USA Table Tennis
- Ruth Aarons
- Sharon Acton
- Shonie Aki
- Mal Anderson
- Laszlo Bellak
- Valleri Smith Bellini
- Angelita Rosal Bengtsson
- Abe Berenbaum
- Insook Bhushan
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- Dick Evans - Lifetime Achievement Award
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- David Zhuang
Neither the Parker Brothers’ American Ping-Pong Association (APPA) nor the break-away New York Table Tennis Association (NYTTA) held U.S. Women’s Championships before 1933. But although the Mar., ‘33 APPA Chicago National’s had a very good turnout of 40 entries in the Women’s, Mildred Wilkinson, one of the locals (from Glen Ellyn) whom I’d have assumed would play, for some reason didn’t. Perhaps because even at that embryonic time, before the USTTA was formed, she’d already committed to “table tennis,” not “ping-pong”?
Though Mildred had no previous National or even Western PPA ranking, she was a player capable enough by the end of the year--when it was clear she was playing only in USTTA tournaments--to get to the final of the Chicago District Closed before losing to Florence Hunter O’Connell (the wife, it may be, of the proprietor of the Chicago Table Tennis Parlor, George O’Connell, who’d been of some help in organizing the USTTA).
Then, in the Jan., 1934 Illinois State, after beating O’Connell in the semi’s, she played a losing but well-contested 19-in-the-4th match with teenager Trudie Schnur, last season’s APPA # 7, this season’s USTTA #3, who, two months before, had won the American Zone Qualifier that offered not her but her winning male counterpart, Marcus Schussheim, an all-expenses paid trip to the Dec., 1933 Paris World’s. Schussheim had beaten Max Rushakoff in that final, and it was Max, a penhold hitter, whom Mildred paired with in this State tournament to win the Mixed, 19 in the 5th, over Yoshio Fushimi and Edith McFadzean. This early success heralded her doubles championships to come.
At the Mar., ‘34 Western’s, Wilkinson was upset by Virginia Booth, runner-up to Schnur, but a player the APPA, in ranking her #14 that year, still called its own. When, afterwards, Mildred understandably did not take the long trip East to participate in the New York National’s she had to be satisfied with a #7 USTTA ranking.
The Illinois TTA kicked off the 1934-35 season with their Oct. 13 Membership Tourney played at the Ed Dugan/Helen Ovenden-run Stay & Play Club in Chicago. As far back as 1931 Helen had been ranked #3 by the Western PPA arm of the APPA, and then, on joining the “outlaw” defectors, had almost won the ‘33 New York City NYTTA National’s, dropping the final in 5 to Fan Magaric Pockrose. Helen had learned to play table tennis in England and “was a reporter on a London newspaper in 1930, society editor on the Havana Post and Telegram in 1931, and sports reporter on the Chicago Daily News in 1934.” Wilkinson lost to Ovenden in the semi’s of this ‘34 Illinois Membership tournament, but almost 60 years later, in an Oct. 12, 1993 letter to George Hendry, Mildred spoke of how she first met Helen.
“I went to the Net and Paddle Club [sic: for Stay & Play Club] in Chicago’s loop from my basement table tennis. I was awed. Helen Ovenden made me feel welcome. She was one of the greats, and was also beautiful and charming. I did not dare ask her to play me, but one day she and Ed Dugan needed a fourth for a doubles match, and she asked me to join them....They gave me confidence. After that Helen asked me to fill in whenever needed. Helen and I agreed that table tennis made you forget your troubles.”
The Feb., ‘35 Indianapolis Western’s brought Wilkinson more success in Mixed Doubles--when she and another good penhold hitter, ‘34 APPA Men’s Singles runner-up Billy Condy, defeated Defending Champs Coleman Clark and Jay Purves.
But at the Apr. Chicago National’s, Mildred couldn’t get started. She was upset by Wisconsin Open Champ Anne Gibovik in the 1st round of the Singles, and, partnered again with Condy, was knocked out in the 1st round of the Mixed by St. Louis stars Dick Tindall and Dolores Probert.
With this indifferent season, Wilkinson dropped to U.S. #10.
Nor several months later could she be much roused by talk, words drifting like leaves here and there in the autumn air, of a possible U.S. Women’s Team to the ‘36 World’s. Ovenden had gone at her own expense to the ‘35 World’s and by chance in London had met and persuaded Babe Ruth’s daughter, Julie, a very casual player but a good sport, to join with her in forming a U.S. Corbillon Cup Team, one hopelessly outclassed of course but one that would allow Helen to play more matches. This year, however, Ovenden was not only out of favor with USTTA Ranking Chair Reginald Hammond but also probably hadn’t the means to go abroad, any more than did Wilkinson. So perhaps, as Mildred put it, “a noontime match” for these two working women continued to be “the highlight of Helen’s and my day.” Certainly Mildred, who preferred to be known as “Miss” rather than “Mrs.” Wilkinson, needed a highlight or two, for she’d been widowed at a very early age.
