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As early as Sept., 1931, two years before the formation of the USTTA, the NYTTA had split from the Parker Brothers-promoted American Ping-Pong Association (APPA), had then begun conducting its own tournaments, and in the fall of 1933 joined the USTTA. In the spring of 1934, prior to the imminent merging of players into just the one Association we know today, the USTTA, like its dying rival, the APPA, moved to the climax of its season. It held its Apr. 5-8 (Easter Weekend) NYTTA-sponsored National's at the Hotel Astor (Broadway and 45th) in New York City.

Sixteen-year-old Sol Schiff was the favorite to win, though in earlier tournaments he'd been extended by several players, one of whom was his 92nd St. YMHA teammate, CCNY student Abe Berenbaum whom he'd beaten, deuce in the 4th, in the final of the Feb. 5-6, 1934 New York State Championships.

The bespectacled, tenacious Berenbaum, a lefty chopper with "tireless energy," was also a threat to win this '34 USTTA National's. Abe's allegiance, like Sol's, was now with the USTTA, but, like any teenager, he just wanted to play, and so hoped he could somehow participate in tournaments put on by both the USTTA and APPA Associations. But when he'd tried to play in the Jan., '34 APPA Metro Open Singles and Doubles (with Schiff), he'd been turned down by APPA Tournament Chair Herbert W. Allen primarily of course because he'd been playing in table tennis tournaments. Would Mr. Berenbaum like to apply for reinstatement in the APPA and wait out a probation period of four weeks?...Uh, no, but thanks....

In the New York State Championships, before losing to Schiff in the final, Abe had -18, -12, 20, 12, 13 rallied to defeat Sydney Heitner, the '33 NYTTA National Champion, and later he'd won the Metropolitan Open despite being down 2-0 in the final to Marcus Schussheim (later Mark Matthews), the perennial National Champion since the APPA's beginnings in 1928 and then with his shift in allegiance through the '31-32 season with the NYTTA. However, after losing three finals, and 9 out of 10 games, to Schiff this season, Berenbaum surely was hoping that in these '34 USTTA National's someone else would somehow eliminate Sol.

More than half a century later Schiff would say that he'd preferred playing lefties because he could hit straight down the line through his opponent's backhand--but, as Sol was already beginning to realize, he couldn't just go out and try to blast through Berenbaum, for, though Abe again lost to Schiff (the winner) at this National's, he was more and more perfecting one of the stiffest backhand chops of any U.S. player ever.

With the beginning of the 1934-35 season, the tournament that everyone in the East had been looking forward to--the 2nd Annual American Zone Qualifier that offered the Men's (but not the Women's) Singles winner an all-expenses-paid trip to the World's (Schussheim had been the sole U.S. representative the season before)--was held Dec. 12-15 at New York City's Downtown Athletic Club. Fiery Jimmy McClure, having switched from sandpaper to a rubber racket ("Oh," he'd say later, "what a change it was to go to rubber!"), deserved to claim the unusual prize, for he downed the two best players in the East--Berenbaum, 3-0, in the semi's, and Schiff, 3-1, in the final.

Down 19-17 in the 1st against Berenbaum, Jimmy responded with "four consecutive angled kill shots" that changed the direction of the match (it was as if Abe suddenly had "no defense at all") and signaled for some the bravura performance against Schiff that was to follow. Of the 35 tournament matches Berenbaum was to play all '34-35 season long, this one to McClure would be his only loss.

At the 1935 Intercity matches, Berenbaum's straight-game wins against the powerful St. Louis Team (all five of its players were ranked in the U.S. Top 10) helped the New York Team to the title, and, as Abe had now also been beating Schiff, established him with McClure (who did not play in these Intercities) as one of the three favorites to win the upcoming U.S. Men's Singles Championship.

The 1935 National's--played Apr. 5-7 in the banked-seat, bowl-like Grand Ballroom of the Stevens Hotel in Chicago, under the direction of (please, players, an eyeshade's o.k., but no hats or caps) Dougall Kittermaster, Reginald Hammond, and Ed Meltzer among others--was the first National's that would see the "Table Tennis" Champions--Schussheim (1932), Heitner (1933), and Schiff (1934) vie with the USTTA-recognized-as-co-equal "Ping-Pong" Champions--Coleman Clark (1932), Jimmy Jacobson (1933), and McClure (1934)--in one unified competition.

