USA Table Tennis

Richard McAfee’s first USTTA-sanctioned tournament was in 1963 at the Orlando, FL City Auditorium. He’d come in as the Florida Boys Club Champion and thought he was pretty damn good with “his trusty fifteen-plied-handle hard rubber racket.” But was he in for a surprise! In his first game in the Junior’s he was beaten 21-2, and didn’t win a game all day. What were his opponents playing with to show such “spin and speed”? The inverted sponge racket of course. When his father arrived to take him home, Richard prevailed on him to buy him one of those much needed rackets, and, with Tournament Director Harry (“H”) Blair’s help, a Butterfly selection was made—and McAfee’s long table tennis career was started. Perhaps because of this memorable occasion he’d consciously or unconsciously have a soft spot for Butterfly? (Later, he’d do set-up work for them at major tournaments.)After coming of age as a Junior, he graduated to winning Orlando Open Singles and Doubles events (usually with Ray Mergliano). His steady progress eventually resulted in a National title—the 1972 U.S. Open Class B Championship (275 entries!) 

However, Richard’s most notable triumph was yet to come. It was big news, and Topics readers had Joe Sokoloff’s story to thank for it (Mar.-Apr., 1973, 26). Our five-time National Champion D-J Lee was beaten—for the first time by a U.S. native-born player—when the 22-year-old McAfee did him in at the Dec., 1972 Detroit U.S. Open Team Championships.

Joe was teammate and coach to Richard when the tie with Ohio was 1-1 and Richard was faced with D-J. “It was decided,” said Joe, “that Richard should stay up to the table and hit with Lee and not back up and give him chances to loop.” Key to the 1st game was the combination of Richard’s tricky forehand serves and particularly his follows with “a newly developed stroke called the WHIP DRIVE” (utilizes a whipping motion of the wrist and elbow). “An enormous amount of strength is required to execute the shot,” said Joe, “and Richard has been doing special wrist-strengthening exercises for some time now. Richard is 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 225 lbs.—which also helps.”

With Richard up 12-8 in the 1st, Joe hurried to try to find his misplaced camera—and along with his frantic but successful search he told every Florida player he saw that Mac was beating D-J. Coming back to the court, Joe knowing how emotional Richard was, organized a cheering section to urge him on.” The cheers had to have been effective, for Mac finished that game with a succession of backhand kills—and “THE CROWD WENT WILD!”

The key to Richard’s successful play was that “he could counter backhands with D-J and force him back from the table and get a shot for the point.” After losing the 2nd by playing too soft, Mac was up 19-16 in the 3rd—but then D-J “went for three kill shots off Mac’s serve and brought them all in beautifully.” Richard looked at Joe—Joe shrugged “and flashed a Number 2 all or nothing serve play.” Both killer follows went in—and Richard, mobbed by well-wishers, had made History!

The following year, before taking a long absence from the Game, McAfee managed Joe Newgarden’s Miami Club, “Newgy’s, ”earlier known as Fujii’s when the former Japanese Champion was holding court there. It was at Fujii’s where Ross Brown, who gave the speech honoring Richard at the Vegas Awards Banquet, first met his longtime friend. (More than 30 years later they’d reach the Esquire Doubles final at the 2004 U.S. Open.)

On his return to the Sport in the 1980’s, Richard began to concentrate on what he’d always been interested in—coaching. And now what a proliferation of responsibilities came his way—to all of which he applied himself diligently. He was the USATT National Coaching Chair; the Founder/Director of the Association’s National Schools Program; the Director of the U.S. Eastern Training Center where Zhi Yong Wang was Head Coach and where I myself had holed up putting together the 1990 Baltimore U.S. Open/World Veterans Program.

Now, too, Richard manned a promotional USTTA booth and conducted the first of his 8 National and 13 State American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AHPPERD) Conventions. With the help of Scott Preiss he both entertained and educated these professionals. Such a variety of Table Tennis instruction Richard’s given. Even while he was a full-time Coach at Anderson College (allowing the school to give scholarships), he couldn’t help but be involved in Junior Olympics work, for, as his friends Marv and Caron Leff have said, “Richard’s been teaching kids, helping them, ever since we can remember.”

Richard took on a huge responsibility when he was named Competition Manager for Table Tennis at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. This position, requiring tact, also demanded that he run the warm-up 1995 Atlanta World Cup. Progressive management experiences would follow, from the Atlanta Paralympics, through North American and U.S. Team Trials, to when the ITTF would name him Competition Manager for the Brazilian Open. Little wonder he received the IOC’s Olympic Merit Award.

Having formed many connections in Atlanta, he later became President of the Association there, and also Head Coach at The Sporting Club, a premier racket and health club, where he could offer private and group lessons, and also run a summer camp program. By 2003 he’d received Georgia’s AAU Coach of the Year Award

Meanwhile, year after year, Richard, a Certified National Coach, would contribute to the USATT magazine not only Coaches Corner articles but other diverse ones—for example, on major tournaments, sports psychology, the impact of the 40 mm ball. None, though, were more well-known than his McAfee’s Mechanics series. In these he stressed that if any individual stroke is to be successful—regardless of a player’s grip, playing style, or personal technique—it must be formed with an eye to (1. Timing; (2. Application of Force and Friction; and (3. Contact Point on the Ball. It was only a matter of time before in 1999 he was named the USOC’s Developmental Coach of the Year. 

Richard also won the USOC’s 2004 “Doc Counsilman” Table Tennis Science Award. Like Dick Miles, he values the use of the robot, and, in directing his “Newgy” Coaching System, he uses a “spin wheel” to teach his students how to develop spin strokes.

Richard was a USATT Delegate to both the World Championships and the World Masters Games, and so was certainly up-to-date on international techniques and training methods. He repeatedly gained practical experience abroad when as the new millennium approached he began conducting annual Olympic Solidarity Courses for the ITTF, beginning with a stint in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and continuing on into 2005 where he worked in Myanmar (formerly Burma).

Also, in 2005, the ITTF sent Richard to southern Thailand where 7 months earlier the Tsunami had struck with great destructive force. The Thai government feels that “Getting people back into their normal everyday activities, which includes sport, will help in dealing with the stress of the disaster.” So Richard, marveling at the recovery effort, did his bit for the Relief Project there—made sure that the schools got donated t.t. equipment (through the generous help of Butterfly and Newgy’s). Of course it was his practice not only to coach but to teach others to coach and train players, and to continue programs he’d organized.

As you read this, Richard will have left Atlanta—moved with his wife Diane, and daughter, Sarah, to Aurora, Colorado, where of course at the Colorado School of Mines T.T. Club he quickly continued his love of coaching.

In his speech honoring Richard at the Stratosphere’s Induction ceremonies, Ross Brown concluded:

 “…One definition of a career is 40 years of enthusiasm. Richard has had an exemplary career, so far. But we still need him. It is my hope that table tennis will continue to enjoy Richard’s involvement for many years to come. Of course, Richard is honored by his induction into the Hall of Fame. But I also believe that the Hall is honored, as well, by his induction.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you a great coach, an organizer without equal, a true diplomat, a tireless emissary of table tennis, and my very dear friend, Richard McAfee.”