USA Table Tennis

DICK EVANS

USATT Hall of Fame Inductee (1998)

by USATT Historian Tim Boggan - © 1998

Dick Evans, despite having been involved in table tennis for half a century and accomplishing much, has often gone...unrecognized.

There's a photo of him peering out of a baby carriage, in the very year the USTTA is being formed, looking inquisitively...like, "Do I know you? Do you know me?"

That this "Who is he?" motif continues might be seen in another photo of him when he's of school age. Typical Norman Rockwell--a boy and his dog. That's "Dickie Tom" and "Boy." But who can tell that the "Boy" in the photo is the dog?

By the time Dick gets to high school, we see in still another photo--who?--the stocky young Hemingway, rifle at rest, though game to hunt?

Dick was brought up in Charleston, W VA, and, given that up-in-the-hills, militiaman photo of him, it's no surprise that at 14 he belonged to a gang called the River Rat Raiders. Fun times included a River Rat association with both the sister (Carrie) and cousin (Mary Austin) of the later (1990's) Governor of W. VA., Gaston Caperton. Dick, Carrie, Mary Austin and another rat or two all used to pile into Carrie's father's Cadillac on a Saturday night and see if they could break the 47-minute speed record down the 60-mile, two-lane highway from Charleston to Huntington, the westernmost town on the edge of, if not disaster, Ohio. Of course when Interstate-64 came in, those River Rats who were still psychotically able to do so could drive the entire distance at 100 mph.

Today Dick needs a hip replacement, back then what saved him from a fate that might have allowed no replacement of anything at all was table tennis. Fifty years ago, in 1948, as a relative unknown, he was entered in the 13th Charleston City Championship, along with Defending Champion Whitey Lykins and 1947 Runner-up Jim Pierson--both of whom recently came out of History's shadows to play in the Over 80's at the 1997 Fort Lauderdale U.S. Open.

In 1949, as a high school junior, Dick was President of the Charleston Junior Table Tennis League--and that year and the next was one of its best players.

During the 1950's Dick played in what he says is the longest continuous running league in U.S. table tennis history--the Kanawha Valley Industrial League--and he won, along the way, the State Junior title, and then repeated as the W. VA. Men's Singles and Doubles Champion.

In the '50's, too, Dick was both a starving, flunk-out student at Tulane in New Orleans, and a different kind of River Rat--the Mongahela being nearby--for a photo shows him as an obviously slimmed-down, now serious-minded, would-be professor type at West Virginia University in Morgantown, where of course he was also the University Table Tennis Champion.

On the road, or off, with or without writers Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg to advise him, Dick, by the time he headed in the direction of Providence, was perhaps more than a little beat. But, prudently making a life for himself there with his second wife, Ann Andre Evans, he'd become the Rhode Island Champion, and in 1962 would run a very successful Eastern's.

It was at these Eastern's that a prominent local player, Irv Levine, who owned a leather goods company, generously offered to make a souvenir to give to every player. He took Dick into his cutting room and with Levine's best power machine operator they designed and made what might well have been the first zippered, racket-shaped table tennis case.

Dick had fun times at his Providence Club. "It had four tables on a second floor walk-up," he said, "and it was always busy on league and handicap tournament nights. It was a ritual that the handicap winner each week had to treat the late-round losers to the first round of beers at the fish-and-chips bar across the street. Then after several rounds we would go back upstairs where the worst players in the club would beat us all."

"On occasion I would play elsewhere," Dick remembered. "Sol Schiff would periodically swing through New England on one of his marketing junkets, and one time he asked me to go to New Bedford with him to give two exhibitions. These were played before some enthusiastic, not to say crazy, Portuguese players who, after the demise of the whaling industry, were now largely employed as firemen, factory workers, and bar owners. Sol and I played at a firehouse and also at a bar--each unique in its playing conditions. At the firehouse, Sol hit balls around the brass sliding-pole while I retrieved them sitting in a kitchen sink that was up against a wall four feet behind the table. The Club Madeira was even more exciting. The longer we stayed, the drunker, louder, and more hostile the Portuguese got--especially when Sol made monkeys out of them with his finger-spin serves. We were lucky to get out of there without being gang-raped."

Appropriately, Dick's first USTTA job, in 1962 under President Norman Kilpatrick, was to head the Exhibition Committee. Then, as if emboldened by this appointment, Dick ran for USTTA Vice-President, but was defeated by, among others, Shonie Aki, who promptly secured the National's for Inglewood, CA.

