Ricky Seemiller, with brother Danny's grip, started playing 30 years ago, and, like anyone else, began by paying his dues. After losing the U-13's in both the 1971 Eastern's (to N.Y.'s Timmy House) and the 1971 National's (to N.J. 's Mike Stern), Ricky graduated--lost the U-15's at the Toronto CNE (to Canada's Paul Klevinas).
However, in the Mar., 1973 U.S. Open, only a few days before his 15th birthday, Ricky scored big--won his first, and second, U.S. Championship. The U-15 Singles from Steve Hammond, after being down 2-1 and at deuce in the 4th. And his first U.S. Doubles Championship--no, not with Danny, but the U-15's with Mike Baber--over Hammond and fellow Oklahoman Dale Donaldson, deuce in the 5th.
Ricky followed those gutsy Championships by pairing with Dickensian waif Bruce Plotnick, Mike Bush, and Tom Van Zandt to win the USOTC's Jr. Teams--at which he had an undefeated 20-0 record.
In 1974 Rick won another U.S. Open Doubles Championship--no, still not yet with Danny, but the U-17's with Mike Veillette.
Earlier, at the Mort Zakarin-arranged Mt. Airy Tryouts, Ricky--with Dennis Barish, Dean Galardi, Ricky Rumble, and Roger Sverdlik--made the U.S. Junior Team that would go abroad to play matches in England and Germany. In the Easter Festival Open for Juniors, held in Flensburg, Germany, Ricky, in getting to the final, was already on his way to becoming, like brother Danny, a U.S. International.
Now 16, Ricky brought the 1975 New Year in with a flourish at the New Hampshire Grandmasters Open by winning his first Men's event--beating Alex Shiroky, Mike Bush, and Lim Ming Chui, the #2 man on the U.S. Team to the '75 Calcutta World's. In writing about this Grandmasters tournament, Dave Sakai said that Ricky was everyone's hero. Not merely for his play, but because, when Eli Koulis's car caught on fire, Ricky quickly became a volunteer firefighter and saved the players' baggage and, most importantly, their rackets.
As if honoring Rick with a Civic Duty Award, Danny declined to play in the Pennsylvania State Championships, and Rick won both the Singles (over Sam Balamoun) and Doubles with Joe Rokop.
He also did reasonably well this year in splitting matches with 7-time Canadian National Champion Errol Caetano. Ricky's forehand serve from the extreme left side of the table crosscourt to lefty Errol's forehand side gave the very experienced Canadian problems.
At the '75 Nissen Open, Ricky beat USOTC MVP Award winner Apichart Sears, one of the three Thai stars visiting the U.S. at this time--Chuchai Chan and "Charlie" Wuvanich were the other two. There's a photo that shows Ricky's seemingly ballet-like footwork here against Sears. However, apparently there's room for improvement, for later the Chinese will tell Ricky--and he'll dutifully record it in his Notebook--that he's going to have to switch to what they, or Ricky, call the "one-legged, cross-footed hop."
In the semi's of that Nissen Open, against Wuvanich, down 1-0 but up 19-16 in the 2nd, Ricky, with Danny coaching him, is still very much in the match. Only then he misses three of Charlie's serves. "You fool!" he shouts. "You stupid fool!"--and looks at Danny. But then Ricky gets the ad. And now, despite the fact that Danny's been yelling at him to serve short, Ricky serves long--and loses the point. Given another chance to serve short, he serves long again--and loses the game. Danny is furious. "You totally threw that game away," he snarls as Ricky comes over to him for...advice. "You gotta bleepin' learn, man. Where's your bleepin' head?"
Earlier, at the '75 Houston Open, in the Team matches, Ricky is playing Miran Savnik, the Yugoslav #3. It couldn't be more of an exciting match--but Ricky, after winning the 1st game, has four match points in the second, finally loses it 30-28, then drops the deciding 3rd, 21-19. "Ohh," Danny wails.... He's commiserating with Ricky? No. He's thinking,"If only I were living in Yugoslavia." Meaning that if Ricky can play Savnik that close, then he, Danny, for sure would be a teammate of Surbek and Stipancic, and week after week would be playing (and getting better) against world-class players.