Coleman Clark, who’d successfully promoted both the ‘35 Victor Barna Tour of U.S. cities and the National Championships in Chicago, had donated a permanent Women’s Singles Trophy for the ‘36 Philadelphia National’s. But Wilkinson, U.S. #6 this season, wouldn’t be making the long trip there to compete against World Champion Ruth Aarons and the other 25 players in the field.
Clark would begin his soon-renowned table tennis act at Chicago’s Hotel Sherman’s College Inn on Christmas Day, 1936, and for the next 15 years, with the help of many different partners, “foils” to his perfectionism, he would enjoy bookings at theaters and swank supper-clubs around the country. Since the audience liked to see women play, he’d on occasion bring them into his act. Mildred, too:
“...I played...with Coleman at the old Sherman House many times. I was not a ‘name’ at the time, but worked in the loop so it was very easy for me to join Coleman at a number of exhibitions.”
Later, she would also partner Clark in a very unusual publicity stunt:
“...[The idea] was for one of the new (at that time) wide-body jets to have a table tennis table placed inside and then show two people playing while flying around the city of Chicago, to prove the smoothness of flight.
Coleman asked me to take a long lunch hour one day, and we drove out to O’Hare airport and had a marvelous flight over part of Michigan, Indiana, and the Chicago area. We could only use half a table, but were photographed really playing table tennis in an airplane....”
Wilkinson, you’ve got to say, had get-up-and-go. She was responsible for the never-before-tried Women’s U.S. Team Tryouts, held at the Lake Shore Athletic Club in Chicago the first weekend in Jan., 1937. Herself a contender for the Team to the Baden World’s, she worked hard to bring together the best geographically representative field she could. So many women in the Chicago area--including a veteran player like Flo Basler--wanted to compete for just the one or two spots allotted them that Wilkinson was ready to give up her own assured place and join them in a local tryout. Whether there was such a preliminary tryout, and whether the now unranked Ovenden, who six weeks later in the Illinois Open would beat Wilkinson 3-0, played in it, I can’t say. (Perhaps Helen was not only persona non gratis with Hammond but with Tournament Chair Dougall Kittermaster as well?)
Most of the out of towners who participated in these Chicago Trials were relatively weak players. Contenders who finished 1-2 would be funded, along with the exempt World and U.S. Champion Ruth Aarons, to Baden; but the 3rd-place finisher, though there’d be a spot for her on the Team, would have to pay her own way. Anne Sigman, runner-up to Ruth at the ‘36 National’s, hoped she’d be exempt from qualifying, too, but, when she wasn’t, she declined to give up her conflicting Washington, D.C. Shoreham Hotel night club engagement.
The best New England players--among them Corinne Migneco, ‘36 U.S. World Team member--didn’t trek off to Chicago. Nor did Mae Spannaus, New York State Champ over Helen Germaine. Nor Pennsylvania Champ Ruth Wilson, or 15-year-old Maryland Champ Dorothy Halliday. Missing, too (perhaps they were not encouraged to come?), were the young, nearby midwesterners--Sally Green from Indianapolis and Betty Henry from South Bend--both already beginning to establish names for themselves.
The favorites to make the Team were U.S. #3 Jay Purves, U.S. #4 Emily Fuller, U.S. #5 Dolores Probert-Kuenz, and U.S. #6 Wilkinson. Coming in to challenge them was the 17-year-old high school senior from Portland, Oregon with an unconventional name, Mayo Rae Rolph, a grip to match, and an attacking game that others might fear as being disorienting to play against.
Probert-Kuenz was 9-0 undefeated--though she barely survived a dramatic -15, 19, 16 swing match with Rolph. There was a 3-way 7-2 tie for second--Wilkinson fell to penholder Rolph but beat Purves who downed Rolph--necessitating a play-off for the remaining funded position. Unfortunately for Mildred, she wasn’t a contender in these late-hour final matches--and when Purves won a climactic-22, 21, 16 match from Rolph, Jay was in, and Mayo out for lack of funds, her place taken by the financially comfortable Fuller.
This U.S. Women’s Team came back in triumph from Baden--for they’d won the Corbillon Cup (while, amazingly, the U.S. Men had matched them by taking the Swaythling Cup). Defending Singles Champ Aarons, however, though she’d again reached the final, saw her match stopped for exceeding the time limit and her title declared “vacant.” Moreover, since she’d not gotten permission from the English TTA for a series of exhibitions she’d contracted to do in England, she was given, after much hullabaloo, a slap-on-the-wrist suspension to take place after the National’s.
Hammond’s “fixed” seedings at these ‘37 U.S. Championships of Probert-Kuenz (#2), Purves (#3), and Fuller (#5) in one half of the Draw (to help him better rank them) and Aarons (#1), the inactive Sigman (#4), and Wilkinson (#6) in the other brought him the matches he wanted.