By April of 1963, Dick and Ann had left Providence and were immediately welcomed into the Ohio Closed. Ann won the Women's, and Dick and John Spencer were runner-ups in Doubles.

In preparation for the '63-'64 season, Dick joined with Bong Mo Lee (D-J Lee's cousin who would later be instrumental in bringing D-J to Columbus), John Spencer, and E.J. (Ted) Henry to take over the Columbus Table Tennis Club from Guy Blair and his associate Wally Bennett. They moved the action from the Olentangy Bowling Center to a gutted hardware store on Cleveland Ave., and that winter the club supported a 12-team industrial league, then followed up with a 10-team independent summer handicap league. Dick says that "Bong Mo made direct contact with Tamasu" and that their Club was allowed "not only to buy Butterfly products direct (C4 D13 rubber was 40 cents a sheet) but that they were offered the option of becoming the U.S. distributor before Bowie Martin got it." However, the Columbus Club rejected the offer because they didn't have the capital and didn't really want to take on such responsibility.

And no wonder they didn't have the capital. The story is a familiar one. Here's what Club members got for their $4 monthly membership fee ($2 for juniors). Free table time. A hardwood floor. No obstructions in the 5, soon-to-be-6-table playing area. Five lights (three 200 watts and two 150 watts) suspended 14 feet from the floor over each table. A back court lighted by 80-watts fluorescently at each end of the table. A nine-foot sidespace between each table, and more than a 15-foot run back space. A players' lounge and shower facilities. All for $4 a month. "Table Tennis in Columbus Prospers"--that's the name of the 1965 article in "Topics" that described the place. Small wonder, though, with such a ridiculously low monthly membership fee that Dick and the others who invested the original capital to start the Club hadn't been repaid, and that the Club generally was far from prosperous, was just a break-even operation. As for summer play...without air-conditioning? How many were gonna keep paying for that?

But at this time Dick is, after all, a psychiatric social worker. So presumably there has to be some therapy in all this. The Club endures, hosts the U.S. Intercollegiates (Dick is also the USTTA Intercollegiate Chair), and, holding regular tournaments, helps to produce young National Champions in Fred Henry and John Tannehill, whom Dick liked and befriended.

In the spring of 1965, after having served as the Ohio TTA's Public Relations Chair and Editor of its Newsletter, Dick again ran for USTTA Vice President, as did both Cyril Lederman, USTTA Rules Chair, and Jack Carr, USTTA Coaching Chair. Following Mal Anderson's lead, Dick had been one of the country's first National Umpires to qualify under Lederman's Training Program--which in those days meant that when Dick defaulted Detroit's Eddie Brennan, he might not have been too startled when Eddie's friend Leo Griner threatened to retaliate by breaking Dick's thumbs. That fall Dick would also be on Carr's Coaching Committee. And although neither Evans nor Carr won Vice Presidential election, with the resignation of President Herman Prescott they were both appointed to the E.C.--Dick as Corresponding Secretary.

For the '65-66 season Dick was ranked among the top 40 players in the country. And over the Labor Day weekend he Captained the victorious U.S. Jr. Team--John Tannehill, Alice Green, and Glenn Cowan--at the Toronto CNE.

In 1967, Dick's Columbus Club hosted, for an evening Exhibition, along with D-J Lee, four other world-class players--Czechoslovakia's Jaroslav Stanek, England's Denis Neale, and two of Japan's finest, Hiroshi Takahashi and the eventual 1967 U.S. Open winner Manji Fukushima.

But any revenue from this table tennis Exhibition was far surpassed when the Club was rented out for a straight-pool match between the National One-Pocket Champion, Danny Jones, and Luther "Whimpy" Lassiter, another great U.S. player. Although Promoter Jones owned the pool hall across the street from the table tennis club, he needed a one-table arena and a place to set up bleachers to seat 500 spectators, so, since it was easier to clear away t.t. tables than 1,000-pound pool tables, Jones rented the Columbus Table Tennis Club at $200 a night for three nights. Which meant that, on the Friday afternoon before the weekend matches started, 10 husky guys had to hustle a heavy pool table across busy Cleveland Ave. while Dick stopped traffic. "Fortunately," he says, "in those innocent days there wasn't much 'road rage' or I might have been killed."

