This Profile, Autobiography really, will be largely written by Azmy—familiarly known to those who’ve talked with him or read his columns for 20 years as “Dr. Azmy”—I’ve edited it.
“It all started when I was not more than seven years old. My brother was the table tennis player, and he wanted someone to play with all the time. We had a dining table in our home that could be stretched out, and the minute our parents left the house this table would be expanded so we could play table tennis on it. I don’t know where my brother got a net or even the rackets and balls. I only know that we’d started playing.
Unfortunately, after a time my brother stopped playing, but the hand-eye-foot coordination I’d developed from playing table tennis helped me to be recruited for my School/Club soccer team. Clubs in Egypt aren’t limited to one sport. In addition to a Club-house restaurant and maybe a small theatre, there’d be facilities for table tennis, soccer, and many other sports such as basketball, volleyball, tennis, squash, swimming, and horse-racing. I was always on a soccer team, but had to be dragged to ping-pong matches.
My first success in table tennis was when I was awarded the University Cup. When my parents saw my name and picture in the national paper they were really disturbed. Since I wasn’t as good a student as my older brothers, who were always #1 in their classes, they were afraid I wouldn’t complete my studies if I got involved in sports.
Excelling in sports, however, got me on two National Teams. Our Alexandria Club soccer team won the Shield of the Republic—the highest honor in soccer in Egypt. Each player was presented with a cup. Although my career was more glamorous in soccer than in table tennis, unfortunately it had to come to an end. Suddenly I became allergic to the sun. In fact, it was so life-threatening, I had to quit playing soccer.
In table tennis I wasn’t the best player on my team, but I usually performed well against foreign competition. The high moment for me was playing against the number one player in the world—Ichiro Ogimura. His Japanese team, best in table tennis then, came to visit and play in Egypt. That Egypt-Japan match took place in a basketball arena and all 15,000 seats were sold out.
Later, I came to the United States to finish my studies and ended up at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Not surprisingly, I’d brought with me my table tennis racket, playing clothes, and training suit. But I couldn’t find a place to play.
One day, though, I was having dinner with some people and the talk somehow turned to table tennis. One woman said her boy friend was going to play table tennis in Denver. I learned there was a club there and that some U of C students played there, and that in fact here at the University in Boulder there was a place to play.
I arranged to meet with one of the best players in Colorado, Tom Druze. The guy was extremely arrogant. When we started to play, he sort of toyed with me as if I were a beginner. I, on the other hand, didn’t reveal how well I could play. After a while he wanted us to start a match—of course to show off in front of our girls. When the game started I played as good as I could, and to his surprise he couldn’t take a game from me. Angrily, he insisted on playing more, but to no avail. Then he mellowed—kindly asked me to come with him to Denver. The same scenario was repeated there with the Club’s #1, a player by the name of Cohen. Just for the fun of it, Druze and Cohen urged me to surprise other good players there, and I obliged.
One of these players was Norm Schwartz. His family lived in Houston, Texas, where a big tournament was about to be played. Ralph Bender, who was supposedly involved in the USTTA, the National Association I didn’t know anything about, asked me to go to the tournament with him and Norm. He would drive—had a new Chevvie—and we’d be hosted by Norm’s family. I was happy to join them.
I reached the final of this tournament, but never did know anything about my opponent except that he beat me in a close match. However, at least I received a nice runner-up trophy.
On the way back to Boulder, Ralph fell asleep at the wheel, and we all woke to a big bang. I looked and saw that we were completely off the road on the left side, and standing behind us, in the middle of the car, was a telephone post! How could that be? Then I realized that the force of the car had broken the telephone post into two parts. The upper part, still attached to the wires, had swung away, allowing the front of the car to pass by, then had swung back in place on the broken part. I guess you can imagine how the front of that new car looked.
The police came and took us to the bus station where we were able to leave for Boulder. When we arrived back there, though, our luggage was not on the bus. I was totally devastated because that trophy I’d proudly won appeared to have been lost. Luckily, however, my bag came to me three days later and inside was my trophy.
