Samuel "Sy" (later "Cy") Sussman, born Oct. 13, 1922, started playing table tennis in 1935 at the 92nd St. YMHA in New York City, as Sol Schiff and others had before him, under the tutelage of George Schein. By 1936 he was good enough to travel down to Philadelphia and win the 21-entry U.S. Open Boys’ Championship by defeating fellow YMHA New Yorkers--first, the very promising 10-year-old Cub Scout Roy Weissman in the semi’s, and then his older brother Gene in the final, both in straight games.
But then in 1937 at Newark, N.J., before graduating from New York’s Benjamin Franklin High School at 15, Sy lost his National Boys’ Championship--was beaten in the semi’s by Chicago runner-up Bill Palacio, Jr. However, as an all around athlete, he couldn’t fail to enjoy himself pitching Police Athletic League baseball, especially for a winning team.
During the ‘38-39 season, Sy, whom USTTA Table Tennis Topics columnist Reba Kirson (later Monness) praised as having the "cleanest strokes" she’d ever seen, wasn’t winning tournaments, but he did manage to play in quite a few of them, even while he was in charge of tournament play at the Duncan TT Club in New York. To get good, he had to play, had to accept his losses--in a Dec. Brooklyn Open semi’s (to Lou Pagliaro); at the early-Feb. Baltimore Eastern’s (to Schiff in 4); at the next weekend’s Pennsylvania Open in Reading (to the #1 seed at the upcoming U.S. Open, Izzy Bellis, deuce in the 4th); and at the season-ending Toledo National’s (to Chicago’s Herman Leavitt in 5).
At Toledo, in Men’s Doubles, Sy and Boys’ runnner-up Eddie Pinner, another YMHA Schein protege, lost in (-22, 18, -20, 18, -20) dramatic fashion to the Ohio team of Harry Sage and Sam Shannon. Since this was in the 1st round, who could foresee their unrivaled success in Doubles in the decade to come?
Sy’s ranking for the ‘38-39 season was U.S. #18. But that spring, in the quarter’s of the Apr. 22-23 Middle Atlantic States in Newark, N.J., he extended U.S. #4 Bernie Grimes to 5, and in the mid-May Master’s Invitational at the Dan Klepak-managed 5th Ave. Courts he took a game from current U.S. Open runner-up Tibor Hazi. So, having played all these contested matches, it was inevitable that next season he’d be even more threatening.
Sure enough, at the Sept. 29-30 Brooklyn Championships, Sy, who last season had been ranked #7 in New York, upset National Champion Pagliaro in the quarter’s, 19 in the 5th--though an excuse given by one of Paggy’s supporters was that Lou "had not thawed out from a ride in a rumble seat." Sy then went on in the semi’s to lead Grimes 2-1 before losing in 5. Finally, though, his perseverance paid off: the following week he won a tournament--over Harvard’s Jimmy Jacobson, in straight games, at the Newark, N.J. Evergreen Open.
Though he lost two semi’s in back-to-back weeks--was beaten by Lowry in the Nov. 4-5 Southern New England at Providence, R.I. and by Cartland in the Nov. 9-10 New York Metro Championships, the next weekend he made the New York Intercity Team by downing, among others, Grimes (whom he’d also beaten at Providence), Pinner, and Berenbaum. Word was that he was already "six feet tall and still growing" and that he could "take the drive away from anyone in New York"--anyone "except Sol Schiff."
At the Dec. 15-16 Philadelphia Intercities, where the players were welcomed by the mayor, Sy’s 9-1 record gave him the Outstanding Player Award and made it easy for New York to again win the Championship. He lost only to U.S. #2 Garrett Nash, and defeated, among others, U.S. #3 Izzy Bellis and U.S. #7 Bill Price.
However, at the Feb. 3-4 Reading, PA Eastern’s, Sussman was badly beaten in the quarter’s by the eventual winner Pagliaro, and, worse, he and Pinner dropped a 19-in-the-5th semi’s to Hazi and 1940 Philadelphia Closed Champ Ham Canning.
Sy also lost 3-1 to Lowry in the Feb. 22 New York State Open, and to Bellak 3-0 in the Mar. 23 Connecticut Open--which may have been factors in his decision not to go out to Indianapolis for the early-Apr., ‘40 National’s. Still, he’d had a terrific season--had "played in 10 tournaments without a single bad loss" and, on not being penalized for missing the National’s, climbed to U.S. #4.
Perhaps Sy didn’t play much summer t.t. He’d been given the opportunity to be part of the U.S. Team that toured Japan in June, but had to decline.