Also, in '67, Dick will take on not another heavy table but another USTTA Chair--that of the U.S. International Team Squad--while Ann for the second time will be ranked among the Top 10 women players in the country. At the USOTCs she'll give 1966 U.S. Open winner, the Canadian defender Violetta Nesukaitis her only loss. "Ann was a good forehand hitter against chop," Dick, reminiscing, would say. "Perhaps in some measure," he added, "because of her partner"--that is Dick, himself, a chopper.

Soon though, their marriage will break up, and while Ann will shortly stop playing table tennis altogether, Dick, after winning a narrow election for USTTA Recording Secretary over Lederman, will become the President of the Ohio TTA. His Vice-President? George Sinclair, who for three years was Editor of the USTTA Newsletter (Topics), and Beatty Recreation Club sponsor of the annual Columbus Midwest Open.

Dick says he was never one to really walk on the wild side--though, since the West Virginia state motto is "Mountaineers are always free," we do see, in a skinny-dipping beach-party photo, that side of him. Dick needed some fun, some whimsical moments in his unofficial life. He speaks of a game young Tannehill, grown into the Club's resident teenage hippie, invented. "We called it 'strip Ping-Pong' and it could only be played after hours with the draperies closed and the front door locked. It was a game for the boys, although there was one of our club 'mascots' who liked to join in because, not only did she like just about any excuse to take her own clothes off, she liked seeing this particular John in the nude."

Of course, Dick was often dressed, and quite respectably--as uniform as the next person. In another photo, he, along with umpires Bill Byrnes, Andy Gad, and Jim Rushford, are all keeping the visiting Chinese in check. "Friendship First, Competition Second." That's 1971-72 "Ping-Pong Diplomacy"--and smiles all around.

For sure, a person had to have some moments of levity in his life if he were going to run a table tennis club. Dick did it for 10 years. Good thing he had a job as a social worker, 'cause what "with rent, heat, and electric bills, it was really only the twice-a-week leagues that allowed the place to survive." He also learned that "if you wanted something to get done, you had to do it yourself--even simple things like sweeping floors, taking out trash, and setting up tables."

Dick needed to open doors, clear the air--it was only a matter of time before he'd leave the Columbus Club. Off he went to Greece--took steps to get to the Acropolis. And in another photo taken during the early '70's we see him climbing his way high up a snow-topped mountain--just because, he says, "it was there."

Already, too, about this time, with his stepson Eric , he's building his "Friars Knob" hilltop cabin-retreat on the 143 acres in Hillsboro, W. VA. he'd had the foresight to buy in 1970. In just a few years he'll have begun to build a cozy, comfortable home there. Meanwhile, says Dick, "if you strike a nail several times with a hammer while pointing it north, the nail will be magnetized to continue to point in that direction."

In 1973, Dick was pointed North by Northwest--it was the Obbligato of "Let's go/Come on/ Let's go"--and off he went to Berkeley, to the San Francisco Club, to the poetry of City Lights--Appalachia coming to Ferlinghetti.

There, listening to the sounds of a different drummer, he finally, as he said, got it right, met Sue, his third wife of 23 years now.

"We've been building our house this winter" reads one of the letters I've been receiving from Dick for 30 years, stone by stone, as it were, "splitting a lot of firewood as we fiercely consider the requisites for survival at 3700 feet on a wild, westward facing mountain with -5 degrees temperature and 50 mph winds."

But with the spring thaw comes the call, "Return...Return." And, deja vu, Dick is soon reunited with his old Columbus clubmate Bill Hodge. It's 1976 and the first U.S. Closed. Bill, who with the blessing of Caesars Palace Executive Vice President Neil Smyth, is in charge of the tournament, and wants Dick to be Director of Physical Operations.

It's an historic new beginning for Dick--one of the reasons he's being honored with membership in the Hall--for this Closed at Caesars is the first of a total of 16 U.S. Open and Closeds he'll do the set-ups for, culminating, after 20 years, in his Physical Implementation work at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

What specifically as Director of Physical Operations does Dick do? For years and years, this:

"I get to the site a couple of days before the tournament starts and stay on after it's over. In the meantime I'm just inconspicuous. I make sure the tables and barriers have arrived and are set up as they should be. And don't think, say, a 50-table, 500 barrier job is easy. Even with all the necessary tools and a foot-blistering, sweat-soaked, finally learned system of assembly, it might still be 20 minutes a table, and literally 24 hours for three men, each working 8-hour shifts, to set up the barriers--all done on the two days before the tournament in a not yet air-conditioned venue.