Sounds all harmonious, does it? Except that, as was happening more and more the playing world over (at the '35 Wembley World's, Haguenauer of France and Kohn of Austria had taken 20 minutes to play just one point), too many of the over 250 entries for this National's were producing some very long and some very dull matches--the most talked about of which was the 2 and 1/2 hour push-push-push Men's final won by Berenbaum over the St. Louis player Mark Schlude (later Mark Stevens). This 5-gamer, in which only the 1st was close, ended at 2:30 Monday morning and drew from the audience that remained not just applause but boos. Did WMAQ, which was said, perhaps erroneously, to have broadcast "2 and 1/2 hours" of the matches, send that mixed spectator reaction out over the airwaves?

The interminable final drew boos in part because of Berenbaum's interminable -9, -20, 18, 20, 17 comeback semi's against McClure. Jimmy, up 2-0, made what he would always consider an historic misjudgment--changed his winning attack for an uninspired, plodding defense.

Thus, the long last three games of this match ("People walked out to smoke a cigarette with the score 11-12 and came back many minutes later to find it 13-12"), coupled with the seemingly endless back and forth final, were, to some onlookers, even aficionados, just unendurable ("two agonizing and disgraceful matches"). Granted one had a right to his own playing style, granted the object was to win, still....

Schiff would later say that the slow Becker tables favored defenders Berenbaum and Schlude ("No hitter could play," said Sol). But Jimmy didn't offer any such excuse. He admitted he'd "played into Berenbaum's hands," had forsaken his own game to play his opponent's.

Berenbaum, partnered by New Jersey Champion Ed Silverglade, also won the Men's Doubles--over veteran Coleman Clark and teenager Dick Tindall who, surprisingly,with tenacious 5-game wins had fought their way into the final. Apparently, his U.S. "Circus" Tour with the incomparable Victor Barna had improved Clark's play.

After the USTTA season had officially ended (it did so too early in those days, immediately after the climactic spring National's, with still maybe six weeks of tournaments yet to come), Schiff resumed his winning ways over Berenbaum, but just barely--beating him 19 in the 5th in the final of the 4th Annual New York State Championships, held, as usual, at the 92nd St. YMHA.

Berenbaum, affected by the boos he'd heard in winning his National Championship, had vowed to be far less dependent on his heavy-chop defense. "If I can't develop dependable drives within a year," he said, "I'll quit." And so, before losing to Schiff, had proceeded to drive through Ruth Aarons' coach Sam Silberman in 4 in the semi's. Like most U.S. players who learned how to attack in those hard-rubber days, Berenbaum finished his follow-through in a more or less straight-up salute, for an open paddle was necessary to lift, to topspin, the heavy backspin the chop defenders were putting on the ball.

Because of the chiseling--or "pooping"--matches Berenbaum (and a number of other top defensive players) had been involved in, the USTTA Executive Committee passed a stringent new By-Law for the 1935-36 season that allowed any Tournament Committee "to terminate any match at any time, the nature of which is construed by such officials to be detrimental to the game." And First Vice-President Kittermaster, speaking for the E.C., emphasized that "no player will be considered [for the U.S. Team to the '36 Prague World's], no matter how good his tournament record, whose style of play is purely defensive."

This new By-Law was dramatically enforced in the Middle Atlantic States Open, held at the New Yorker Hotel in New York City, Dec. 12-13, 1935. Harry Cook, U.S. #7, was disqualified in the semi's after leading Stanley Feitelson (later Fields), two games to one, when, after being warned repeatedly, he wouldn't play an aggressive shot and Feitelson, though losing, would. Then, in the final, Feitelson and Al ("Stonewall") Goldman were disqualified for continually pushing the ball...reportedly for 25 minutes...at 20-all in the 5th--the time being now 3:45 a.m.!

