We’ll pick up Adelphi, Maryland’s Larry Hodges when he’s 16, a miler on his high school track team, and ambitious enough to go to the local library for a book on Track & Field. In the stacks, “I happened to look to my left,” he said, and there was a book on table tennis, ‘The Money Player,’ by Marty Reisman! I had been playing basement ping-pong at a neighbor’s house, and spur-of-the-moment checked the book out.” Perhaps, Larry thought, this fellow Reisman was a spokesperson for the USTTA, for through the book he was made aware of the Association, and, on contacting them, he was directed to a local club.
A month, or two, or three go by, it’s still 1976—but already, as Larry relates in a letter of protest to Sol Schiff, he has a table tennis May Day experience. He’s gone to play in a tournament where the Director takes vehement exception to Larry’s 1148 rating, says he’s watched him, that he’s a 1400 player who’s just trying to win the Handicap event. Larry says, “You probably think my parents would lie about it too, so would you believe me if I got Mr. Kaminsky or the Kronlages from my New Carrolton Club to say I was 1148?” “No,” says the Director. “Do you think they’d lie about it?” “Yes,” says the Director. Larry goes to the phone, dials home, asks his mother to call several members of the New Carrolton Club. Jim Mossberg verifies to Mother Elaine that Larry indeed has an 1148 rating. Thank goodness. Now will the Director please talk to Larry’s mother? Reluctantly, yes. So what does the Director conclude finally? That Larry can’t play with his 1148 rating.
I tell this story because it so typifies the Larry I know. He’s compulsive about truth and accuracy, can’t stand what he thinks is an injustice, especially to him, and argues his views rationally and persistently, rationally and persistently, rationally and per—for god’s sake, Larry, Enough!
Larry’s rating steadily rises from 1475 in 1977 to over 2000 in 1980. Along the way, he shows a pretty good forehand. He’s fond of playing at Bowie Martin’s Club in Wilson, N.C. At tournaments there both in ’78 and ’79 he and Sean O’Neill excelled in Doubles—one time winning from 20-11 match point down in the 5th. When Tournament Director Tom Poston asked Larry what made him and Sean such an effective team, Larry said that they complemented each other well: he, Larry, was nearly 20 and acts 12, and Sean was nearly 12 and acts 20.
In the summer of 1980, Larry went to Zoran Kosanovic’s Training Camp in Canada, and as no matches were played until the 10thday, you can imagine the emphasis Zoki, a former Yugoslav International and U.S. and Canadian Open Champion, put on physical fitness. Larry’s endurance, quickness, flexibility, and strength were tested. Oh, oh, Larry was two minutes late one day—that meant, said Zoki or his Assistant Torturer Cameron Scott, that he had to run an extra 2 and 1/2 miles. “All table tennis drills are footwork drills,” said Zoki. But Larry survived—and two weeks after the sprints, the runs, the endless calisthenics and drills, Larry would be Perry Schwartzberg’s Assistant Coach for a Clinic at the Wilson Club.
After that it was off to the University of Maryland, where of course he quickly formed and for 4 years remained President of the University Table Tennis Club. He also found time for a few other extracurricular activities—like winning the 1983 Intramural Arm Wrestling Championships, and becoming a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, even getting a few far-out stories published.
Larry would major in Math (with concentrations in Chemistry and Computer Science), was published in a math journal—and once wrote an article in which he worked out a chart of one’s chances of winning from any score from 15 all (assuming both players are equal). I’ll not go into the formulas—but if you’re down 16-18 in a game to 21, Larry says you’ve got a 22.7% chance of winning. But maybe best to forget that.
Coaching, as much as playing, became Larry’s passion. He begins writing articles for the USTTA magazine: “Stepping around the Backhand Corner,” “High Toss Serves,” “Smashing the Lob.” Compulsively, he’ll continue to keep track of every article he’s ever written. At the time I’m writing this Profile (January, 2004), he’s published 843 articles—and since then has added who knows how many more. (Addendum - as of June 1, 2012, he has 1362 published articles in 134 different publications, plus 4 books on table tennis: Instructors Guide to Table Tennis; Table Tennis: Steps to Success; Table Tennis Tales & Techniques; and Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. This is in addition to his daily blog at TableTennisCoaching.com and his upcoming book, Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide.)
After Larry graduates, he becomes Manager/Director of the USATT Resident Training Program at Colorado Springs. One of his charges is future U.S. World Team member Todd Sweeris. So naturally Larry’ll write an article called “How a Toddler Grew Up at the RTP.” Get it?
By the beginning of the 1990’s, Larry, a natural organizer, has become Chair of the USATT Coaching Committee, and has published an 86-page manual, an Instructor’s Guide to Table Tennis. He’s also become Chair of the USATT Club Committee.
In the spring of 1991, on a platform stressing Clubs and Coaching, he runs for USATT Vice-President and is elected. “Clubs,” he says, “are the backbone of the USTTA, not tournaments. But until we have a thousand or so clubs out there we will continue to have internal problems. The USATT needs to focus on creating more clubs, more leagues and more coaches.” He pushes for a Club Catalyst and Creation Program, a League Incentive program, and a Coaches Availability Network to answer everyone’s question, “Where can I get coaching?”
