USA Table Tennis

Dolores (originally Delores?) Probert's first National's was the Parker Brothers-sponsored American Ping-Pong Association's last one--at the Hotel Carter in Cleveland, Apr. 6-8, 1934. She lost in the 2nd round, badly, to Chicago veteran Helen Ovenden, and was ranked APPA #12 for the '33-34 season.

At the Apr. 5-7, 1935 unifying USTTA National's, held in the Grand Ballroom of the Stevens Hotel in Chicago--the first one to bring together all former National Champions (APPA, NYTTA, and USTTA)--Probert had improved to the point where in her 3rd match she gave U.S. #2 Jessie "Jay" Purves an 18, -18, -17 scare. Also, in the Mixed, partnered, as she was at the last National's, with fellow St. Louis teenager Dick Tindall (he would be the losing finalist in this year's Men's Doubles with Coleman Clark), Probert would score a good win over the Billy Condy/Mildred Wilkinson team before losing to the eventual winners Sid Heitner and Ruth Aarons. Now Dolores was U.S. #9.

And getting better. In March of 1936, as the USTTA Women's Team had just ended their warm-up matches in France prior to moving on to the Prague World's (the women selected had had to pay their own way), Probert was splitting 19 in the 5th final matches in the St. Louis Western Open--winning over Mildred Wilkinson in the Singles, and losing in the Mixed Doubles with U.S. #16 Edwin Woody to Wilkinson and U.S. #5 Bill Price. Said Chairman Elmer Cinnater of this tournament, "No pushing, no complaints, and a financial success. That helps a lot."

Then in the Apr. 2-4 Philadelphia National's, though Probert couldn't put up any resistance against just crowned World Champion Ruth Aarons, she did show again how tough she could be with gritty wins over, first, Provincetown's Jane Stahl, -19, 18, 13, 20, and then in the quarter's over New Rochelle, N.Y.'s Mae Spannaus, Dolores's partner here in the first-ever U. S. Women's Doubles Championship, -20, -14, 15, 16, 18. Now Probert was U.S. #5.

In early Jan., 1937, at the Lake Shore Athletic Club in Chicago, the U.S. Women's Team to the Baden World's would be selected--and for the first time ever there would be a 10-player round-robin Trial that would for the most part decide that Team. Reginald Hammond, USTTA Ranking Chair, had made it clear that "only participants will be considered for [the] U.S. Team," so if you didn't pay your own way to Chicago, you had no chance of being on it.

That obviously discouraged some fine players in the East--like 1936 U.S. Team Member Corinne Migneco, and N.Y. State Champ Mae Spannaus and runner-up Helen Germaine. Had these and some other fine absent players lived in close proximity to Chicago, either the field would have been extended, or some of them would have been chosen over some who played. One sympathizes with Germaine when she says to a reporter, "A boss just doesn't care how your backhand is going and if you want to leave...you're docked so much money. The pep isn't there either."

"Like a housewife wielding a clean broom," the Topics write-up began, "a bride swept through the U.S. Corbillon Cup team tryouts that were a colorful adjunct to the [Men's] Intercity." One of the bride's wedding presents, as it were, was a nice clean broom? To keep her and it in her closeted space? The "adjunct" competitors that 21-year-old Dolores Probert--or, rather now, Dolores Probert Kuenz--"swept away" (like so much...what?) in the course of her 9-0 round robin win did not include Ruth Aarons, the World's Women's Singles Champion, the only exempt player. Nor did they include Ruth's final opponent in the '36 U.S. National's, Anne Sigman, who was unwilling to give up her conflicting Washington, D.C. Shoreham Hotel night club engagement. ("I'd hoped you'd exempt me too," she'd said.)

In addition to Aarons's rightfully secured #1 position on the four-player Team, two more women were eligible for whatever funding might turn up ("H. N. Smith, England's great [table tennis] philanthropist" would give the Team the huge sum of $900), but the fourth player would have to pay her own way. Kuenz, with her perfect record, took the #2 spot, but the third was decided in a play-off when 1936 U.S. Team member Jay Purves -22, 21, 16 barely prevailed over 17-year-old Mayo Rae Rolph who'd come all the way from Portland, Oregon. When Mayo's father had to say sorrowfully he hadn't the money to send his daughter overseas, Emily Fuller joined the Team at her own expense.

Once abroad, Kuenz showed right away she could play. In the "dead tired" U.S. Team's Jan. 23-24 warm-up matches against Capt. Andor Wilczek's Hungarian Team at Dr. Geza Bodor's Duna (Danube) Sport Club in Budapest, Kuenz beat the current World #16 Ida Ferenczy, 2-1, but lost to World #14 Magda Gal (later Hazi), 2-1.

In Baden--this would be the historic year that both the U.S. Men's and Women's Team would win the World Championship--our women opened their Corbillon Cup play against a weak French Team. So Capt. Elmer Cinnater allowed U.S. #4 Fuller to play her one and only match in the Team's, pairing her with Kunz for a win in the doubles. Since Aarons and Purves had established a doubles partnership at last year's Prague World's, Kunz thereafter would play only singles.

Dolores began by doing well to beat Austria's World #10 Traute Wildam, 2-0, for had she lost that 24-22 second game, would she have had the confidence to win the third?

Against England, Aarons and Purves would lose the doubles, so that meant Dolores's 20, -19, 12 win over the England #2, World #11 Wendy Woodhead was crucial.

Hungary's 1932 and '33 World Singles Champion Anna Sipos also fell to Kuenz, 17 in the 3rd. That was a good win, for afterwards in the Singles, Sipos, "has been" or no "has been," would beat the veteran English International Margaret Osborne, World #6.