The disqualification of these top players and the demeaning treatment of Berenbaum at this tournament brought forth a long letter of protest from New York City College student Stanley H. Borak to New York State TTA President Sidney M. Biddell (and a sneering dismissal of it by USTTA President Carl Zeisberg). Here is an excerpt of that passionate letter as it pertains to Berenbaum:

"...You cannot set yourselves up, Biddell, as demi-gods, and act high-mindedly in such matters as you did without any notice of [a] meeting or referendum of the players. It is our game--and you have no right to try to take it away from us. To become more specific, your own actions and Charley's [Charley Schneider was the Metropolitan TTA President at the time]...were a disgrace to the game, and have caused dissension in the ranks that bodes ill....Schneider's announcing during the Berenbaum v. [Arthur] Drapkin match that it was dull and that more interesting matches were being played on the other tables was an insult to the intelligence of the audience, who could, you know, have watched other matches of their own accord if they were bored without Charley's helpfulness, and it was a gross insult to the National Champion. After all, like it or not, Berenbaum is our national champion, and entitled to a modicum of courtesy, if not affection from our gracious committee. The announcement at the end of the match was even more insulting and did, I speak of positive knowledge, hurt Berenbaum and [Borak unconsciously writes the name the way it's pronounced] Dropkin deeply. What did it accomplish? They'll know better next time--so you think! You and Schneider are wonderful judges of human nature! You caused Berenbaum, by harrassing him personally and over the loud speaker to disgustedly throw his match to Feitelson, thereby eliminating your national champion. A national champion is always the object of interest, whether his style is dull or exciting. Berenbaum could have defeated Feitelson, not in a spectacular match, but in a fairly interesting one. Berenbaum chops hard, you may have heard, to win the point by his deadly chop or by forcing a set up, and not merely by colorless pushing as does Feitelson...."

The officials did lack common sense here, and President Zeisberg was wrong to dismiss Borak's letter as "tripe." But Berenbaum, though he suffered a wound to his pride and gave up the match to Feitelson, was not about to quit playing competitively (though he might have considered it).

The two most important tournaments Reginald Hammond's Ranking Committee would concern themselves with in picking the U.S. Men's Team to the '36 World's were the Chicago Intercities the first week of January and the 3rd Annual American Zone Qualifier in Washington, D.C. four weeks later.

The powerful Biddell-Captained New York Team--Berenbaum, Schiff, Lou Pagliaro, and Jimmy Jacobson--drove the 900 miles to Chicago over "sleet-covered and blizzard-swept roads"--and as it turned out their victory demanded a similar perseverence, patience, and maybe a little luck. Berenbaum himself contributed a respectable 7-2 record to his Team's win (though he lost a match to one of his chief competitors for the U.S. World Team, young Dick Tindall of St. Louis).

But then strangely Berenbaum didn't enter the American Zone Qualifier and so forfeited the excellent chance he had of playing for the U.S. in Prague. Why didn't he go to the American Zone Qualifier in Washington? Perhaps because he wanted both to continue his studies at City College without interruption and to keep on managing the Essex County, N.J. Club in Newark? Or because he knew he couldn't expect much help in raising funds? (For without Parker Brothers there just wasn't any money in the Sport.)

Berenbaum, however, was very much present at the Apr. 2-4, 1936 Philadelphia National's played in the Grand Ballroom of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel. And who did he meet in the quarter's of the Men's Singles but the visiting #1 English player, Adrian Haydon, father of the 1957 World table tennis finalist in three events and later Wimbledon Champion, Ann Haydon Jones.

ITTF founder Ivor Monatgu tells us that Haydon, a lefthander, grips the racket "with almost three fingers on the blade" and that this "curious grip, a sort of all-forehand exaggerated to the nth degree, enables him to strike any ball, however low, and with whatever spin or drag it may come to him, with forehand topspin." But, despite a decade of world-class experience, Haydon couldn't handle Berenbaum's heavy chop and lost to him in 4.

Nor in a 5-game semi's could Bud Blattner, who with McClure had just won the World's Men's Doubles, get past Abe.

For the second straight year, then, Berenbaum was playing for the Championship and, what's more, he'd improved his game. After he'd scented victory and doggedly left a poopy trail home in last year's final against McClure, someone had congratulated him, told him he was glad that he, Abe, had won. "But what a way to win!" Berenbaum had replied, as if his chiseling had smelled to high heaven. "And," he said, "I meant it. I was disgusted and thought of giving up the game." A recurring thought no doubt not only for Berenbaum but for many a player.

