steve suggested the idea to publisher Birnbaum, who said "Go for it!" and offered to devote a full page with photos of an induction ceremony if Steve could arrange it.
Steve approached Richard Fuerstein, President of the USTTA, with the idea, along with his list of "The Seven Greatest Players of All-Time." Fuerstein then proposed the idea to the USTTA Executive Committee, along with Isaacson's list of America's "Magnificent Seven." The original list included: Dick Miles, Leah Thall Neuberger, Sol Schiff, Jimmy McClure, Ruth Hughes Aarons, Lou Pagliaro, and Sally Green Prouty. The Executive Committee voted overwhelmingly to support the idea of a hall of fame, and reduced the list to the five inductees who held World Titles, thus temporarily postponing the inductions of four-time national champion Lou Pagliaro and five-time (in a row) National Champion Sally Green Prouty.
Isaacson's next step was to contact Graham Steenhoven. Steenhoven was not only a member of the EC, buat was also running the 1966 U.S. Open at Detroit's Cobo Hall. An agreement was reached between Isaacson and Steenhoven for a short Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony prior to the Men's Singles Final. Isaacson immediately notified the five inductees and arranged to have reporters from the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News. He also obtained plane tickets and hotel rooms for himself and a photographer from "Tennis" magazine.
On the final day of the U.S. pen...Sunday, March 20, 1966...Bernie Bukiet beat ten-time Champion Dick Miles in the Men's Semi-Finals, and Danny Pecora reached his first and only finals with a win over Dell Sweeris. Okay, now for the First U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame! However, instead of introducing Isaacson to begin the Hall of Fame inductions, Steenhoven announced the Bukiet-Pecora final Match! Isaacson ran over to Steenhoven, who stopped him in his tracks, shouting "We're running late. We don't have time for this nonsense!" Such was the beginning of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame!
In 1979, fully thirteen years later, the Hall of Fame was revived...by USTTA Executive Director Bill Haid and Steve Isaacson. Officers were elected, by-laws and a constitution written and a charter recorded in the state of Illinois. Original board members included Isaacson, Haid, Jimmy McClure, John Read, Ruth Aarons, Tim Boggan, Wally Gundlach, Leah Neuberger, and Sol Schiff. (This original committee has an incredible eleven World Titles between them!)
In 1979, at the U.S. Open in Nassau, New York, the original five were finally inducted, along with Abe Birbaum, "Buddy" Blattner, Emily Fuller, Dolores Kuenz, Lou Pagliaro, Sally Green Prouty, Jesse "Jay" Purves, and Marcus Schussheim. Also named were tow "Official": Elmer Cinnater and Coleman Clar, and two "Contributors": General Sportcraft and Detroit Wood Products.
Hall of Fame induction banquets are now held annually. For the past several years the event has been held in conjunction with the U.S. Nationals. This year's induction banquet will be held at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel on Thursday, December 17.
Incidentally, Graham Steenhoven, who singlehandly destroyed the Hall of Fame in 1966, was himself inducted in 1988! His presentation speech was given by (...and I am not making this up) Steve Isaacson.