As it happens, that fall Dan and Rick do get some sustained play against formidable opponents. At the Middlesex Open, aside from the English Open and Closed the most prestigious tournament in Britain, the Seemiller brothers upset two of England's best--Denis Neale and Des Douglas--and go on to win the Doubles.
After this, expectations are high for the Yugo Open in Lubljana that follows. But, oh, what a downer it'll turn out to be--for Mike Veillette too, who's been accompanying Dan and Rick. Out of the singles, out of the doubles, they're gonna at least watch the final day's climactic matches. After the Men's semi's, however, they've two hours to kill. Behind the playing hall, up, up, up into the hills the three of them climb. How beautiful the view! Until...why, hello, here was...a soldier with a machine gun, and in a moment some decidedly unfriendly men frisking them. Then they're sent slipping and sliding back down the steep incline, their hands held high for fear of being riddled with bullets in their backs as they try to..."escape." On reaching bottom, the three of them are boxed into a 5x5x5 van and taken to a militia station, where they're forced to wait and wait and wait. Mike and Mike's camera are particularly suspect--what of the "army" up in those hills had their eyes seen? Why, nothing of course....Yes, of course not, said their captors, returning, finally, Mike's camera, sans film.
Peace on earth, goodwill toward men. Christmas for the Seemillers means a kids'Christmas Camp. And in a photo of the group taken at the time, don't all but two look happy? Up front, flanking Timmy Seemiller, are the grimacing Boggan brothers--Eric on the left, Scott on the right.
1976 brings the $1500 U.S. Open--that's $1500 total--and the players' boycott over the paltry prize money. What was ardent picketeer Ricky doing out there?...Taking abuse?
At the '76 CNE, Ricky was on the winning U.S. Team with brother Danny, Dean Galardi, and Ray Guillen. Captain/Coach Houshang Bozorgzadeh and his players didn't boycott this $3,400 tournament, but Houshang complained rightly to Canadian officials that no hospitality, not even free entries, were provided.
1976 did finally provide a nice Christmas package for our players--the $13,500 U. S. Closed at Caesars Palace. At this new-era tournament, 22 years ago and just 4 years after the Dow Jones average finally went over the 1,000-point mark, Ricky himself won $725, almost half the total prize money the U.S. Open had offered just 6 months earlier.
At the Seemiller-run 1977 Eastern Open, Ricky lost to young teenager Rutledge Barry. Danny's reaction? He called Ricky, well, lots of things--called him, and this was really vile, a Committeeman, not a Player. "People are coming tomorrow to see you play," he said," his voice dripping with disgust, "and now you're out of the tournament." Ricky's reaction? He couldn't wait to get out of the Hall to fling his racket riverward. Would he ever play again?
Oh well, he had made the U.S. Team--might as well go to the '77 World's in England. And surprise--our little-thought-of U.S. Team had an historic chance to enter the First Division. But they had to beat Italy to do it. Otherwise, even if they were to advance in Pyongyang in '79 it wouldn't be until '81 that Danny would get to play match after match against the world's best players.
It didn't look good for us. The tie was 4-2, favor of the Italians, and in the 7th match Danny was down 1-0 and 6-1 in the 2nd to Stefano Bosi. But he won!...And then Guillen came through too. Now it was up to Ricky; the most important match of his career--against Massimo Costantini. When Ricky's up 18-12 in the deciding game; outsiders have become interested. Then...Bravo! Bravo, Ricky! A celebrated photo shows how on winning Ricky swings round to look at Danny and, wildly triumphant, throws a punch at him. But Danny doesn't even see it. He's screaming, "We did it! We did it! No more four years' wait!" As Ricky, jumping with joy, goes to shake Costantini's hand, Danny leads the charge to the court. While the Italian stands forlorn, Ricky is embraced by his teammates. All this caught on film by Neal Fox and Mal Anderson.