Probert-Kuenz, having just gotten by Pennsylvania Champ Matilda Rauscher (soon to be Plaskow) in her opening match in 5, was beaten in the quarter’s by Massachusetts’ Mae Clouther. After which, Fuller, taking advantage of the Probert-Kuenz upset, knocked out Clouther in 4 to reach the semi’s. Then, with a doughty 19-in-the-5th win over Purves, she advanced to the final.
Aarons, meanwhile, might as well have been given a bye to the semi’s. Coming up against her there was the “slim, golden-haired gal,” Wilkinson, who’d opened by downing New England’s Lucia Farrington in straight games, then had stopped Sigman, 18 in the 4th.
This semi’s, in contrast to the taut Fuller-Purves one, could only be a yawn, a stretch, a one-eye wake-up to a ho-hum final? But, like Sigman, Aarons seemed to be suffering from a recent lack of competition. Certainly she was sluggish in defending herself. Of course how could 6 weeks of “soft” but tiring exhibition play in England and Scotland, her appearance before the ETTA “court,” and her long sea journey home not take a toll on Ruth? If ever she were to be upset, this was the time. When Mildred, up to the table banging in forehands, won the 23-21 3rd game from Ruth to take a 2-1 lead, she “leaped like a happy jumping-jack into the arms of her delirious followers.” Ruth, meanwhile, “unperturbed, conferred with her anxious board of strategy.”
Then, on their return to the table...
“...Ruth quickly demonstrated why she is World Champion. Finding her unparalleled defense unable to check Mildred’s man-like hitting, she switched tactics and attacked with a dazzling mixture of chops and topspin drives, smacking the ball for kills, and what looked like a staggering upset became almost a routine rout as Mildred tired under the barrage.”
Since no American player had threatened Aarons in the last four years as Wilkinson just had, and since Mildred also beat Purves in the season-ending Midwest Open, Hammond and his Committee ranked her U.S. #3, behind Aarons and Fuller (whom Mildred had lost to in the final of the Western’s).
Wilkinson also had some success in doubles. In the Mixed, she and N.Y.’s Johnny Abrahams, though losing to Sol Schiff/Anne Sigman in the semi’s, had a fine 19-in-the-5th win over Jimmy McClure/Dolores Probert-Kuenz in the quarter’s.
Aarons, Fuller, Kuenz, Purves--all of course had memories of winning the ‘37 Corbillon Cup, but not one of them was interested in competing for a position on the U.S. Women’s Team to the ‘38 Wembley World’s. So when, in the first, Sept., 1937 Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) Open at Toronto, Wilkinson defeated Ohio’s Clara Harrison in the final, both women enhanced their chances of making the Team.
There was no Tryout this year, and very little, if any, funding, but Mildred--“our best woman hitter” Hammond called her--resolved, at whatever cost, to sail for London. Accompanying her, with little or no financial burden, was U.S. #13 Harrison, whose husband, according to a Topics gossip columnist, was being mentioned as a possible candidate for “Governor of Ohio (political not t.t.).” Also deciding to go was U.S. #16 Betty Henry, only 15. Although this was a rather weak Team with which to defend our Championship, the women were all graciously welcomed in London--as might be seen in the English magazine Tennis Illustrated’s photo of Victor Barna shaking hands with Mildred. It was natural that Barna be a welcoming envoy, for he’d been treated well in America, and for these Championships he’d agreed to be the Coach/Trainer of the English Team.
In 10-team round-robin Corbillon Cup play, we played Wilkinson and Harrison almost exclusively (Henry played no doubles and just three singles matches). Our 5-4 record--with victories over France, Belgium, Ireland, and Holland--tied us for 4th-6th place. Mildred, individually, was 4-5, including the scrappy matches she lost to the Hungarians--to 1932, ‘33 World Champion Anna Sipos (now, after seeing her game decline as she completed her Med School studies, Dr. Sipos), deuce in the 3rd, and to Hungary’s #1 Dora Beregi, 16, 22. Beregi also beat Harrison (5-4), 24-22 in the 3rd. In Cup doubles, Wilkinson/Harrison (5-4) had a good win over Sipos and ‘35 Singles runner-up Magda Gal, 19 in the 3rd.
Regarding Singles play, though players from the same country were drawn into different halves, there were no seedings. So if a player was extremely lucky, she might get a very favorable draw. This, round after round, is exactly what Betty Henry got, and, rising to the occasion, playing her best, she succeeded in advancing to the semi’s!
Wilkinson, thought to be our best hope, known from pre-tournament publicity to have gone 5 with Aarons in our ‘37 National’s and to be the “Canadian national champion” [sic: for CNE winner], was not lucky. In the first round she met Vera Votrubcova who, from ‘37 through ‘39 would win two World Women’s and two World Mixed Doubles Championships, and lost three straight. Strange as it would seem to us today, had Mildred managed to beat this Czech, she would have played her U.S. teammate Harrison in the second round. (Surprisingly, Clara gave this Votrubcova quite a -17, -23, 20, -11 battle.)