In the fall N.Y.C. Queens Championships, he lost a tough semi’s match to U.S. #3 Charlie Schmidt, then won the Doubles with Pinner. Although as one fellow put it, he had "a bad night at the [New York] Intercity Team Trials, he did win the Dec. 7-8 Southern New England Open over Pinner (and in the Draw was listed as "Cy" Sussman).
At the Feb. 1-2 Washington, D. C. Eastern’s, held at Heurich’s Gym (26th and D Streets N.W.), Sussman lost in the quarter’s to the increasingly invincible Pagliaro, but was the only one to take a game from him. Sy also had success in the Doubles--coming runner-up in the Mixed with Alice O’Connor, and winning the Men’s with Pinner, deuce in the 4th, from Schiff and Hazi who’d beaten them in a close match at the N.Y. C. Metro Open two weeks earlier.
The Feb. 12 New York State Open featured the first final in an unprecedented while in which "Little Dynamite" failed to explode. Pinner finally did him in--after he’d also beaten Sussman in 4 in the semi’s. The Doubles? Schiff and Bellak captured that--from Sy and Eddie in 5.
The Apr. 2-4, 1941 New York City National’s, held at the Manhattan Center, eventually gave Defending Champ Pagliaro a chance to wreak revenge on he who’d ended his winning streak two months earlier. Pinner had proved that Paggy was not invincible after all--which made it all the 5-game harder for Louie to get by Schiff in the quarter’s and Hazi in the semi’s. But while Eddie was advancing through the late rounds to again play Paggy, and this time lose, Sy was stopped in the eighth’s by the #3 seed, Chicago’s Billy Holzrichter.
In the Men’s Doubles, however, Pinner, almost 17, and Sussman, 18, kept at it--Eddie, with his strong forehand and all-around steadiness, Sy cracking in backhands--until, winning here at this 11th National’s, they would be the youngest Champions so far. They were extended though--in the quarter’s by Schmidt and his N.J. partner Bill Cross, deuce in the 4th; in the semi’s by Pagliaro and Nash, deuce in the 5th; and in the 5-game final, in which they were down 2-1, by Defending Champions Schiff and McClure.
The bespectacled Sussman, who was working at New York’s Mt. Sinai Hospital, had fallen to U.S. #13, but was scarcely discouraged. That August, both at Provincetown and at the first of Herwald Lawrence’s summer tournaments, he lost to Pinner. However, at the next one, he got to the final by upsetting Pagliaro. Also at these Broadway Courts he and Eddie split Doubles wins with U.S. #32 Cross and his partner, the suddenly tournament-serious New Yorker Dick Miles, who, though he hadn’t seen the point of playing in the N.Y. National’s’--I can’t win, so why enter?--had been a fast-improving practice partner for Pagliaro for months.
In this 1941-42 season, Sussman would be ranked U.S. #12, but was not playing as much as he had previously, perhaps because he was now working at the Morris Plan Industrial Bank. He also had other ways of spending his leisure time--might be at a Yankee game, or listening to Woody Herman records.
Although he didn’t enter the March Eastern’s--where Pinner paired with Hazi to win the Doubles--he did play two weeks later at the Greenwich Connecticut Open and reached the semi’s before losing to Pagliaro. Certainly, though, Sy (again "Cy" according to a local paper) couldn’t miss the Apr.. ‘42 National’s. And the trip out to Detroit was worthwhile, for, though he lost in the Singles to McClure, he and Eddie (they’d not looked so good in losing in Greenwich to Berenbaum and Miles) successfully defended their U.S. Open Doubles title--their toughest competition being a 5-game semi’s with McClure and Bellak.
Quickly now, because of the War, the Sport would lose many of its top players to the Service. Bellak, already in the Army, had gotten leave to come in mid-Apr. to Detroit, and later that month McClure would join the Navy. Others serving, or about to, were Klepak, Lowry, Nash, Hendry, Holzrichter, Anderson, and, forget about Doubles Championships for a while, Pinner, and Sussman himself.
Sy did manage to play in the Feb. 20-21, 1943 Washington, D.C. Eastern’s, though. The Topics write-up said that Hazi, on his way to winning this tournament over Schiff in the semi’s and Pagliaro in the final, "sailed through" Sussman in the quarter’s. But this was hardly true. With games 1-1, Tibor’s leading in the 3rd 20-11--only to lose 9 in a row before finally prevailing 23-21. In the 4th, he’s up 20-12--only to lose 6 in a row before getting match point. Surely all this caused him some anxiety. In the Doubles, as expected, Sy and Stan Fields lost to Pagliaro and Miles.
This would be Sussman’s last tournament for a while, for, though in the winter of 1942-43 he was an Army private stationed at Ft. Meyer, Va., just outside Washington, it wouldn’t be long before he’d be far, far away in the Pacific.