Nor was that all the excitement for the U.S. players and their contingent. In the Men's Doubles, Danny and Ricky upset, or at least certainly defeated--in straight games, was it?--the Chinese team of Guo Yuehua/Liao Fu-Min. Though Gao was acknowledged by many as the World's premier player from 1977 through 1983, Danny's advice to Ricky right off was, "Don't be scared of these Chinese. Make them scared of you." And after winning the match, he confided, "They were so confused. They kept talking all the way through."
That fall at the '77 Toronto CNE it was Ray Seemiller whom I heard talking. "I hope Ricky's not playing for money," he said. Everyone thought he was talking about Ricky's gin game, but it was his table tennis. When Ricky lost to Derek Wall in 5, Father Ray said, "Don't swear, Danny."
Then it was off to Hong Kong for a tournament--with a side trip to Iran where in Teheran they were guests at Team Captain Bozorgzadeh's sister's house.
At the '77 USOTC's, Seemiller-sponsor Bowie Martin was smiling. The Seemiller brothers and the Butterfly boys--the Boggan brothers and Rutledge Barry--were locked in a 4-4 final. Fourteen-year-old Eric had beaten Danny and Ricky to send his team up 4-2, but had then unexpectedly lost to Randy. Afterwards, capping the Seemiller comeback, Ricky beat Scott from 16-13 down in the 3rd. In a representative photo of such perennial rivalry, there the Seemiller rooters are, watching intently from the front row, and there I am, to the far left, hiding behind a pillar. Absurd.
That winter of '77-'78, while barnstorming round--giving coaching clinics and putting on exhibitions at half-times of basketball games--the Seemillers' car got stuck on a bridge in a snowstorm and they had to dig their way out, looking up all the while, scared at seeing huge trucks suddenly looming down on them out of the blinding mists. The snowstorm became such a blizzard that they couldn't see the hood on their own car. So they had to stop, hole up at a turnpike restaurant...for 82 hours. They slept on the floor without blankets, and washed their hair in the john. Finally they got what they'd been looking for--visibility.
Ricky didn't win the '78 U.S. Open, but he beat the guy who beat the guy that did. In the Men's, Ricky downed Jochen Leiss 3 straight after the German had beaten the eventual Singles winner, Japan's Norio Takashima in the Team's. Ricky also added another U.S. Open Championship to his list--the U-21's, over Mike Bush. Why did he win? In part, he said, because he'd taken to jumping rope.
In Dec., at Vegas, Ricky continued to play well--came 2nd in the U.S. Team Trials. His 2447 rating now put him 2nd in the U.S. behind Danny.
During the '79 World's, Ricky had an interesting experience or two at our hotel in Pyongyang, but I won't say anything about that, or about my 15-year-old younger son, Eric, getting throw-up drunk there in my absence one night. The players--the Seemillers, the Boggans, and Roger Sverdlik--often seemed to be enjoying themselves, but North Korea was a scary place.
I will mention, though, the freak accident that befell Ricky in his hotel room at the '79 Long Island Open. A heavy soap dish fell from the wall as he was showering and he watched it go down in slow motion right onto and into his foot. Blood suddenly was everywhere in the tub, like in Hitchcock's "Psycho." After quickly wrapping his foot with a towel he had to be helped by brother Randy and friend Perry Schwartzberg to a doctor. When that gentleman jabbed novicaine into the wound prepatory to stitching it up, Ricky passed out. When he awoke, the doctor said, "Yeah, you can play ping-pong"--though maybe he meant on one foot? Anyway, Ricky took a few pictures of the near-death scene as evidence of his incapacitation, and hence for the insurer his inability to win prize money over the likes of, say, Milan Orlowski, who won the event.
Apparently the foot was slow to heal, for at the '79 CNE he lost to Sakai in 5 in the 8th's. Though Danny and Ricky lost the Doubles to the French professional player/entertainer team of Secretin and Purkart, the brothers did manage to beat Sweeris and Malek.