Regardless of how well Mildred did or did not play at these World’s, perhaps too much had been expected of her by some members of the English Press. “Wilkinson,” one wrote, “of whom we had heard so much, certainly did not seem to possess the quality of game for which she had been given credit.”
But Mildred, as might be expected, did much better in doubles. Paired in the Women’s with Harrison, they had a solid 17, 18, 21 victory over England’s Wendy Woodhead (Mixed Doubles Champ here at Wembley with Laszlo Bellak) and Jean Nicoll (‘39 English Open winner). Then they lost in 4 to the English #1 Margaret Osborne and her partner, D. M. Emdin. In the Mixed with Schiff (who with McClure would win the Men’s Doubles), Mildred’s success was more impressive: they beat a French team in 4; a second French team, deuce in the 5th; the Hungarian Nationals Foldi and Beregi in 5; then finally, up 2-1, lost to Austria’s Alfred Liebster and (World Singles Champ here) Trude Pritzi.
Six weeks or so after returning to the U.S., Wilkinson went to Philadelphia for the late Mar., ‘38 National’s. Seeded #2 behind Fuller, she drew a bye, then was upset in her first match by 13th seed Dorothy Halliday, “Baltimore’s ultra-glamorous” defensive star. Halliday, unranked last year, would continue to win until stopped in the final by Fuller, and so, since the National’s counted for so much (too much?), would be ranked #2 this season. Losing was bad enough, but poor Mildred would be tripped up by the year-end Rankings that followed hard on the heels of this tournament. Having been seeded #2, she would suddenly (just because of this one loss to an obviously underrated player deemed good enough now to be U.S. #2?) take a long fall--to U.S. # 11. Wasn’t something wrong somewhere with the seeding/ranking criteria being used?
Nor did Mildred’s results in the doubles offer her any consolation. She and Al Nordhem, a very active Chicago player, were beaten in the semi’s of the Mixed by Probert-Kuenz and McClure’s former World Champion Doubles partner “Bud” Blattner. And in a Women’s Doubles semi, Mildred and Betty Henry were upset by Ovenden and unranked Sylvia Maisel. Poor Betty--she, too, was having her troubles: a World semifinalist...and, in the same season, #10 in the U.S.
Although Bellak and Fuller won the Men’s and Women’s Singles at this National’s, they did not win the Hammond and Wilkinson Cups. These were given to those competitors (Garrett Nash and Sally Green) who during the season earned the most “points” in U.S. competition--the points being graded according to the importance of the tournament and one’s performance in it (the National’s, for example, being worth four times as much to those who made, say, the semi’s there as opposed to those who made the semi’s in a State Open). Since the “race” had to be open to all players, obviously international tournaments, like the World’s or the English Open, could not be counted (penalizing, in effect, the country’s best players who were tied up for four weeks abroad). Nor could the Intercities be counted, for only 7 teams were allowed to participate.
Since Hammond thought of the idea, President Zeisberg felt the Men’s Cup should be named after him. The Women’s Cup, again as suggested by Zeisberg, was named after Wilkinson because she’d taken the initiative to organize the Tryouts for our ‘37 Corbillon Cup Team.
These Cup tournament “points” stopped with the season-ending National’s, for the USTTA E.C. continued to pursue its rationale that 5 and 1/2 months were needed for an “off” season practice time. Could anyone really believe that, though, when almost 30% of the Topics-reported tournaments were held in April and May? But to end the season on June 1, so far away from the climactic National’s, would be awkward--the more so because the Press wouldn’t consider the Rankings to be as “hot” as they would be right after the National’s?
Just as Wilkinson had defeated Henry, posthumously, you might say, in the Apr. 23-24 Chicago Mid-Western Open, so, at the Oct. 8-9 Indiana Membership Tournament at Hammond heralding the new 1938-39 season, did she do it for keeps. Also here, Mildred and Al Nordhem opened the season as a strong Mixed Doubles team. Then followed up well--winning at both the Nov. 5-6 Middle States at Gary, and the Nov. 19-20 Northern Indiana at Hammond.
But at the Dec. 3-4 Indiana Open, fast-improving Sally Green was too much for Wilkinson. And at the Feb. 9 Western’s, Mildred was upset, deuce in the 5th on a net ball, by former penholder Helen Baldwin, unranked nationally. Oh, well--at least no one was more conscious than Mildred of making a smart-looking appearance on court. She was said to have “the greatest variety of playing costumes” of any of the women players. “To go with black-and-white checked slacks made by herself, she can select a shirt for almost any mood from her collection of 14, some knit, some silk jersey--blues, purples, pinks, yellows, greens, aquas, blacks, navys, reds.” All very nice--but here against Baldwin’s “cool, crafty game” (Helen, knowing Mildred was “unbeatable” if given the opportunity to take the offense at will, consistently kept the ball to her backhand) it was as if, though Wilkinson could find the right matching outfit, she couldn’t find the variety of shot selection she needed to unsteady her very persistent opponent.
