This year’s Mark Matthews Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Fred Danner. For a quarter of a century Fred has made countless local, state, regional, national, and international contributions to our Sport, and is currently near to completing a mammoth version of his Memoirs, calledAdventures of a Ping-Pong Diplomat.
Having enrolled at Notre Dame, he quickly began hammering away at his studies, and also at the glockenspiel. Binoculars would have enabled you to see Fred performing at half-time in the 1953 Notre Dame game where Knute Rockne’s widow is accepting her husband’s College Hall of Fame award.
In high school, Fred had made the Varsity in two sports—Baseball and Tennis. Now, while at South Bend, he began playing table tennis at the well-known Y club and picked up what he could from the club’s legendary resident coach. He writes to his parents: “John Varga thinks I should continue to play table tennis after I graduate and feels I have a chance to gain national honors.” Before graduating in 1956, Fred had won from a 140–entry field the University Championship. “However,” he says, “I was greatly disappointed. There was no winner’s trophy; instead, the Tournament Chairman handed me $1 and said, ‘Go buy yourself one.’” In 2005, Fred returned to Notre Dame to receive a 50-year award from University President Edward “Monk” Malloy.
Immediately following his graduation, Fred married Mary Ann Borkowski in Brooklyn, N.Y. His family upbringing, his religious and educational background, had equipped him with a lifelong credo, later to be found in a turn-of-the-century address he’d give as Trustee of an Educational Foundation. He told the graduating students, “When you’re out there in the world, understand there are more important things than the acquisition of wealth, position, and power. It’ll be your turn to help your family, your community, and your country.” It was always Fred’s turn to do that.
By 1960, Fred had begun his long association not only with Long Island table tennis, but also with Grumman Aviation. There, later, “as an electronic engineer (Head of the Microelectronics Laboratory), he’d assist in the design of circuits for the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) used in landing men on the moon.” Indeed, Fred and his co-workers “made the actual technical decision not to delay the Apollo project.,” and so on July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong made his successful landing.
In 1961, Fred became President of the Long Island TTA, and ran the 150-entry L.I. Closed. He followed that with many more successful Island tournaments at which he was the Operations Manager—assisted primarily by Chris Schlotterhausen, Dave Cox, Mitch Silbert, Danny Ganz, and Mort Zakarin. In 1975, the Huntington Parks and Recreation tournament he’d been directing drew a phenomenal 381 entries, and Fred himself finished runner-up to Dan Green in the Men’s Singles. Meanwhile, he founded with his son Carl the Finley Intermural Club for development of Junior players and remained its Executive Director through 1987. He also began supporting Wheel Chair and later Cerebral Palsy table tennis events. So intense were his local efforts that he set up and maintained from 1973-1982 the 2,500-name Long Island TTA mailing list. His Grumman Club needed new tables? No problem—not with that mailing list. He designed a Club bumper sticker, sold 900 of them, and there was the money for the tables.
Of course the Melville Lions Club appreciated Fred being the Director of their Long Island Charity Tournament for 10 years, right up until his tenure as Past President of the Club ended in 1991—just two years before he was inducted into our U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame.
Fred was involved as Operations Managers not just for local but for major Long Island tournaments—the 1972 U.S. Open, the 1972 U.S. vs. People’s Republic of China Friendship Matches, and the 1973 U.S. Open Team Championships.
Beginning in the early ‘70’s Fred, indefatigable as ever, began to hold USTTA positions of note—Junior Development Chair, Membership Chair, Interim Treasurer and Corresponding Secretary, Nominating Chair, and, most significantly, USTTA Vice-President for six years. He’s been called, maybe by Fred himself, “the most effective E.C. member in the history of U.S. Table Tennis.”
In 1973, Fred started the National Junior Table Tennis Foundation (NJTTF) to promote Junior players and activities, and was its Secretary for 10 years. On being involved in setting up school championships, he wrote a 144-page National School Table Tennis Guide. More than 2,000 copies were printed, and this Guide raised $3,000 for the Junior Foundation.
One of the many activities Danner pursued about this time was to get the USTTA recognized by the IRS as a tax-exempt organization—this he did after two months of continuous effort involving, as he said, “approvals of 23 levels of bureaucrats in the IRS and U.S. Treasury Departments.” M’god, who else but Fred would have the determination, the patience, to do that?
In 1979, Fred became the Leader of the U.S. Team to the first Table Tennis Pan Am Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico. None more deserving to lead than Fred, for he’d coordinated efforts with Pan Am and Olympic officials to change the status of Table Tennis from a Pan Am “Demonstration” sport in ‘79 to a full-program sport in ‘83. This had been painstaking but absolutely necessary work if Table Tennis was to be accepted as a sport by the U.S. Olympic Committee. When U.S. Table Tennis became a Group C member, Fred took his seat as the first U.S. Olympic Delegate for Table Tennis.
Also in ’79, in concert with the Pyongyang World’s where Fred had been appointed a U.S. Delegate to the ITTF Biennial World Congress, the U.S. contingent spent some time in China. In Beijing, a critical meeting was arranged, at Fred’s request, with Fred, USTTA President Sol Schiff, our International Chair Gus Kennedy, and China’s Sung Chung, Head of the All-China Sports Federation. As they talked of getting Table Tennis into the Olympic Games, China revealed for the first time its “Two China” policy. That is, China agreed to compete in the Olympics with Taiwan (referred to now as Chinese Taipei).
After Fred brought this good news back to the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Executive Director F. Don Miller, a series of meetings were held to implement this new China policy. With Bob Paul, USOC Director of Public Relations, helping Fred to prepare for and pass an exhaustive “Oral Exam,” the USTTA was elected at a 1980 House of Delegates Meeting to USOC Group A status (worth immediately $37,000 in development funds). Fred then took his seat as the USOC’s first Table Tennis “Athletic Delegate”—that “Athletic” qualification an unforeseen requirement. Fortunately it could be met with Fred and 16-year-old Carl’s 1975 U.S. Open Parent-Child Championship that included a win over Bob and Kasia Dawidowicz, and Fred’s 1976 U.S. Open Senior A Championship, highlighted by his three gutsy wins—19 in the 3rd, 22-20 in the 3rd, and 23-21 in the 3rd). Varga was right—Fred did achieve National Honors.
In 1980, the USTTA was part of the Olympic family and had moved its headquarters to Colorado Springs. In 1981, Table Tennis was brought into its first National (later Olympic) Sports Festival, and Fred was named Tournament Director. Also in 1981, Fred was elected to the elite USOC Membership Committee.
In 1982, as a result of Fred’s efforts to upgrade Table Tennis to “Olympic” instead of “Pan Am” status, the USTTA became eligible to receive, and did receive, a full share of the windfall funds distributed from the 1984 Olympic Games—that full share amounting to $1,215,000.
Naturally Fred received a number of letters congratulating him on his Olympic Games accomplishment. Tonight, as I close this homage to Fred, I’m pleased to echo a few lines by appreciative USTTA members from 20 years ago:
“Your vision, dedication, perseverance and sacrifice have resulted in moving table tennis from the darkness of the basement to the limelight of the Olympic torch.” …
“People who are involved in table tennis are thrilled with the thought that finally table tennis will make it to the Olympics. The impact of your efforts will be everlasting!”
Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome this year’s Mark Matthews Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Fred Danner.