John Read rose from near anonymity as a N.Y. player and sometime casual t.t.-in-group poker player, almost a groupie at Lawrence’s, to become for many years the Association’s Ranking Chair, USTTA E.C. member, and Captain and Manager of many U.S. Teams both at home and abroad.
Though John of course enjoyed playing tournament table tennis, it was pretty obvious from his play during the mid-to-late 1940’s that he’d have to make his mark in the Sport some other way. Since a lot of Eastern tournaments weren’t reported to Topics, and since when they were, often only the late rounds were posted, one didn’t usually see John’s name much. However, some results did come through.
He didn’t simply play at Lawrence’s, though he started there in 1944—he’d at least graduated to traveling a bit. He lost the Men’s Consolation final in the Dec., 1947 New England States Open. And he didn’t make it past the 1st round in the 1948 Columbus National’s—but at least he saw Miles/Reisman play that terrific deuce-in-the-5th match. By competing against different players from different areas John obviously improved, for though I don’t have any results of his 1948-49 season, I note he was U.S. #40, so he had to be a lot better than a 1st-round loser. Next season, however, with the National’s in St. Louis, he had Insufficient Play. For the 1950-51 season he was again ranked in the U.S. Top 50.
In the Apr., 1952 Topics, Pauline Robinson speaks of her Knickerbocker team in the Hudson Valley League—“composed of Bobby Gusikoff, Leroy Jason, John Read, Bill Saunders [future NYTTA President], myself and four alternates.” So John’s in good company there.
In the early ‘50’s the USTTA digs itself into near bankruptcy, and Topics is replaced for 8 years by a Newsletter. When we next hear of John, it’s 1956, he’s married to a New England girl, Louise, has left N.Y. and taken an insurance job in Hartford, and, best of all, he’s gotten to the final of a Connecticut tournament where he’s runner-up to Storrs’s David Zeaman. Quite correctly he believes that “player interest and activity could be boosted considerably if every active tournament player were ranked nationally on the basis of sectional rankings, and divided into Class A, Class B, Class C., etc.” Didn’t everyone like to see his name in print?
By 1955-56 season’s end, USTTA Ranking Committee Chair Sanford Gross, both disillusioned and depressed at the technological turn the Sport was taking, had stopped his circuit play and resigned his Chair. He was succeeded by Phil Kenner who now had as members of his Committee John Varga, Barney Arnold, and John Read.
Since Kenner didn’t seem to have the time to do justice to the Rankings, and Varga was in ill health, Read, now living in Chicago with wife Louise and one-year-old son Michael John, and working as an auditor for a nation-wide insurance company, became the Acting Ranking Chair. In his Mar. 31, 1958 Seedings and Placings letter to U.S. Open Chair Ed Gutman, John wrote that Miles, Reisman, Gusikoff, and Somael, who hadn’t been playing and didn’t have the 5 participation points John and his assistant Marty Prager agreed were necessary for seeding, ought to be coin-tossed into placed positions, but because of their playing stature should be “kept away from the top 2 seeded quarter’s.” (Somael, however, played #2 seed Van de Walle in the 8th’s.) Johnny’s wife, Pauline, provided animal appellations for the four N.Y. players: “the tiger (Miles prowling and scouting until…”; “the fox (Reisman) wily and rapid”; the wildcat (Gusikoff) all paws, flailing away”; and the panther (Somael) reaching out a long curving paw.”
When Rufford Harrison came in as USTTA President in the summer of ’58, it was obvious that key tournament results were not being sent in a timely fashion, or not being sent at all to Read, so Rufford hoped progress could be made if he named Marcy Monasterial as Ranking Chair, which he did. But the ’57-58 Rankings wouldn’t appear until the Dec., 1958 Newsletter. At the ’59 E.C. Meeting, Read replaced Monasterial (now Chair of the Rules and Referees/Umpires Committee) as Ranking Chair, though Marcy, joined by Si Wasserman, would stay on as a Committee member. As Ranking Chair, John was also a member of the Selection Committee (along with the Tournament Chair, the Disciplinary Chair, the Preceding U.S. Team Captain, and the Current U.S. Team Captain). Thus, in addition to becoming more noticed in USTTA officialdom, he could, by association, better familiarize himself with what the job of Team Captain—his job one day—entailed.