At the March National’s in Toledo, Wilkinson finally broke through--not in Singles, for she again lost to “Dot” Halliday, but in Doubles. After two, for-a-time uncertain matches--a -15, 18, 17 quarter’s win over Helen Germaine/Reba Kirson, and a -19, 7, 17, -14, 14 semi’s win over Ruthe Brewer/Matilda Plaskow--Mildred and Sally Green won the Women’s Doubles from Fuller and just-arrived-in-the-States Magda Gal Hazi. “Sally is inspiring for she is a fighter and a hitter,” said Mildred. “She is a perfect partner. Her strokes are quick and she moves like lightning.” A view corroborated no doubt by Sally’s early swimming and diving prowess. Actually, it was because she’d hurt her back diving that she began playing table tennis--her father, a tennis player, after whom she fashioned her much admired forehand, said it would loosen her up. It sure did.
Perhaps to further the looked-forward-to compatibility of the “Mixed Splash Party” and “Midnight Buffet” Sat. evening from 11:30 p.m. to 1: 30 a.m., the Sat. Mixed Doubles drew 70 players. So of course there were “Who-knew-what-might-happen?” match-ups.
The strong Chicago partnership of Nordhem and Wilkinson 9, -19, 20 shakily just got by Bob Anderson and Margaret Koolery. McClure remembers playing with Koolery in a Mixed Doubles once when, after the match is over and he’s gone round to shake the opponents’ hands and has then started to walk of court with them, he notices that Koolery is still at the table. “Madge,” he says, coming back, “why are you out here? It’s all over.”...“It is?” she answers. “Did we win?”...“Yes.”...“Good,” she says.
Also, in these eighth’s, Green and young Roger Downs, the formidable Indianapolis pair, stayed in contention by 19, -17, 21 unsteadily rising above the steady play of Doug Cartland/Plaskow.
In the quarter’s, another two exciting matches. A couple of months earlier, Laszlo “Laci” Bellak had told his friend Reba Kirson, “We win the mixed or I kill you.” Well, they didn’t win--lost to Downs and Green, -19, 17, -21. But, regardless of whether Laci so much as laid a hand on her, or whatever ailed her, Reba said she couldn’t play afterwards for a month. Two pairs who knew their partner’s games and temperaments very well--Tibor and wife Magda and Sol Schiff and his good friend Ruthe Brewer--played an up-for-grabs match, with the Hazis -13, 10, 19 finally having the best of it.
But in the one semi’s, the Hazis 17, -20, -13, -19 couldn’t win the close games and Nordhem/Wilkinson moved into the final. Al “can play doubles like an inspired fiend,” Mildred enthused. He “can hit shots that are absolutely uncanny.” In the other semi’s, Downs and Green prevailed in 5 over Ralph Muchow and Betty Henry who the round before had 10, 20 downed the holders Fuller and Johnny Abrahams.
In the final, with both pairs using the same tactics--topspinning or driving whenever possible and otherwise placing the ball back to the body of the person who hit it--Nordhem/ Wilkinson won three close games. This allowed Mildred to go back to her secretarial position in a Chicago law office with two title-deeds well done, and Al to be publicly proclaimed, by both Bellak and his friend and former World Champion partner Sandor Glancz, as a very impressive doubles player.
As the 1939-40 season got underway, USTTA Women’s Chair Violet Smolens and her Midwest Rep Wilkinson began to organize two 10-player Round Robins, one to be held in the East (at the Philadelphia TT Club), one in the Midwest (at the Indianapolis Riviera TT Club), out of which would come 10 Qualifiers (5 from each region) for an East/ West Final Round Robin (to be played Feb. 17-18 at the Cleveland TT Club). The results of these matches, especially the final ones at Cleveland, were expected to greatly influence the seedings for the ‘40 National’s and the end-of-the-year Rankings.
In the Nov. 11-12 Indianapolis “West” matches chaired by Fred Henry, Sally’s father, Wilkinson, U.S. #6, came third (6-3)--beating, among others, Green, U.S. #2, deuce in the 4th, and Baldwin, U.S. #11, in 5, but losing to Henry, U.S. #10, in 5, Leary, U.S. #13, and the underrated Mary Baumbach, U.S. #20. Later, however, when it came time to play in Cleveland, Mildred had the flu and couldn’t attend.
In at least five Midwest tournaments from Jan. through Mar.,Wilkinson, Green, Henry, and Baumbach tried to prove, as it were, they could lose to each other--which suggested, with Fuller’s retirement, that one of them had a very good chance of being the new U.S. Champion.