At the Southern Open in Atlanta in Oct., Ricky, having gotten by Sverdlik, 24-22 in the 5th in the 1/4's, then knocked out Eric Boggan, 19 in the 4th in the semi's, before losing to Danny. The Seemillers also won the Doubles over Sakai and Malek. This is just before Attila would go on to win the Closed.
In Feb., 1980, Danny and Ricky spent three weeks in Japan, promoting Butterfly in various ways, one of them by besting 267 other teams to win the Men's Doubles in the Western Japan Open. Later in the year Ricky would return to Japan for six weeks, during which time he'd be trained not to hit stand-up cigarettes like Reisman but little coins or markers positioned about the table. In between, with Sakai as his mentor, he'd go to Seoul as part of a U.S. Team, and, as the result of a "Rock Seemiller" misprint in the tournament Program, would acquire the short-lived nickname "Rick the Rock."
Despite Bill Steinle's infamous criticism that, were Danny not so hard on Ricky, they'd win more Championships, the Seemiller brothers continued to prove--World Champion Jimmy McClure and Co. notwithstanding--that year-in, year-out, they were the greatest long-time Doubles partnership in U.S. table tennis history. At the Norwich Union Canadian Open, they beat a good Korean team in 5 in the 1/4's (just as they would a couple of years later in the English Open), then downed former Yugoslav International "Zoki" Kosanovic and Canadian Joe Ng in the semi's, and finally Malek and Eric Boggan in the final.
They also won the U.S. Open, just getting by Kosanovic and Guillen, 25-23 in the 5th.
And also, for the 5th straight year, they were the Men's Doubles Champions at the U.S. Closed--defeating Malek and D. J. Lee. Ricky won the Mixed Doubles too--with Cheryl Dadian, over Bush and Judy Bochenski Hoarfrost. Also--stop all the presses. How did Ricky solidify his place on the '81 Team to the World's? In the Trials he beat #1 finisher Danny, for the first (though not for the last) time. And to think it wasn't long ago that Danny was lamenting in a final, "If I were playing someone else, spectators would watch, but not when I play Ricky."
After our '79 fall in Pyongyang, it was good to see a photo of 1981 U.S. World Team members--the Seemillers, the Boggans, and Mike Bush, with Capt. Bozorgzadeh--smiling in Novi Sad. Ricky's win over the Romanian Dobosi was key to our advance back into the First Division. He'd warmed up with windmill-over-the-shoulder arm-movements. As one arm went one way, the other just the opposite, he said, "It took me a long time to do this. You gotta think what you're doing." Then he went out, lost the first to Dobosi and was down 20-18 match point in the 2nd, whereupon, back to thinking what he was doing, he won four straight. In the 3rd, down 19-16, he won five straight. Bravo, Ricky!
In Team play at the Labor Day CNE, Rick almost pulled off a fine win--but lost 26-24 in the deciding 3rd to Kosanovic. If you'd have asked Zoki then how he was playing, he'd have said, as Ricky had earlier, "Every day's different." Obligated to play Singles, Ricky said he didn't like the slow tournament ball that was skidding and sliding. "And the tables aren't clean," he complained. "They're greasy. Old guys have been playing on them, wiping the sweat from their hands on them." Then he beat Caetano in the 1/4's and went 5 with Danny in the semi's.
The '81 Closed was the first one played at the Tropicana, but for Ricky, as it was in '80, and would be again in '82, the result was the same--he'd lose to Eric in the semi's, causing one wit to dub him, "The Greatest Semifinalist in U.S. History."
It's interesting to see Ricky's thought processes at two key moments in two matches he played here at the Closed. In the 8th's, against Californian Dean Wong, Ricky's up 20-19 in the 5th, but it's Dean's serve and Ricky's sure Dean's about to give him something wicked. "Should I take it with sponge or anti?" he asks himself. And, as he says later, "My mind was saying sponge, but my arm was saying anti. So Dean served and I came up with the arm--steered the ball with my anti crosscourt perfectly and it caught Dean on the move right in the gut."