The tie with Germany, however, brought real trouble. With Dolores playing so well, it hadn't seemed reasonable to select Purves to play singles, even though last year she'd scored a gutsy 19-in-the-3rd win over Hilde Bussmann, now the German Champion. So Kuenz continued to play, but was beaten by Bussmann in straight games. Since Dolores still had Astrid Krebsbach Hobohm, last year's World Singles runner-up to Aarons, to play in a possible 5th match, the U.S. might have a devastating problem should Ruth and Jay lose the doubles. And in that doubles, that might mean not only the tie but the Cup itself, the U.S. was down 20-15 match point in the third. And won 7 in a row!

Rumania was our next victim, and Kuenz had a good win over young Angelica Adelstein--later, as the married Rozeanu, one of the most acclaimed players in History, World Champion for six straight years (1950-55).

Against Czechoslovakia's two-time World Singles Champion Marie Kettnerova, Kuenz did her best--which was -16, -20 good, but not good enough. Fortunately, though, the tie didn't go into the 5th match, so Dolores was spared playing Vera Votrubcova, this year's winner in both the Women's and Mixed Doubles. All in all then, a fine 5-2 singles record in the Corbillon Cup for Dolores against some of the world's best.

In the Singles (where Defending Champion Aarons and Austria's never-hit-a-ball challenger Trudi Pritzi played so time-consumingly that the final was stopped and the title declared "Vacant"), Kuenz lost, 3-0, in the 2nd round to Jindra Holoubkova, who (Captain's orders?) then defaulted to her Czech teammate, the Doubles specialist Votrubkova. Paired with Fuller in Women's Doubles, they drew right off the eventual winners, Depetrisova and Votrubcova and of course had no chance. In an early-round Mixed match, though, Dolores and Jimmy McClure put up a game fight, only to lose 18-in-the-5th to Sipos and Laszlo Bellak.

Before going home to collect the Championship gold medals that were being prepared for them and the other Team members, Dolores and Jimmy got to the final of the Mixed in the English Open at Wembley, where they were beaten convincingly by their teammates, Aarons and Bud Blattner.

At the Apr. 1-4 National's in the Grand Ballroom of the Mosque Theatre in Newark, N.J., Kunz, Purves, and Fuller were deliberately positioned in the opposite half of the 44-entry Draw from Aarons in order that Ranking Chair Hammond might afterwards better rank them.

Ranking committeeman Frederick J. ("Jim") Clouther said that Kuenz "had the reputation of being the best woman hitter in the country." But, seeded #2, Dolores had a 5-game scare in getting by Pennsylvania Champ Matilda Rauscher (about-to-be Plaskow) in 5 in the 16th's. Then, still shaky, she lost the first two games to "Titian-haired" Mae Clouther (Jim's wife) and, though rallying to win the 3rd and 4th (at 19), she couldn't contest the 5th. This loss at the too heavily-weighted National's would drop her to #4 in the U.S. Rankings--her best year.

However, Dolores did win her first National title, when she and Fuller in an exciting 27, 19, 15 Women's Doubles final triumped over Aarons and Anne Sigman. Anne (along with Ruth and Jay) was about to disappear from the tournament scene, for she said that with all the exhibitions she'd been playing she'd just lost her desire to be competitive.

In the Mixed, Dolores and Jimmy McClure lost a killer quarter's match to Johnny Abrahams/Mildred Wilkinson, 19 in the 5th.

Dolores continued to play the following 1937-38 season, but she wasn't interested in being considered for the U.S. World Team to London. There were no Tryouts, and little or no funding for the women selected.

In Feb., 1938, at the Scottish-Rite Temple in Kansas City, Missouri, Kuenz won the Western's by beating the Missouri Valley Champion, young Sally Green who was fast building a reputation that in just a couple of years she would more than live up to.

At the Mar. 24-26, '38 National's, played at the Broadwood Hotel in Philadelphia, Kuenz, perhaps because of inactivity, did not seem at her best. Seeded #3, she almost dug herself a (-14, 20, 17, 14) first-round grave against Barbara Shields, who'd been runner-up to Mae Clouther in the Massachusetts Closed. Then in the 8th's she (18, -18, -14, -12) progressively weakened to lose decisively to last season's U.S. #20, now much improved, Pennsylvania State Champion Ruth Wilson Millington, who would go on to beat Jane Stahl, 3-0, before losing in the semi's to the new U.S. Champion, Fuller.

However, Kuenz and Fuller would straight-game defend their Women's Doubles title, besting in the final the unheralded team of Sylvia Maisel and Helen Ovenden who surprised everyone with upsets over U.S. Team members Betty Henry and Mildred Wilkinson, and Clouther/Shields. Dolores also got to the final of the Mixed with Bud Blattner before losing in 4 to Johnny Abrahams/Fuller. Her National Ranking? U.S. #5.

And the '38-39 season?...Not even a Missouri State Ranking.

She was back for the '39-40 season--#1 in Missouri. But she lost the Western Open final to Peoria's Marge Leary, U.S. #13, then lost in the 8th's of the National's, 3-0, to Clouther. She would end her career as U.S. #20?

Nope. For the '41-42 season, she was U.S. #12, but in a weak field.Year after year, right into the mid-to-late '40's, Dolores leaned toward retirement. But, while en route to raising "a family of five," she'd continue to play sporadically (in the '44 St. Louis National's, for example--U.S. #14 that year). Occasionally she'd show flashes of her past strength--even managing to win, with Don Lasater, the Mixed Doubles at the 1945 Detroit National's. They beat Defending U.S. Men's Champ Johnny Somael and that year's surprise U.S. Women's Singles winner Davida Hawthorn in the final.

Usually, though, Dolores would compete only in her local St. Louis area. By the 1946-47 season she'd won eight State Singles titles, and for the last time would be among the Top 10 in the U.S. rankings.