Coming to the Apr. 5-7 Indianapolis National’s from Chicago by train, Mildred and her friends might have scored a first--for they had a table tennis table set up for practice in the club car and a photo in Topics to prove it. Celebrities of a sort they were, though quickly overshadowed at the tournament--even as Mildred spoke over Station WCFL--by the repeated presence of bandleader Guy Lombardo who enjoyed watching the matches.
In the Singles, in the quarter’s, Mildred 3-0 blanked the Feb. Eastern Open winner, Magda Gal Hazi, World runner-up five years ago, then lost in the semi’s in straight games to the eventual winner Sally Green. In the Mixed, Wilkinson and Nordhem, Defending Champions, lost in the quarter’s--couldn’t survive the deciding 3rd against Bob Anderson/Mayo Rae Rolph. However, in the Women’s Doubles, Wilkinson and Green, Defending, made it two in a row--rallying tenaciously to eke out a -20, -21, 7, 11, 21 final over Helen Baldwin/Marge Leary. Two months earlier, young Miss Green was saying, “Doubles play is more exciting than singles, and in the not too distant future I may forsake singles and play women’s doubles and mixed doubles only.” Yeah?
As for U.S. #4 Wilkinson, she had probably talked even more animatedly than Sally about how a doubles match could stir up one’s emotions--for on Mar. 23 she’d married E. William S. Shipman.
So, no table tennis for a while....Susan Odette Shipman arrives Jan. 20, 1941....Sara Gay Shipman, June 8, 1943. They’ll inherit a strong forehand attack, good backhand flicks, but presumably will need a little work on defense.
Mildred was back, however, for the Nov., 1944 14th annual Illinois Membership Tournament, where she lost 3-0 in the semi’s to U.S. #11 Carrol Blank. Then followed that with another 3-0 semi’s loss, to U.S. #4 Helen Baldwin, in the Chicago District Open. Here though, partnered with Marlin Tucker, she had a thrilling deuce-in-the-5th Mixed Doubles semi’s win--over Carrol Blank and U.S. #13 Berne Abelew. And in the Women’s Doubles, she and LaVera Weber Levin extended Helen Baldwin and Mary Specht to 5. So, after a four-year layoff, Mildred was again quickly becoming a sought-after doubles player.
She wasn’t traveling about, but she wasn’t missing a Chicago tournament either--and there were quite a few of those. She hadn’t won anything, singles or doubles, but, following a mediocre Illinois Open, she and Sally Green, the U.S. Champion for the last five years, renewed their doubles partnership and won the Western’s over Baldwin and Leah Thall who’d apparently exhausted Mildred in a strange -17, -17, 2, 10, 12 singles semi’s match.
Or maybe at those Feb., ‘45 Western’s Mildred had back problems (that came and went?). Certainly two months later at the Detroit National’s, her back bothered her, and she lost three straight to Mae Clouther in the 3rd round. But it wasn’t for singles play--this season she’d be ranked U.S. #11--that she’d come to Detroit, it was to partner Sally Green again. And, bad back or no bad back (she didn’t even play in the Mixed), Mildred, encouraged by Sally, would win her third U.S. Women’s Doubles Championship--over Leah Thall and Reba Kirson Monness, 18 in the 4th.
In a Topics article adjacent to the results of these National’s, you could see that Mildred (had her prized Easter-colored playing shirts been allowed to fade?) continued to take an aesthetic interest in how the players looked. She agreed with Reba that exhibition players should wear white. But she thought tournament players should not. She favored one style of outfit for all players (jacket, shirt, slacks or shorts), but with state “variations of color” and varied emblems. This, she thought, would really dress up a tournament. “Let’s talk it over this summer,” she urged.
However, at the well-attended July 14-15 Western States Summer Open at Chicago’s North Town Club, Mildred’s renewed t.t. enthusiasms might have seemed like dampened firecrackers, for she not only lost in singles--to Leah’s sister, Thelma “Tybie” Thall, 18 in the 5th--but she and Sally were beaten in the doubles, couldn’t even take a game from these Thall sisters.
End of a career?
It would seem so, for though indeed at that fall’s Chicago District, women players were dressed in a uniform manner but with varying rainbow-shades of shirts (fuchsia, forest green, peacock blue, black, rust, soldier blue), Mildred was not on court to add her color to the competition.
Nor the next two seasons did one see her name in Topics, not even when the Mar. 28-30, 1947 National’s were held in Chicago.
But then was it these U.S. Championships that stirred memories and sent her back to serious play come summer? To still play well--for in the semi’s of the Oct., ‘47 Illinois Membership Open, she forced the Illinois #1 and U.S. #6 Mary Specht into the 5th, and in the Dec. Lakes States Open she beat the Illinois #2 Dolores Mortenson, 19, 25, 17, before losing to Peggy Widimier Ichkoff.
Tough losses in the Jan. Illinois State, though--in the 2nd round of the singles to Illinois #3 Carolyn Wilson, deuce in the 4th; and in the Mixed, with former U.S. Champ Bill Holzrichter, to Ralph Bast/Carolyn Wilson, deuce in the 5th. (The Basts-to-be also beat Mildred and Billy in 5 in the Mar. Chicago District.)