In addition, I check out the spectator seating arrangement (maybe 5,000 chairs are needed), and of course I check out the floor, be it wood, carpet, or concrete, check out the lights, the P.A. system, the control desk, the scheduling flow charts, the concession arrangements, and the early morning clean-up. I hire and supervise the labor crew, which means you have to know the tricks of the trade so day by day you can keep the best workers, separate them from the minimum-hourly-wage drunks and drifters who haven't enough motivation. I'm also responsible for hiring a 'stage hand supervisor,' a 'fireman' and a 'policeman.'"

Moreover, as Dick would find out, sometimes the unexpected happens. I don't refer to the fact that about this time he'll return to Charleston to again become the West Virginia Champion, or that at Miami Beach he'll win a National Championship--the Over 50 Doubles with his friend and tournament co-worker Rich Livingston.

I'm thinking of that National's at the Tropicana, when Dick was working with Tournament Director Dennis Masters, whom he had the highest regard for, and Chance shook the dice, and flung out rain. Rain, snow--so? Well, since the annual rainfall in Las Vegas is only 7 inches, some casino hotels--like the Tropicana--don't bother to repair their leaky roofs. And, said Dick, "when 3 and 1/2 inches fell in just one hour on a Saturday afternoon while the National Championships were being played in a sunken pavilion with a leaky roof, what do you think happened? The water literally cascaded down the carpeted stairs from the casino into the pavilion below. In less than 30 minutes 50 table tennis tables were standing in two inches of water that covered the entire floor. 'No sweat,' said Dennis. He and I quickly enlisted a dozen casino porters with three-foot rubber squeegees and shoulder to shoulder moved the water 250 feet out the far end of the building. Once the rain stopped we were back in play in little over an hour."

Squeegee--that was Rutledge Barry's nickname. Dick remembers once during the National's at the Vegas Showboat, when, intent on becoming an international referee, he was being unfairly reprimanded by an officious evaluator who was criticizing him for not examining the players'rackets prepatory to play. Rutledge overheard the remarks and immediately came over and confirmed that Dick had indeed examined the rackets, and that, what's more, Evans was one of the best umpires he'd ever had.

Which judgment was likely substantiated with his work at the 1989 Dortmund World's. Certainly there's a photo of him there, in insignia-jacket and tie, looking very, very official. Fortunately he's smiling.

As you might have guessed by now, Dick doesn't care that sometimes he doesn't look, well, dignified. After all, he's an artist. A real-life furniture maker, he considers kitchen cabinets his specialty.For relaxation he plays Lord of the Manor with his faithful dog Casey, and enjoys Mozart, while Sue turns the soil in the garden, picks out rocks, and plants onions and peas.)

But it's as a poet--light verse, I should say, for Dick has a good sense of humor--that his reputation here and abroad rests...sleeps. Remember Souleman Fudja, Capt. of the perennial Nigerian Skypower team that won three successive USOTCs in the early '80's? He figures prominently in the following holiday poem by Dick that requires only the footnote that just last year Dick told Y.C. Lee that he, Dick,would have refused Waldner and Saive's late entry into the U.S. Open.

Ready?...

"The Night Before" 
"'Twas the night before...Tournament, when all through the house 
Not a creature was stirring, except Bob Allshouse; 
The draws were all made by the computer with care, 
In hopes that all teams would quickly be there. 
The players were nestled all snug in their beds, 
While visions of upsets danced in their heads. 
Sat Bob in his office and I in my sack, 
Each of us devouring a midnight snack. 
When all of a sudden there arose such a ringing. 
I sprang up to see what the wires could be bringing, 
Away to the phone I flew in a minute, 
Caught up the receiver and jammed my ear init. 
The voice on the end was friendly and cordial, 
Giving no hint of impending disgorgial. 
Then...why, that voice I knew--and dropped my fork. 
It was Souleman Foujda--calling from N.Y. 
Is it true, I thought, our fears might pass? 
Is Nigeria Skypower entering at last? 
"Yes, indeed," came the fervent reply. 
"Half our Team has come on the fly." 
"Only half your Team, have-e-uh?" 
"Yes, the rest are stuck in Yugoslaaavia, 
We hope they'll arrive Saturday morning." 
"You know there're defaults?" came my stern warning. 
"Not to worry," said he with assurance, 
"The Skypower team will show its endurance." 
"Good friend," I said, "Thanks for the call. 
We'll get you into the Draw after all...."
Ah, a man of many interests and talents, whom we've got into our Hall...after all--Dick Evans.