USA Table Tennis

A newcomer to the USTTA tournament world makes her first appearance at the April, 1941 U.S. Open, played at New York City’s Manhattan Center—she’s Bernice Charney, who, on paying her dues, will be the 1946 U.S. Open Champion, and who, a remarkable 17 years later, as Mrs. Bernice Chotras, will again be the U.S. Women’s Champion. Here she’s a stubborn –11, -18, 20, -17 loser to Ohio’s circuit regular Gladys “Pete” May.

With the coming of the 1941-42 season, at a Sept. Brooklyn tournament, Bernice finished runner-up to Edna Sheinhart, with Peggy McLean 3rd. At the Jan., 1942 Manhattan Championships, Bernice again played losing finalist to Sheinhart. And still again, at the Mar. Connecticut Open, the George Washington High School teen, the more promising now for going to out-of-town tourneys, lost to Sheinhart.

The War forced an absence of tournaments, so it’s not until the Nov., 1943 N.Y. Metro Open that Bernice surfaces—as a winner now, over Peggy McLean. And a winner again at the Jan., 1944 N.Y. State Open—though this time she’d been hard-pressed, had been down 2-1 in the semi’s to Hawthorn, and down 2-0 in the final to McLean. And yet withal she probably reflected a seeming casualness in an on-court mien of expressionless, gum-chewing impassivity. In this State tournament, Bernice’s future husband, George Chotras, gave a good account of himself in the Junior’s, losing 18, 19, 21 to the eventual winner Keith “Tippie” Schaber.

Bernice didn’t go out to the St. Louis National’s, so she appears next for us at the Dec. 8-9, 1944 New York City Open, where, in thrilling the fans, she loses a close 5-game final to McLean. The 17-year-old Charney, said her contemporary Harold Kupferman, was a shy girl, never wore make-up, and though Reba Monness, for one, thought she had “natural talent,” she also claimed Bernice needed “more strokes and strategy.” Reba also pointed out—before or after Bernice lost the March, 1945 Eastern’s 3-0 to McLean—that she isn’t now the fighter she was since her brother David, five years her senior, who helped her learn strokes and gave her pep talks, has been in the Service. However, Reba added, “George Chotras’s ‘ardent rooting’ should inspire her.”

Perhaps, for around Thanksgiving, Bernice won the New York City Open over Millie Shahian who’d upset #1 seed Peggy McLean. However, at the Mar., ’46 Eastern’s, Charney lost in the semi’s to McLean (-19, -7, 19, -11)—scores which suggest again that Bernice’s generally placid demeanor belied the inner emotional swings that made her either want to charge (as in her quarter’s rally to down Clouther in 5) or wimpily give up (as in those –7, -11 losses to McLean).

Never mind—Bernice, blocking if need be, but usually aggressive from either wing, certainly got it together for the ’46 National’s. In the semi’s, she downed Defending Champion Hawthorn (just back from Europe sans two of her bags wherein were her rackets)—Bernice gaining momentum when at 1-1 she won the key 3rd game at 19. Then in the final she stopped Leah Thall who’d eliminated McLean, 3-0, in the other semi’s. This was only Charney’s second National’s—in her first one, in 1941, she lost her opening match. She’s come a long way—the more so when (with Tybie Thall and Mary McIlwain as “ball girls”) she -18, 17, -22, 23, 15 outlasts a determined Leah to win the Championship. “Nothing secret about that match,” covering N.Y. World-Telegram reporter James A. Burchard quoted the umpire (most likely Bill Gunn, but possibly Mel Rose) as saying, “Miss Charney had the guts to gamble everything on an all-out offensive. It was make or break and she won.”

Reba Monness will interview the new Champion—112 pounds, wavy brown hair, a fetching dimple—who makes her living “as a filing clerk for a publishing firm.” Here are some essential things to know about her:

“Her favorite dish is chow mein, her favorite beverage is milk and her favorite past-time (when not table tennising) is attending the movies. “B” is also very fond of ‘jazz,’ her main ambition being to become a top-flight drummer in a name band. Other than table tennis she does not play athletic games and admits she is a poor swimmer” (TTT, Nov., 1946, p. 3).

Bernice did not tryout for the 1946 Women’s East-West Matches that would decide the U.S. Team to the ’47 Paris World’s. Oh? Why was that? Because she’d married George Chotras and moved, at least for the moment, to Reno, Nevada.

She was in Chicago, however, to defend her National Championship—and in the final she again met Leah, only this time to lose in 4. In the Mixed, Bernice and Cy Sussman got by Max Hersh/Barbara Cannon in 5, but then, down 2-0 to Reisman/Monness, and despite winning the 4th at 23-21, they couldn’t make it to the final. 

Chotras didn’t attend the 1948 U.S. Open, didn’t earn a National Ranking for the ’47-48 season, for she’d given birth to a daughter Louise (one day to become a player in her own right).

However, next season she was back, and playing in the Nov. 11-12 New York City Open, so important because it included the round robin tryouts for the East Team that would qualify for the East-West Matches in St. Louis from which likely the U.S. Team to the ’49 World’s would be chosen. And no doubt to the surprise of many, Bernice’s 4-3 record (behind McLean’s 7-0 and Shahian’s 5-2) was just good enough to make the East Team. Had Clouther not lost to Chotras 22-20 in the 3rd, she would have made the Team not Bernice. Had Leah not suffered that shocking 19-in-the-3rd upset by Ruthe Brewer Crist, she, not Bernice, would have qualified.

In St. Louis, Chotras did just fine; she, like McLean, defeated all three Western qualifiers—Betty Jane Schaefer, Tybie Thall, and Peggy Ichkoff (the other Eastern Team member, Millie Shahian, beat Schaefer and Ichkoff but lost to Thall). Thus Bernice made the Team, but then declined to go because she had that 6-month-old daughter to take care of. Joining McLean and Shahian, taking Bernice’s place, was Defending World Mixed Doubles Champion Tybie who’d beaten Millie in St. Louis play.

At the 1949 National’s, Bernice was beaten in the semi’s by Leah. Later she played in the East Tryouts, but didn’t qualify for the East-West Matches. After that we don’t hear about her for a while….