Then, on venturing out to the Mar. Western’s at St. Louis, Mildred had another discouraging loss--in the quarter’s, to U.S. #14 Betty Jane Schaefer, deuce in the 5th. But, as was always the pattern of Mildred’s competitive play, she managed a compensatory success in doubles--here, partnered with Schaefer, a 24-22 in the 5th semi’s win over Rita Kerns and Mary McCall, followed by a rally that allowed them to take the final in 5 from Leah Thall/Mary Specht.
At the ‘48 Columbus, Ohio National’s, Mildred, who’d be ranked U.S. #15 this year, lost in the 8th’s, 3-0, to Tybie Thall, who just two months earlier with Dick Miles had become the first U.S. pair in History to win the World Mixed Doubles. Mildred and Sally Green Prouty (Mixed winner here with Schiff) tried for a 4th U.S. Women’s Doubles Championship--rallied from 2-1 down in the quarter’s against ‘45 Champ Davida Hawthorn and Reba Monness, but then lost badly in the semi’s to Mae Clouther, U.S. Team member just returned from the ‘48 World’s, and Mildred Shahian, who’d be part of the winning U.S. Corbillon Team at the ‘49 World’s.
In both the annual, Oct. Illinois Membership Open and the Dec. Lake States Open, Mildred and Carolyn Wilson were beaten in the Women’s Doubles final--first, by U.S. #5 Tybie Thall and U.S. #11 St. Louis Junior Miss, Joan Gummels, then by Ichkoff and Specht, both of whom in the Lake States Mildred played strong singles matches against, beating Specht in the semi’s, 19 in the 5th, then losing to Ichkoff in the final, -20, -18, 19, -14.
An all white playing outfit was compulsory for the players in the Feb.5-6, ‘49 Des Moines Western’s--which explains why Mildred couldn’t do any better than the semi’s in any event?
Two weeks later at the Illinois State, she knocked off Wilson in 4 before losing convincingly to Ichkoff in the final. Surprise! Though he wouldn’t be playing in the New York National’s, who should turn up to take the singles here in Chicago but three-time U.S. Champion Lou Pagliaro--only he and Mildred could’t team together as well as the recently engaged Wilson/Bast pair.
Something of a deja vu season for Shipman--Illinois #2, U.S. #11.
So what’ll be new come the ‘49-50 season? Well, Chicago’s Sally Green Prouty, who didn’t play singles at the National’s (just went there to win the Mixed again with Schiff), certainly played singles at the Oct. Lake States--beat Shipman, if not Peggy Ichkoff. And though in the Mixed Mildred played with an accomplished new partner, U.S. #2 Bill Price, they couldn’t defeat the Ichkoff/Alan Levy twosome--nor, at the Jan. 28-29 Illinois State, could Mildred and Tilton High Junior Marty Prager. Since Mildred couldn’t beat Peggy, she’d just have to hope her daughters one day would--and so started them in local Midget play. By Oct., Sue, 9, would win the youngest division of the novice tourney for youngsters at Glen Ellyn.
Shipman went to the National’s, but was shut out in the quarter’s by Reba Monness, the eventual winner, who, as if confirming how fresh to some people she appeared to be, kept changing her outfit after every match. In the Mixed, Mildred and Prager lost in the quarter’s, deuce in the 4th, to Leah Thall Neuberger and Don Lasater.
So, U.S. #8--that was Shipman’s 1950 ranking.
Obviously, Mildred just loved to play, for every season now would be much the same. In the Aug. 5-6 Western Summer Open, she lost a not very contested match in the semi’s to Joan Gummels, and, in the Mixed with Prager, a 4-game semi’s to Gummels and Wally Gundlach. Ichkoff, and the Ichkoff/Levy team, who in Chicago could beat them?--at the Nov. 4-5 Central Open, for example.
Still, Mildred was good enough, even with Sally Prouty’s return to singles, to make the West Team that would play the East in Columbus, Ohio Nov. 24-26. But she was prevented from playing, for Fate again intervened--not by giving Mildred near pneumonia as it had 10 years before, but by forcing her 7-year-old daughter Sally to have “an emergency appendectomy operation.”
Three weeks after losing to Sally Prouty in the Jan. 27-28 Illinois Open, Mildred braved “sleet storms and icy roads” to win everything there was to win at the weak-field Western Open in Des Moines, beating Glen Ellyn’s Sharon Koehnke, Junior Girls’ winner here, in the 4-game Women’s final. I assume, since there were more entries in the Junior Girls’ than the Women’s, that Mildred, who in her youth lived in Glen Ellyn and had long been interested in Junior play there and in neighboring areas, was in part motivated to make this somewhat hazardous trip in order that one or both of her young daughters would enjoy playing and socializing and so be more drawn into the Sport.