Regarding his selection choices for the U.S. Men’s team that would play the International Matches against Canada at the Sept., 1959 Toronto CNE tournament, he opposed, even as an Alternate, any Junior, for he didn’t think any Junior good enough (“Do you want us to lose?” he exclaimed). John also felt Selection Chair Wasserman was exercising unwanted unilateral authority in initially including such California candidates for selection as the unranked Junior Richard Card and, say, U.S. #19-ranked Bobby Fields. (Of course Card is about to become the 1960 U.S. Junior Champion and Fields the 1961 CNE and U.S. Open Doubles Champion.) John said he would rather see a Non-Playing Captain on a U.S. Team (“even myself,” he said). But he would not, for instance, select Bob Chaimson “because of limited TT background.” (John himself this past season was again ranked, as he was 10 years earlier, among the Men’s Top 40.)
Read also didn’t think much of Bob’s daughter Barbara who’d been a controversial pick for the 1959 U.S. Team to the Dortmund, Germany World’s. Now, for the U.S. Women’s Team against the Canadians, John says Barbara should not have been “considered let alone picked as she is, and was, not good enough, and whatever potential she may have had might have been destroyed by playing so many far superior players [in Dortmund]. This could have hurt her very much.” So who do you think beats Leah Neuberger to win the Women’s Singles at this prestigious tournament? Barbara. So, o.k., John needs a little more seasoning—but he’s on his way.
At the 1961 E.C. Summer Meeting, Ranking Chair Read said that “his report cannot be completed until he receives more tournament results.” He hoped the Tournament Chair “could send him results before they are processed so that he could copy them.” And how much of a delay would that bring? Read said he hadn’t heard a word from the Eastern tournaments since Feb., 1961. And whose fault was that? And what was being done about it? John provided the ’61 Detroit U.S. Open organizers Ranking help as best he could and received their thanks.
At the Apr., 1962 E.C. Meeting at the New York City National’s, John “presented a request by a group of members of the Illinois association” urging the rescission of the ITTA charter, “on the basis of alleged violations of the ITTA constitution and by-laws in connection with a recent ITTA election.” What happened? Answer: “(a) members were not asked regarding possible candidates for nomination, (b) one of the nominees had moved to Florida before the election, (c) one was not a USTTA member.” Read further charged that “the ITTA acted in such a way as to discourage the formation of clubs other than the Net and Paddle.”
Earlier, privately, in a letter to Disciplinary Chair Wasserman, John had really come at ITTA President Millie Shahian—called her “sick,” a dictator, said she was, in effect, much too hard on the current National Junior Champion Norby Van de Walle, said she rigged the ITTA elections to keep her and her friends in power. Millie had also written a letter to Wasserman trying to explain herself, her problem with Van de Walle, and said it was wrong that anyone question the policy of her Net & Paddle Club “without suffering any of the consequences brought about by…trying to do what is best under increased difficulties.” Millie, who did have trying times with her Club (the center of her life), had her ups and downs, was often a controversial figure—sometimes praised, sometimes damned.
After Shahian replied to the Apr., ‘62 allegations, President Kilpatrick made the agreeable suggestion that, “temporarily, the USTTA not recognize the jurisdiction of the ITTA, and that tournaments in Illinois be awarded only to affiliated clubs.” This led to the E.C.’s decision at their 1962 Summer Meeting to “suspend recognition of all affiliates except clubs and leagues, for one year,” for after all so many of them were not effective or representative. This decision was particularly satisfying to John, for a rival club to Millie’s called “Chicagoland” had opened in the spring of 1962 with Ken Kleffman as President, Read as Executive Vice-President, and John’s friend Steve Isaacson as a V-P. Naturally John didn’t want to have his club under Millie’s ITTA jurisdiction.
Regarding the Agenda for the June, 1962 E.C. Meeting, John proposed, and the E.C. later agreed, that the Ranking Chairman’s term of office “be from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31 of the next year” so that he (she) will have time to prepare the past season’s Rankings whether or not he remains the Committee Chair for the new June 1-May 31 season. Unable to get cooperation to solve the Ranking delays, Read was replaced by Dean Johnson. But, as we shall see in Part II John’s varied experience will be highly valued in the years to come.