It’s not yet 1960 and Richard Hicks is playing out of Lyndon, Kentucky. Since that’s somewhere between Anchorage and St. Matthews, what are the odds that four decades later he’ll be in the USATT Hall of Fame and that its founder, Steve Isaacson, will be up at the podium introducing him for Induction?
And introducing him, I might add, in a humorous way. Steve’s opening went like this:
“I started dating my future wife, Sari, in 1963. Shortly thereafter she went to a few tournaments with me. One day we went to Maywood, Illinois to the Midwestern Team Championships. All the players were beautifully attired in their respective team uniforms. But Sari noticed one young man walking around, and whispered to me, ‘How could they name their team that?’ I looked around and saw the back of this player’s shirt. It read [and Steve was suddenly silent, just held up a big lettered sign], ‘INDIANA HICKS.’”
Of course Sari hadn’t realized that Hicks, a member of the Indiana team, was the name of the player.
No joke, though, when it comes to any cool-eyed appraisal of Dick, for from the beginning one had to take him seriously.
It’s not at all clear from the USTTA publication Topics how Dick, without any previous ranking, suddenly came to be U.S. #21 for the 1958-59 season. And how immediately after the Rankings were published he could beat U.S. #7 Laszlo Varenyi and pair with Dick Branstetter to win the Indiana Open Singles and Doubles. But he was off to a fast start, and as if Topics knew just how important an event this was, it printed the entire results of the tournament not only in its Oct., 1959 issue but four issues later in its Feb., 1960 one.
It was no oddity, though, that, after Hicks in 1959 won the first of what would be an incredible 30 Indiana State Men’s Championships, he would be caught up in the sport. In 1960 he went up to South Bend and became the St. Joe Valley Champion, and subsequently could be found playing in Milwaukee or Chicago or Toronto or Columbus or the Washington D.C. National’s—with his Ranking quickly rising to U.S. #14.
By 1961, he had moved from Lyndon and the University of Kentucky at Louisville to settle permanently in Indianapolis, where, in addition to working as a civil engineer, he helped run, then for 17 years was part owner and operator of, the Indianapolis Table Tennis Center. During this time he was Director for an estimated 80 USTTA sanctioned tournaments. So, though he’s being inducted into this Hall as a player, that’s not his only contribution to the Sport.
In 1962, at the Toronto Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) tournament, he reaches the semi’s by defeating Defending Champion Bobby Fields. That year, too, he wins the Central States--beating not only Varenyi again but former Asian Games star Houshang Bozorgzadeh and several-time U.S. Open Champion Erwin Klein..
With the ’62-63 season, Dick begins his incredible run of 25 consecutive Indiana Closed Men’s Singles Championships, and is ranked U.S. #7. He’s picked for the U.S. Team in the annual International Match against Canada at the CNE, and defeats multi-time Canadian National Champion Max Marinko in the deciding match to give the U.S. a 6-5 win.
His excellent showing allows him to represent the U.S. against Canada the following year, and at this CNE he wins the Mixed Doubles with Canadian Denise Hunnius.
In 1965-66, Dick is successful in a number of Midwest tournaments. His highlight victory over Dell Sweeris, U.S. #3, gives him another Indiana Open, and so for the ‘65-66 season he achieves his best ranking—U.S. #6. That fall he represents the U.S. at the CNE matches for a third time. This year and the next he’ll be the U.S. Midwest Regional Director. He’ll also receive the Victor Barna Award--donated by the Dunlop Company through their distributor, Jimmy McClure’s Indianapolis Pla-Good Sports Shop. This Award, uniquely shaped in the form of a racket and ball, is given to the person who contributes the most to the Sport during the season. For his 1966-67 play he’ll again make the U.S. Top 10.
From 1969-72, he assumes the responsibility of being USTTA National Tournament Director.
In 1973, at the U.S. Open Team’s, Dick has a 16-1 record, is named Most Valuable Player. In both ’73 and ’74, he and his son Ricky win back-to-back U.S. Open Parent-Child Doubles Championships. This partnership via an earlier tournament had offered them both a learning opportunity—as witness another story Steve Isaacson told at Dick’s induction:
“…Ricky missed a crucial kill shot and let out a strand of invectives unsuitable for family television…including several forms of the “F” word. Understandably, Dick was not amused. And mother Norma was appalled. At this point Dick escorted young Ricky around the table to their startled opponents, had him apologize, and defaulted the match.
Afterwards, Dick was heard to say to Ricky, “Couldn’t you have just said ‘Shit!’”
After confining himself for more than a decade to local Indiana play, Hicks becomes Chairman of the Hoosier State Games, a position he holds to this day.
In 1988 after he’s turned 50, Dick suffers a heart attack and has an angioplasty. But he comes back to play even better than he did in his 40’s. In fact, during an 11-year stretch, from 1991 to 2001, Dick’s success in the U.S. Open and Closed, especially in the Over 50’s and 60’s events, is nothing short of phenomenal.
To summarize as with an adding machine: in the U.S. Open, he’s been the Over 50 Singles Champion 3 times and the runner-up once; the Over 50 Doubles Champion 4 times and the runner-up 4 times; the Over 60 Singles Champion once, and the runner-up 3 times; and the Over 60 Doubles Champion 4 times. In the U.S. Closed, he’s been the Over 50 Singles Champion twice and the runner-up twice; the Over 50 Doubles Champion twice and the runner-up 6 times; the Over 60 Singles Champion 3 times and the runner-up twice; and the Over 60 Doubles Champion 3 times and the runner-up twice.
Moreover, all this has been achieved not without some handicaps. In 1995, Dick was the torch-bearing Hoosier State Games Athlete of the Year. But in 1996, just before he’s to play in the table tennis final of these Games, he has a mild heart attack and is quickly taken to the coronary unit of the Indianapolis Community East Hospital. But again he recovers…to win more Majors—this despite the fact that he’s had back problems for years, ever since he was a civil engineer and lifted one manhole cover too many, and so nowadays when he plays protectively wears a weightlifter’s belt with a back brace.
Having reached his vulnerable 60’s, Dick is careful about his health. With the coming of the new millennium, I had an interview with him in which he spoke of diet and exercise. For breakfast he likes a banana on oat squares and cheerios with skim milk; for lunch three vegetables and a wheat roll; and for dinner no red meat but often chicken. He has a large basement in his house which he converts into a “track” and, carrying weights in each hand, he walks very fast so long as he wants to raise his heart rate. As a forensic engineer often involved with attorneys, he’s kept busy checking into, say, traffic accidents (a faulty driver? a faulty-designed intersection?), and so generally plays table tennis only once a week. However, in that same year, 2000, I had the interview with him, Dick amazed everyone by winning both the U.S. Open Over 50 Singles and Doubles and the U.S. Open Over 60 Singles and Doubles.
Such an accomplishment, such an overall record—given Dick’s longevity in the Sport, and his role as both contributor and player—had to be rewarded.