His 1991 Table Tennis: Steps to Success comes out with chapters on attack (Loopers, Hitters, Counterdrivers) and defense (Blockers, Choppers, Lobbers). It stresses how to play against Combination rackets (anti-spin, long pips) and offers tips on Doubles play. In the next 12 years, he’ll sell almost 20,000 copies of this book. Already a teacher/coach, he could be an academic as well—has in fact prepared a 15-week syllabus for a College Table Tennis Class.
Larry’s very interested in Junior Promotion, and some of the many articles he writes have to do with spotlighting Juniors. Indeed, he’s written Primers forBeginning Classes and Junior Training Programs, for Professional Coaches, and just recently has been the creator of a nationwide USATT League with a League Rating System that allows anyone, playing anywhere, to join through online participation. As current National Club Programs Director, he urges others to Recruit Juniors to their Club. Have a Program, he says, Promote the Program (accent on press releases, flyers to schools, rec centers, Y’s, Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs).
Larry’s longtime interest in helping Juniors extends to doing exhibitions with them. He enjoys making table tennis fun. One of his early ‘90’s articles was called “Exhibition Tricks.” It’s a miniature compendium of clownish advice—how to play the straight man or the fool. Don’t just lob, he says, be theatrical. Eat a candy bar while casually lobbing, then when you’re done, toss the wrapper over your shoulder, and get serious—counter-kill. Larry also likes to blow the ball back to his opponent. This is really easy to do; the “danger is in blowing the ball too hard, off the end of the table. When you do that, say very loudly ‘Oops! I blew that one.’”
He says you can hold the audience’s attention by blowing the ball in the air and balancing it over your head….“This takes a lot of practice. Make sure to blow steadily, not in jerks. My single favorite exhibition trick (never to be repeated!) was when I lay down on the floor at a basketball game halftime, blew a ball in the air, and had a local golf pro smash the ball out of the air with his driver.”
Under President Danny Seemiller, Larry, in Jan., 1992, becomes Editor of the USATT magazine. With his Graduate degree in Journalism he’s a natural for the job, and in the four years that follow he writes a myriad of articles having to do with U.S. Open and Closed Championships and many other tournaments, Player Profiles and Interviews, and Analyses of Individual Techniques—The Backhand Loop of Cheng Yinghua, for example.
For a number of years Larry shared extensive coaching duties at the Maryland Table Tennis Center with fellow prestigious coaches Cheng and “Jack” Huang.
Larry’s very proud of the young Maryland players at his club. He says that at the recent Junior Olympics/Junior Nationals in Detroit they won 23 of the 45 gold medals, and that it was the 13th straight year they’d won more than half the gold medals. Only recently did Larry get his due—being named 2002 USATT Developmental Coach of the Year.
In Aug. of 1994, Larry goes as Head Coach to the King Car International Youth City Championships in Taipei with U.S. Team Leader and sponsor, Dr. Jiing Wang. The way-stop in Alaska makes the 47th state he’s visited through t.t. Of course Larry’s so compulsive—he’ll get 3 more, maybe 4. (Addendum: In 2006, Larry visited New Hampshire, making all 50 states he's visited.)
Editor Hodges, after increasing the magazine’s ad revenue from $2,300 an issue to $5,600 an issue during his 4-year tenure, was abruptly fired. Not missing a beat, he started in Jan., 1996 his own magazine. But although Larry’s Table Tennis World was far superior to the USATT’s publication, he couldn’t get enough subscribers, so had to abandon it after 3 issues.
Fortunately for him and all USATT members, he was reinstated as Editor in the summer of ’99, and now also serves as the Association’s Co-Webmaster offering tips like…When serving, contact the ball as low as you can. He also drastically increased advertising revenue again – averaging about $13,000 an issue in 2003. (Addendum: he'll continue as editor until he resigns to focus on writing in 2007, a total of 12 years as editor.)
Larry is one of those rare officials/contributors to the Sport who in addition to being ubiquitous at a Tournament Director’s Meeting, a Coaches Meeting, a USATT Board of Directors Meeting—is also a player. One who can win U.S. Open and Closed Championships—specifically in Classic Hardbat Singles and Doubles (although he normally uses inverted sponge, not just to win, but to be a better practice partner in the Maryland junior program).
Larry’s involvement in table tennis has long been a labor of love. He works to get reports from every area of the country, and longs for variety—a longing reflected in a They Said It column, or in a Limerick contest (seelimerick rules), or in a Table Tennis Goes to the Movies or TV Land article. In addition to the straight reporting (like an interview with U.S. World quarterfinalist Gao Jun), he’s always imaginatively thinking up things, sometimes wacky, to make the magazine more interesting. “Sponge is terrible” says a fellow who prefers old-fashioned pimpled rubber. That’s all Larry needs for an article. Out of the mundane, the conception quickly comes. Creatively he lists10 reasons why sponge is important. For example: Pimpled-rubber-cake tastes like rubber. Pimpled rubber baths hurt and leave abrasions on the skin. A child with an absorbant mind like pimpled rubber will probably be in trouble. You can’t pimpled rubber off a friend.
Indefatiguably playful or serious, Larry hustles. With his versatility and wealth of table tennis knowledge accumulated over a quarter-century, he has been, is, and will be at the very center of U.S. Table Tennis.