At the Pacific Coast Open, held at Si Wasserman’s L.A. T.T. Center on North Highland in the summer of ‘55, one began to see, with her runner-up finish in the Women’s to Mary McIlwain, how Si’s 15-year-old pupil, Sharon Acton, had progressed in the short time he’d been coaching her. Indeed, to some, it may have been something of a surprise at the Long Beach Open in November to see even Clemmie Ryan, one of the strongest California players, able to withstand Sharon’s attack.
In the Jan. 28-29 Golden State Open, Acton proved how tough she was. Surprised by Vallerie Green in the 1st round, down 2-1 to her, she rallied to advance. (That Val, a future U.S. Champion and Hall of Famer, had such a bad draw as to face Sharon right off indicated how “green” the organizers thought she was.) In the semi’s, Acton met Ryan again, and this time, though in winning –18, 22, 19, 9 she might again have lost three straight, she held strong. Then in the final she easily disposed of Long Beach’s best, Jane Little.
Would you think that by the April L.A. County Open, Green could beat Acton? Though she didn’t, the answer is clearly “Yes,” for Sharon barely eked out a win, 24-22-in-the-5th. That fall, in the Ben Wollman-run Golden State, Sharon showed more control in winning another contested match with Val, 19, 22, 17. Best at 22-all not to let a threatening player back in, eh?
And what’s this? Vallerie Green has become Vallerie Smith. And then a California Team comes all the way to Mildred Shahian’s Chicago Net and Paddle Club for the 1956 Women’s National Team Championship (NTC’s)! Yep—and, what’s more, “armed with sponge paddles and fine strokes” (implying of course that often those with sponge paddles don’t have fine strokes), they were undefeated. Sharon and Clemmie, with 10-8 records, helped Smith (with a phenomenal 17-1 record) to overcome the runner-up N.Y threesome—many-time National Champion Leah Neuberger (17-1), Jean Gere (8-10), and Marianne Bessinger (6-12). Leah lost her sole match to Shahian, and although she beat Smith, since Val had such a meteoric rise in just the last year, and since her contribution led to California winning the title, she was named the “Outstanding Player.”
Bill Gunn, U.S. Team Captain to the 1957 World Championships, tried to intercede for the three NTC winners, pointing out to President Otto Ek and Selection Committee members that though each of the California women fell one participation point short of the 9 per season required for consideration as a possible U.S. World Team member, there were extenuating circumstances. That is, “long distances to be traveled, and financial problems.” But Ek responded adamantly that there could be no exceptions. So the 1957 U.S. Corbillon Cup Team members were Neuberger, Shahian, and perennial U.S. Junior Miss Champ Sherri Krizman (14-4 at the NTC’s).
This year’s U.S. Open was in St. Louis, a Midwest location that perhaps provided some incentive for the faraway Californians to attend. Neuberger won her 8th Singles Championship, losing only one game, in the quarter’s—to 16-year-old Acton’s “devastating attack from both wings.” Sharon, runner-up to Krizman in the Junior Miss, then paired with Smith, and though down 2-1 in the final rallied to take the title from Defending Champions Neuberger/Shahian.
Regarding the Acton-Smith rivalry in California tournaments, May through July, Sharon won two, Val one. In Mixed play, Bobby Fields partnered Val to a victory; Coach Wasserman did the same with Sharon.
Then, however, a break for Acton. She, Mary McIlwain, the 1956 World Mixed Doubles Champions Neuberger and Erwin Klein, and Dick Miles went off on a Tour to Japan and South Korea. Mary reports (in the Nov., 1957 USTTANewsletter) that in Tokyo the Americans were met by World Women’s Champion Fujie Eguchi and other Japanese players of note, including Yoshio Tomita, member of the 1954-56 World Champion Men’s team. Mary, Leah, and Sharon were honored guests at the home of Hikosuke Tamasu, President of the Butterfly T.T. Company, and they also toured his factory. The women were particularly struck by the cookies Tamasu gave them, each of which were “shaped exactly like the Japanese racquet with the ‘Butterfly’ insignia.”
The attention given them was both stimulating and relaxing. They saw the Japanese “Great Buddha, visited Asia’s largest Marineland at Enoshima,” and enjoyed “an informal tea ceremony at the home of Mr. Mukohara, President of the Japan Table Tennis Co., Ltd.” In a later issue of the Butterfly Table Tennis Report, Mary, her pretty face imposed on a racket, can be seen holding up a table tennis ball with thumb and forefinger and smiling—as if to say, “This product is A-OK.” Neuberger played Eguchi an exhibition match and remarked how kind it was of her “to let me win one set.” On Sept. 8th, on behalf of the USTTA, Leah presented “a certificate of friendship” to Tadashi Adachi, President of the Japan Amateur TTA.