But instead he developed a passable attack (though one in which he "wouldn't hit two balls in a row"). His aggressive play was noticeable this '35-36 season not only back in February when he "won the {New York City] Metropolitan title for the 3rd straight year" by "taking the attack" from Charlie Schmidt then topspinning through scoop- retriever Harry Cook, but also when he beat defender Feitelson in straight games in the 8th's here at these Philadelphia National's.

Attack or defend, though, it just wasn't in the cards for the 22-year-old, poker-faced Berenbaum to do more than take a game in the final from 5-time World Champion Victor Barna.

Nor, in a 5-game semi's, could Abe and Johnny Abrahams quite do in former World Doubles Champions Barna and Sandor Glancz.

With the next, 1936-37 season underway, Berenbaum decided he definitely wanted to go to the Baden World's. He came to the Intercities as the winner of the very strong New York City Metro Championship--a tournament that had made "history' because "play ended at 11 p.m. and the N.Y.Times had printed the results." Not only had Abe beaten Sol in the final, -22, 16, -17, 18, 14, after being down 2-1 and 17-13 in the 4th, he'd also scored an even gutsier -17, -18, 7, 17, 21 victory over Pagliaro in the semi's.

So from this and many another Championship everyone admired Berenbaum's fight. And now, here especially, his sportsmanship. Officials were impressed that Abe "would not resort to pushing while losing to McClure"--and, though Kansas City's erratic V. Lee Webb (4-10) blasted him off the table, they were also impressed that, "courageously playing while ill" (he compiled only a 3-3 record), he "stuck out the last 2 points of his match" with Chicago's Jerry Lavan. Immediately afterwards he "collapsed on the floor at the players'exit," then "was carried to his room, where Dr. F. Stanley Morest found him suffering from a cold, temperature elevation, and lack of rest. Not until assured a place on the [U.S.] team would he consent to remain in bed."

On Jan. 13, 1937, only 10 days after New York's Intercity triumph in Chicago, Schiff and Berenbaum, preceding the other members of the U.S. Team, sailed for Europe on the liner "Washington." As President/Editor Zeisberg's Topics put it, they had a special mission: "to buy Austrian railway tickets for the team in Paris." This translates to: they would meet the other Team members in Paris and, the train tickets having been purchased (Team Captain Elmer Cinnater said that "the French spoken by Ruth Aarons and Abe Berenbaum helped us a lot"), they would then all go to Budapest together for friendly U.S.-Hungary matches before the World's.

Actually, though, Abe and Sol had refused to join the rest of the Team leaving New York on the 16th because, being Jewish, they didn't want to travel on the German liner, the "Bremen."

In Swaythling Cup play at the World's, the U.S. suffered what appeared to be a disastrous 5-4 loss to Hungary. Abe, though scoring a good win over Laszlo "Laci" Bellak, fell, with victory so 13, -20, -22 near, to Ferenc Soos, who also beat Sol 19 in the 3rd. Abe was just "overanxious," said Captain Cinnater. But then--surprise--Hungary was 1-2-3-4-5 unexpectedly annihilated by Austria, and that 11-1 round-robin loss tied them with the U.S. This necessitated, according to the rules then in effect, a play-off for the title. Berenbaum, however, because of his "run-down condition," had been given, as the U.S. was completing its winning record, what had evolved into a long 4-tie rest. So, regardless of how well he'd played against Hungary before, Cinnater felt it was no time to switch a winning line-up. And with Berenbaum sitting out, we beat Hungary and won the Cup.

In Men's Singles, Abe lost to Poland's Aloizy ("Alex") Ehrlich, a formidable opponent who this year, and twice more, would be the losing Singles finalist. Then, paired with Schiff in Doubles, he got some measure of revenge by beating Ehrlich/Liebster before losing in the quarter's in 4 to the Czech team of Slar/Tereba.

But it's not time for the U.S. to go home yet. At the Feb. 10 English Open, where McClure was runner-up to Barna, Berenbaum lost in 5 to Hungarian Istvan "Steve" Boros who, after winning the World's Consolation at Baden, upset the English #1 Haydon here in London in straight games. In Men's Doubles, when '36 and '37 World Champs McClure and Blattner were upset, Berenbaum and Schiff took full advantage, brought home a win in this the second most prestigious tournament in the world.