From Boulder I moved to Fullerton State University in California to teach. Once again there was no table tennis. But then I found out there was a club in Long Beach, and I went there and began playing with some of the best players in the state—Jack Howard, Dave Froelich, and Bob Ashley. Since I had an all-around game these players got good practice with me.
Ashley, who was a professional exhibition player, asked me to join him in demonstrations at various schools. Then I agreed to partner him in an exhibition at half-time during a Harlem Globetrotters game. Since I could both hit and chop we had long rallies that really entertained the crowd.
In California I met young Alex Salcido and his father, a former Olympian. They lived in Costa Mesa, next door to Fullerton. I was asked to train Alex at his home, and soon saw that he was naturally talented. He excelled so rapidly that he became the U.S. Open Junior Champion. He also was a guitar player, and since I was a professional hand-drum player we used to combine table tennis days with music days. Later on, to his father’s disappointment, Alex dropped table tennis and became a professional musician with commercial records to his credit.
At Long Beach I came to know another young player—Shonie Aki. He was from Hawaii, and within six months was forcing all the good players in the Club into tough matches.
My next and final University move was to San Jose State—where again I couldn’t find any table tennis. But then I got a call from Shonie. He surprised me by saying he was living in San Francisco and wanted to start a club there. Of course I helped him and our club became one of the best in California.
A great moment came when Shonie decided to run the U.S. National’s in San Francisco. Until then I’d had no connection with the USTTA and of course never imagined it would be otherwise. People used to confuse us: “You’re Aki?”…“No, Azmy.” But at this tournament Shonie did all the work and deservingly got all the credit. We had a party for all the players on a boat in the Bay. Shonie played the piano and I the drums, and everyone danced and enjoyed themselves.
Between my playing in Colorado, Long Beach, San Francisco, etc., I accumulated at least 200 trophies. They called me the trophy monger—I never played in a tournament without getting at least one trophy.
Maybe word got around that I needed to be distracted. Anyway, soon I was being asked to umpire match after match. One day Tom Miller, the prestigious U.S. Umpire/Referee, asked me to become an official USTTA umpire, and was so insistent I had to agree.
That started a new direction in my life that continues until this day—for Tom got me umpiring on a State, National, and International level.
During USTTA President Terry Timmon’s term of office, I was asked by his Vice-President Y.C. Lee, who was also Chair of the Officials Committee, to give some lectures to umpires, and to entice me he made me a member of his Committee. We then started the tradition of giving two seminars, one at the U.S. Open, one at the U.S. Closed. After Wendell Dillon became head of the Officials Committee he appointed me Chair of the Umpires Selection Sub-Committee.
When later Colin Clement, Chair of the ITTF Rules Committee, attended one of our seminars, he asked if he could have my lecture notes. I told him they weren’t really notes, more points I’d made. Would I please write them up and send them to him? he asked. I told him I’d be glad to. When he received them, he used them in the Rule Book he was doing for the ITTF, and acknowledged my help on the first page.
Colin also invited me to accompany him on an All-Japan tour in which we gave lectures to umpires. We went from one city to another, and in some places, since Japan has the highest number of umpires in the world, the lecture room was so full that not all those wanting to get in were able to.
As my work continued, I became a Corresponding then Full Member of the ITTF Rules Committee—writing, translating, giving exams, conducting seminars, and providing interviews. I also became an Umpire Evaluator, concerned with the development of umpires in general and Blue Badge umpires in particular.”
Although Azmy’s now retired as a Sociology Professor, and also as a serious player, during his years at San Jose State he started and maintained a University Table Tennis Club and, while locally keeping his own game honed, coached and encouraged a number of students to become good players. On the National front, Azmy’s been Referee/Deputy Referee of several U.S. Opens and U.S. Closeds. Also, in addition to being an Umpire at these majors, he’s worked the Olympics and Paralympics.
“Play Ping-Pong and See the World”—that might be Azmy’s credo. For ask him where he’s been as an International Referee/International Umpire, and he’ll tell you: China and Japan of course; Europe too (Russia, Sweden, Germany, Italy); and such disparate places as, well, I’ll not name them all, Qatar, Mexico, Australia…..
“I really enjoy what I’m doing,” says Azmy—and who could doubt it?