I didn’t know Jim McQueen in the mid-1960’s when he had his club in the Pullen Park Armory at North Carolina State, but later I did come down from New York to play at the Lions Park Rec Center, his home base in Raleigh. By this time he’d been liberated from the National Guard and his individuality was quickly, quirkily noted by me and any number of others. In early January, 1972, he won back-to-back tournaments—most important of which was his win in the finals of the A’s over future many-time Michigan Champ Mike Veillette. Jim was then a mechanical engineer into design and construction. He made his own balsa-wood racket, and to give him “more control” he was said to have rubber-banded a couple dozen popsicle sticks round the handle. Strange, huh? And did he eat all those couple dozen popsicles at one sitting?
Years pass and by now Jim has a reputation as a player with a style all his own. At the Oct. 28, 1978 Butterfly Club in Wilson, N.C., Tom Poston tells us that, against Fred King, Larry Hodges played great, “was so pumped up that we were considering using tranquilizer darts on him. Anyway, exit the King, stunned and dejected. But what Fred couldn’t do with power, Jimmy-the-Kid McQueen did with craft and cunning”—he slipped by Larry in four…Then he “generally pushed, dinked, angled, junked, and looped (well, occasionally), downing his friend Pete May in the process, and psyched his way into the finals to lose 19-in-the-fourth to future Hall of Famer Brian Masters.
Later, at the T.T. Jamboree in Augusta’s Regency Mall, Mark Gibson wrote that “Jim McQueen caused a mild sensation by beating Pete May. Up 1-0 but down 14-6 in the second, Jim ran 14 straight. Then he went on to beat Larry Thoman and Scott McDowell. In addition to his usual pushing and blocking slow-down tactics, Jim turned the match and the Championship his way by repeated lobbing.
The 1980’s came in with the $4,000 Butterfly Open held at Bowie Martin’s club. It was televised locally on Channel 6 and nationally by ESPN. The game-by-game announcing was done by Rich Brenner, Sportscaster for WRAL, assisted by Jim’s sometime rival as well as on occasion his winning Two-Man Team partner Steve Hitchner. Naturally, Jim and Pete, introduced by Bowie’s wife Melba, were prepared to dramatize their TV participation. Eyed carefully by Sheriff Wendell Dillon and Deputy Cyril Lederman, Pete went off to his first match against San Francisco Junior Dean Wong wearing a little, gaily-covered golf umbrella—you know, the kind that stays upright on your head-band—and a big fake nose, and bushy eyebrows.
Jim, watching him, was visibly hidden (like Claude Raines in that famous ‘Invisible Man” flick in the 1930’s) in some sort of head-covering cowl tucked in around huge, dark aviator goggles. He looked really scary, especially considering he had draped crisscross about him in bad bandito fashion heavy Zapata-like cartridge belts. However, neither Pete nor Jim, even with a heads-up quick change to their gorilla masks, could scare up enough points to win any money this tournament.
Never mind, the dastardly duo were obviously having such a costumed good time that others wanted to join them—and thus was born the infamous Boo’s Brothers gang, most notably among them Bill Brown, Alan Fendrick, Ray Mack, Pete May, Jim McQueen, and Dell Sweeris. And with them came an assortment of masks, wigs, hats, and colorful outfits that were the talk of many a tournament.
“If it wasn’t for fun,” Jim once said, “there’d be nothing else to do at a tournament.” One Fourth of July U.S. Open, Jim arrived on Finals Night in his Uncle Sam costume—top hat, shirt, flag-draped sleeves, and striped pants. When the National Anthem was played I couldn’t see the U.S. flag, so hand on my heart I saluted Jim.
Even when McQueen wasn’t present, as at a Wilson, NC Open when he was off on an assignment for ESPN, pursuing his job as an off-color colorman, his presence was comradely felt. As if outdoing even Jim with a good-humored quip, one tournament-goer (can I call him a disciple?) said, “A tournament without McQueen is like a day without prune juice.” There—you can’t get more affectionate than that.
As you may already have noted from the poster board I’ve constructed for McQueen on this Hall of Fame occasion, Jim has been a “Renaissance Man” in table tennis. He’s served the Association as both President and Vice-President, as Local Coordinator for the Olympic Festival, ESPN announcer, USATT Publications Advisor, as Coach, Referee, Umpire, indefatigable Player, Boo’s Brothers Humorist—and, above all, as a longtime friend to me and many others.
To sum up: perhaps no other U.S. Official/Player has enlivened the Table Tennis “scene” for decades as this man has. So it’s no joke that I, that we, welcome him into our Hall tonight. Ladies and Gentlemen, Jim McQueen.