Regarding the tour of military camps in Korea that followed, McIlwain wrote, “We did 24 shows in 16 days, traveling by bus, plane and jeep right up to the front lines.” Mary praised Miles—said “his presentation of the game verbally and in action” was of the “highest caliber.” There were plans to go to Okinawa and the Philippines. But Mary, Sharon, and Erwin said, Forget that, for there were typhoons swirling about the area. Only Dick, Leah, and scorekeeper Jean Williams went that route.
Back in California, Acton took the Golden State Open from Smith, after Val had put down a rally by McIlwain. At a recent tournament in Santa Monica, Smith/Bill Early had won the Mixed; here, Acton/Wasserman did.
Would California send a 1957 Women’s Team to defend their NTC title? They would—but with some changes. Team Captain McIlwain, who’d take Clemmie Ryan’s place, was probably helpful in getting at least some sponsorship, but although Acton would go East to Chicago, Smith for whatever reason wouldn’t. A new and surprising addition to the Team, however, was the recent Long Beach Open winner over Acton, “Susie” Hoshi.
Shizuko “Susie” Hoshi, a Japanese citizen, came to the U.S. from Tokyo on Aug. 23, 1957 to major in Phys. Ed. at the University of Southern California. She’d spent two years at Tokyo’s Women’s Christian College, and now, as a USC Junior, she was on a full scholarship from the Baptist Church of Culver City, and on graduating planned to go back to Japan and teach.
Susie was a high achiever, had a background of accomplishments, but it was in table tennis that this 5’, 3” 123-pound young woman excelled. “I took up the sport at 13 [learned to be a penhold attacker], and [in 1956] became Eastern All-University Champ.” Of the “3000,000 registered competitors in Tokyo,” how good was she? “Well,” the pretty, dimpled Susie said, “I’ve played [Japan’s 1957 World Champion] Fujie [Eguchi] in practice matches, but we never kept score….However, I did beat the 1956 women’s world champ, also a Japanese girl [Tomi Okawa], in Tokyo last year. With me, it’s a matter of getting enough practice. In Tokyo I played two hours daily. Here, with homework, I’m lucky to get three hours a week.”
Furthering California’s chances to repeat, the teen-age Acton, a Phys. Ed.-minded honor student and former President of the Spanish Club at Henning High in Wilmington, California, was a much-improved player from last year. Against the Illinois team, Sharon had an important win over Shahian (19-2), but was upset by 1957 U.S. Girls Champ Jackie Koehnke. After Millie had knocked off Hoshi (19-2), that left, in the 9th match, either McIlwain or Mary Jane Schatke to win the tie for their team—which McIlwain did.
In the tie deciding the Championship, N.Y.’s Neuberger (21-0) continued the strong play expected of her, though challenged by Acton, and Jean Gere did her part with a win over McIlwain. That left Mary (15-6) to again play the 9thmatch—against Marianne Bessinger—and again Mary came through with the tie-deciding win. The “Most Outstanding Player Award” went to Hoshi who “gave everyone a view of the Japanese slashing, running type of play.”
Two weeks after these NTC’s, at the Pacific Coast Open, Hoshi “crushed” all opposition—Smith was 2nd, Acton 3rd.
Continuing her onslaught, Hoshi went cross-country to Asbury Park, N.J. and won the 1958 U.S. Open—over Shahian 3-zip in the semi’s, and Acton, 12, 21, 21 in the final, after Sharon had knocked out Defending Champion Neuberger in 5 in the semi’s. Covering reporter Jim Sullivan wrote that “Hoshi played a savage game, but she had to be at her best as Acton made many impossible saves that kept the crowd applauding throughout the match.” In the quarter’s, Sherri Krizman had (-17, -19, 20, -15) tried hard to rally against Acton, but had no more success than when Sharon, abruptly turning the match around (-20, -19, 13, 18, 5) stopped Sherri from winning her 6th straight U.S. Junior Miss title. Acton also teamed with Smith to again take the Women’s Doubles from Neuberger/Shahian—this time, -19, 12, 19, 20.