Indeed, at the May, ‘51 All-American Novice Final’s, held at Chicago’s Sheridan Plaza Hotel, Sue Shipman (who’d won preliminary Novice events) finished 3rd in the Midget Girls (11 and under) behind future USTTA Hall of Famer Sharlene Krizman and runner-up Jackie Koehnke, younger sister of 16-year-old Sharon who deservingly was crowned THE All-American Girl, the Tournament “Queen”...not by her father George, who successfully ran the tournament, but by Coleman Clark.
Earlier, Mildred was uncharacteristically on the move--won the Mixed with no longer USTTA-suspended Dick Miles at the Wisconsin Open. (She does get good partners, huh?). Then she was off to St. Louis for the National’s, where a bizarre thing happened to her--some sick April Fool’s joke. Here, according to Helene Cinnater, USTTA President Elmer Cinnater’s wife who wrote a monthly Topics column, is what happened:
“...Some stinker called Millie Shipman at the Hotel, pretending it was a wire from Western Union, saying there had been an accident, to hurry home. Phone calls to Western Union proved futile. No such wire. So [she couldn’t reach family, friends, neighbors--anyone--by phone?] Millie took the first plane home, thus defaulting her W.S. [Women’s Singles] and [Mixed] Doubles matches. Then comes a wire [from Millie] to [St. Louis player and tournament worker] Jane Allison, who helped her out in her time of need;--“must have been practical joker, family OK thank God--Can’t understand it but deeply grateful it was only a hoax....”
At these National’s Mildred had advanced to the quarter’s of the singles, where she might have looked forward to meeting young Patty McLinn who only the month before had represented the U.S. at the Vienna World Championships. But in the women’s Doubles, Mildred and (pick-up partner?) Regina Greenstein had already lost, 19 in the 5th, to Dolores Kuenz/Shirley Lund. And in the Mixed, she and V. Lee Webb would probably have had little chance against the eventual winners, Neuberger and Cartland.
So, no disaster--U.S. #7.
But next season, in a Nov. play-off for a spot on the West Team, Shipman fell short, could do no better than 2nd alternate. This was disappointing, for the meeting between East and West players would produce a five-member U.S. “International Team”--and perhaps, though it had been 14 years since Mildred had represented the U.S. abroad, she might have thought that with luck she could be part of such a Team again. Good players were not invincible. In the Jan., ‘52 Illinois Open Carolyn Bast, U.S. #9, not only beat Shipman but U.S. #2 Ichkoff. But of course why dream, since this would be a “Paper Team” that would not go to the Bombay World’s for lack of funds.
At the Cleveland National’s, Shipman was upset in the 8th’s by U.S. #17 Mary Landfair, but at least in both doubles she had the consolation of knowing she was beaten by the best. In the Mixed, Mildred and newly-arrived Bernie Bukiet lost to Schiff/Neuberger; and in the Women’s, Mildred and U.S. #18 Marion Mueller lost to Neuberger/Shahian. In the National Rankings that followed, Mueller made a big jump to #9, Landfair to #11, while Shipman remained, immoveably there, U.S. #8--rather like her daughter Sue who for the third straight year came 3rd in the Midgets at the All-American Championships and who next season would be playing with boys and girls at her mother’s newly formed (for Juniors only) Elmhurst Park District Club.
Comes the ‘52-53 season--and Shipman finally wins the Singles title that’s eluded her. Susan Shipman, that is, at the All American Championships--she’s tops in Midget Girls in her last year of eligibility.
No changes for Mildred, though. She reaches the quarter’s of the Kansas City National’s before losing to the winner Neuberger, reaches the semi’s of the Women’s Doubles with Millie Shahian, who’s moved from St. Louis to Chicago, before losing to the winners, Neuberger and Peggy McLean Folke.
In 1934, the first year she was ranked, Mildred was U.S. #7. Now in 1953, the last year she was ranked, she was U.S. #8--a record to be envied for its longevity and consistency.
And Mildred still wasn’t finished. In the Oct., ‘53 Illinois Open she loses to Prouty, wins Women’s Doubles with Shahian. At the Feb., ‘54 Western Open, she beats U.S. #10 this year, Mueller, loses in the semi’s to Shahian. Some competition Mildred has in Chicago; no wonder she didn’t go all the way to Cleveland for the Mar. National’s: the Women’s final there was a repeat of the Western’s--Shahian over Prouty.
But in Apr. Mildred certainly would want to be in South Bend for the National Junior Team Championships and National Novice, for not only was her younger daughter Sally a trophy winner, but she and sister Sue were part of a Sat. night comedy act at a players’ party in the South Bend Y Lounge. So long as her kids were having fun--and in the May, 1956 All-American Championships at Chicago’s Net and Paddle Club Sue Shipman came first in Girls’ 14-15, and a year later was named “Queen” at the National Junior Team Championships--what difference did it make, after 20 years, if Mildred was no longer playing enough to earn a Ranking?...