Against Eric the first game was crucial. At 19-all Ricky served off. Why? Because, as he said later, at the precise moment he started to serve to Eric's forehand, anticipating that Eric's return would be with the anti and that he, Ricky, would then drive the ball hard, he saw Eric flip his racket to his sponge side, and so, to counteract that, he last-minute tried to change his stroke in mid-air to go crosscourt down the line--with the result that he misserved.
By 1982 Ricky was having a very hard time with Indian newcomer B. K. Arunkumar, whose nothing ball he couldn't spin forcefully enough. Also, at Dan and Patti Simon's 1982 Lehigh Valley Open, Ricky lost 19 in the 5th to 14-year-old Sean O'Neill, just returned from training at Stellan Bengtsson's Falkenberg Club in Sweden and now about to go off to China. It was clear Sean would be at the vanguard of a new, Seemiller-threatening generation of players.
Meanwhile, at the March Bethlehem, PA Team Championships, the winners were, as if you didn't know, the Seemillers. Except that Ricky won not with Danny but with Randy and, yes, Timmy Seemiller.
Maybe it's because he had something else on his mind that fall, but Ricky, thinking to rent-out a worthy finalist, brought Randy to one of Ricky's "I'm-a-lock-to-win" Ohio/Indiana tournaments. "I don't know Ricky's game," Randy had said. "He never plays me. Maybe he's afraid to. Anyway, I can't return his serves." But of course at just this time, when Ricky's mind was far away in Hawaii, Randy beat him.
Why Hawaii? Because that's where Ricky went on his honeymoon. Yep, he married Sheryl Ann Richards on Oct. 1, 1982. And is Sheryl savvy--a very fast learner. No, she makes it clear to Ricky, she does not want to go to ping-pong tournaments. "I want to watch you, and only you," she says. "But I don't want to sit around for hours while you play maybe two matches."
At the Vegas U.S. Team Trials, Ricky had rocky going. But when he was down 11-1 in the 3rd to Quang Bui, an "every-day's-different" turning-point occurred--Quang served off. And gradually Ricky drew up to 20-19 match point down. Then another turning point--Ricky served an edge. And ended up winning deuce in the 3rd--as he did over Brandon Olson. Neither Bui nor Olson made the U.S. World Team, Ricky did.
And what a difference it made to him. Though the First Division Team competition at Tokyo was fierce--Ricky's Swaythling Cup record was 2-9--his two wins were sensational: over World #4 Appelgren and World #11 Orlowski.
At the '83 U.S. Open, after Ricky's loss to the German chopper Engelbert Huging, his friend Schwartzberg said that Ricky had "The Barn Syndrome"--meaning that the years spent in that restrictive chicken-coop practice-venue in the Seemiller backyard had taken their toll. "When Ricky plays against choppers," says Perry, "the ball seems to him to be coming back too slow, for unconsciously he doesn't think he can wait for it and have room to step back and swing unhampered, and so, overanxious, he swings too soon at the ball."
This theory makes as much sense to me as Ricky's vow not to shave until he beats Eric, Danny, Kumar, or Kosanovic--though he does come within a whisker of beating Zoki in the '83 CNE Team's, losing 29-27 in the 3rd.
In 1983, Danny and Ricky win their 8th straight and last U.S. Closed Men's Doubles Championship--again beating the Boggan brothers, as they had in the final of the '82 U.S. Open.
In 1984 Ricky is still playing well enough to win the May Pacific Coast Open over another rising young star--Khoa Nguyen.
But at the CNE he loses to the eventual winner, the ageless George Brathwaite. Bothered by the humidity, the film that he said was always on the table and his rubber, he said, "I felt like I was Appelgren playing Sakamoto at the last World's." Lest the allusion be lost, at Tokyo, Sakamoto, surely not in the top 50-ranked players in the world, upset The Apple, 7, 8, and 17. "I couldn't get any spin on the ball," said Ricky--"and since I don't have a power loop or a power kill I'm dependent on spin." And "The Chief" who beat him? What did he depend on?