With the U.S. women coming through at the World's too--winning the Corbillon Cup and Ruth Aarons the Singles--what a welcome the tired Team deserved at their homecoming. In fact, gold medals had been prepared for all the players.

But there'd be no finalist award for Berenbaum at the National's this year. In a match obligingly delayed because he wasn't feeling well, Abe disposed of this season's Massachusetts' #1, 16-year-old New England Open winner Les Lowry, and afterwards got by Brooklyn's Mel Rose in 5. But against the eventual winner Bellak--"the one player worthy of that extravagant word 'genius'" Aarons had called him--Abe had no chance.

O.k, another season coming up--and though the USTTA had earlier announced they weren't going to send U.S. Teams to defend their World titles at the '38 London World's, now suddenly they were. But the earlier-scheduled St. Louis Intercities, where the Team was traditionally decided, was set for Jan. 8-9, and the sailing date for England was, uncomfortably, Jan. 12. Ranking Chair Hammond had a problem when, after what he called a "ridiculous" New York Team Tryout, neither Berenbaum nor Bernie Grimes, strong contenders for the U.S. Team, were part of the New York contingent to show at St. Louis. Were they both, without playing there, and without regard to anyone else's record there, simply to be given carte blanche to go to London?

It had been customary to consider not only a player's results from the mid-Sept. opening of the current season (including perhaps his earlier late spring or summer play), but also what he'd done the season before, or possibly even the season before that. Last season Berenbaum was U.S. #5. Before that, U.S. #2. And before that, U.S. #1. But Hammond admitted that his Committee could not possibly consider Abe for as high a place as #5 if they considered only his 1937 record, which seemed almost non-existent. Hammond's committeeman, Cinnater, said that, though Berenbaum and Grimes "are very even," he favored Berenbaum, for Abe was a great teammate in Baden and a "good man to have on any team." So perhaps he still had a good chance to be selected for the '38 World team?

However, it was Grimes (fittingly, I should say, for his perfect 12-0 record at last year's Intercities didn't allow him to make the '37 World Team) who hurriedly sailed Jan. 12 on the Acquitania with the rest of the Team--Abe having made the sporting gesture of turning over the $47 he'd raised for his own fare to Bernie.

In the Feb. 16-17, '38 Metro Open, a tournament which in the past he semed to have a lock on, Berenbaum lost in the semi's to relative newcomer Doug Cartland, whose steady, locked-wrist topspin proved deuce-in-the-4th too much for him.

Having curtailed his play more and more, Abe was already being "boomed" (by the New York U.S. Team members?) as Captain of our '39 World Team to Cairo. But since the USTTA had no money to budget such a trip, and was in fact almost $450 in arrears from the last World's (which is just about what a 1939 round trip ticket to Cairo would cost), how would Capt. Berenbaum and his players get there? So far, the Sphinx wasn't saying....And it never would, for with Europe in turmoil, only 11 Men's teams and 5 Women's teams would attend these World Championships--and the U.S., without funds, wouldn't be among them.

Berenbaum played in the '38 National's, but, now obviously in the twilight of his career, was badly beaten in the Singles by the precocious Philadelphia star Izzy Bellis. And in the Doubles you might say Abe didn't even play, for he could only have been an obliging presence since he and his partner were consigned to an opening preliminary match, which they lost. And just a year ago Berenbaum and Schiff had won the prestigious English Open. Now Schiff and McClure were World Champions and also the winners at these National's.

Still, Abe continued to play in, even Captain his Broadway Club team in, the New York Metro League. However, he would only temporarily be in charge of tournaments at the Broadway courts, for his place would soon be taken by one about to become famous in his own right, Herwald Lawrence.

Berenbaum's last Intercities was the Jan. 31-Feb 1 one at Philadelphia, and, though he played only three matches, it was an honor for him surely to still be able to align himself with such powerful N.Y teammates as Schiff, Grimes, Pagliaro, and Cartland.

Finally, though--it happens--Abe had lost his enthusiasm. It was time to quit. What, Topics columnist Reba Kirson (later Monness) asked, could possibly be more interesting to him than table tennis? "Music," he said, and confided he'd been taking piano lessons.