Still, as 1984 moved towards its close, Ricky's rating was at its 2526 peak. And at the Vegas Team Trials he again, for the 5th consecutive time, made the U.S. Men's Team to the World's: picture Manager Dennis Masters and son Brian, Coach Houshang and Eric, Danny and Ricky, and Sean O'Neill.
In Feb., at Power Poon's Louisiana Open, Kumar had a close shave--beat Ricky deuce in the 5th. Maybe Ricky's getting better and doesn't know it?
At the '85 World's, in the Team's, Ricky upset eventual Singles semifinalist Lo Chuen Chung, 19 in the 3rd, and another Hong Kong stalwart, Kong Wah Chan. Which brought Ricky at #88 into the top 100-ranked players in the world--a feat which only a handful of modern-day U.S. players have accomplished.
"Play Ping-Pong and see the World"--that at one time was a button players were wearing. Saudi Arabia and Malaysia--that was where Ricky went this '85 summer. And, why, it was almost a throwback to those hot summer days when Danny and Ricky would have chicken-coop practice from midnight till three in the morning. For during Ramadan Ricky coached from sunset to dawn.
At Bill and Liz Hornyak's annual Michigan City, IN tournament, the Seemiller brothers were able to add what now no longer could be taken for granted, another Duneland Open Doubles title, by beating O'Neill and his partner, another new-generation stand-out, Thai Champion Chartchai "Hank" Teekaveerakit, now based in the States.
Unsuspectingly, at the '85 U.S. Closed, Ricky was at the center of a beginning...well, mess. Schwartzberg, having beaten Danny and Sean, had Ricky down 20-19 in the 3rd, and so was just one point away from being a favorite to clinch a place in the semi's when, with the onset of a raging storm, literally and figuratively, the roof fell in on the players. When play resumed, Perry did not win that match against Ricky, and his loss precipitated his later, very ill-advised default and the ensuing debacle that so affected Danny in particular. In Doubles, the Seemillers lost to the Butler brothers, Scott and Jimmy, the latter, at age 14, Men's Singles runner-up to 18-year-old Sean.
How much play had the Seemillers, or their arch-rivals the Boggans, left in them? An era lasting more than a decade was coming to an end? Yes, but slowly.
At the '86 U.S. Open Ricky won the U-2500's over Brandon Olson.
At the USOTC's his deuce-in-the-3rd win over Titus Omotara helped the Seemiller team survive the Nigerians, but then Ricky fell to Horatio Pintea and Alain Bourbonnais in a losing effort against Canada.
Ricky wasn't ready to give up domestic play. But as for representing the U.S. at the World's, that was over--he didn't even try out for the New Delhi Team.
Maybe, though, Ricky was "The Greatest Semifinalist in U.S. History," for, playing on his home turf, at the Greentree Racquet Club in Pittsburgh, he again reached a Closed semi's (as he had against D-J 10 years earlier) and again was stopped--this time by Teekaveerakit, know in Thailand as "Huang," hence in the States as "Huank."
But, good as they were, these last two U.S. Closed winners, O'Neill and Teekaveerakit, could still be beaten in Doubles by Danny and Ricky at both the '87 Eastern and Louisiana Opens.
Before moving with his family to North Carolina, Ricky would continue to play through the ending years of the'80's, and play well--he'd even beat brother Danny again. But with the birth of his daughter, Amanda, in 1987--the name means "worthy to be loved" --and as she grew from infant to toddler and beyond, tournament table tennis became less and less the interest of his life.
Ricky Seemiller: himself worthy to be loved, I'm sure. And, as his induction into our Hall proves, worthy to be recognized, too, for his exceptional achievements in table tennis--both in Singles, on his own, and in Doubles, with brother Danny.