That fall two Golden State tournaments were held the same weekend—the Closed at Reseda (“Closed” not to allow simply Reseda entries, but to allow 25-cent USTTA members to compete, as well as players from anywhere else), the Open at Hollywood. At the Closed, I’ve no record of a Women’s event, but Acton teamed with Les Sayre to win an exciting A Doubles final from Ruben Gomez/Rod McLachlan, deuce in the 5th. At the Open, Sharon was able to beat Val, who won the Mixed with Zoltan Farkas, but could not take a game from Hoshi.
Susie didn’t play at the Nov. 15-16 Long Beach Closed—“Closed” again being a misnomer since USTTA Keeper of the Closeds, Lillian Guyer, reported that “69 players not from Long Beach” played in this tournament. Her recommendation: that the Southern California TTA “forfeit the entire $10.00 Sanction Deposit Fee.” In Susie’s absence, Sharon was the winner—over Tiny Moss Eller who, on taking lessons from Erwin Klein, beat Smith.
Time now for the NTC’s—and this presented a problem for U.S. Team Captain Bill Gunn who’d been opposed to having Neuberger and Shahian on the ’56 World Team. Bill considered “worthiness” more important than one’s playing record—“worthiness” as subjectively considered by him. Bill wanted younger players on the Team—those with worthy promise, with a future in the Sport, and repeatedly tried to influence those on the Selection Committee to this end (though all the while denying that he was doing so). He assumed and wanted others to assume that the Californians were better than the aging Chicagoan Shahian, the aging New Yorkers Neuberger and Chotras.
However, granted that Acton/Smith were again the U.S. Open Women’s Doubles Champions, Acton the U.S. Junior Miss Champion, that Sharon 20, -16, -18, 16, 15 had defeated Neuberger in the semi’s of this Hoshi-won Open (though she might have lost to her 3-0), and that Chotras had had a bad loss at these National’s to Marion Mueller, Gunn knew that he had best marshal more than a one-tournament proof that the Californians were better (the more so because Leah had beaten Smith 3-0 at these National’s and, before losing to Acton, had won three straight National Championships and the World’s Mixed Doubles title).
When Bill found out that the Californians weren’t coming to the NTC’s (perhaps because they didn’t want to finance the trip and/or because Hoshi wasn’t coming), he wrote a last-minute letter to Si Wasserman urging, almost insisting, that they come. “How are we in the East and Mid-West to know how the California girls are playing with pimpled rubber?” he asked. (The USTTA had banned sponge play for the 1958-59 season.) How can we compare their current play with New Yorkers Neuberger and Chotras who are bearing the expense of coming to Chicago? For of course, according to tradition, the NTC’s is where the Corbillon Cup Team is selected, and precisely through a comparison of players’ wins and losses.
Bill says, “It will possibly [sic] be considered unfair” to base the Selection Committee’s opinions on who should be on the U.S. World Team on just the results of the last National’s. Especially, he might have said, since that was 7 months ago. Neuberger and Chotras, says Gunn in this pre-NTC’s letter to Si, “are entitled to consideration on ability.” Which means he doesn’t consider either of them as fulfilling his first consideration—that of “worthiness”? “These girls,” he says, “are entitled to a crack at the best [sic], to determine their fitness, or lack of it, for the team.”
Wow! This sure seems like a guy who, while talking fairness, has made up his mind that Hoshi, Acton, and Smith should be the 1959 U.S. Corbillon Cup players. Hoshi, yes, of course, especially when, solidifying her stature the more, she will win the Dec. Pacific Coast over 2nd-place Acton, and 3rd-place Smith. Except, as Susie doesn’t meet the two-year residency requirement, she’s not eligible for Cup play. Acton, though not to my mind conclusively better than the New Yorkers, certainly is a strong candidate. As is the weaker Smith, 17-1 at the last NTC’s where she played with sponge. But even Gunn says, “I, for one, would like to have a little more to go on [than just the last National’s].” Question is, Does he really mean it?
At this year’s NTC’s, the Californians—Acton, Smith, and Ryan—played without Hoshi. One blow was given them by Illinois. Shahian won all three matches, and though Koehnke lost as expected to Sharon, when she beat Val, and Schatke surprised Ryan, Illinois moved into contention for the title. New York was also too strong for California—though Smith had a great win over heretofore undefeated Neuberger. N.Y.’s Bernice Chotras was also unbeaten coming into this tie and stayed that way through it—downing both U.S. #3 Acton and U.S. #6 Smith. Since Bessinger topped Ryan, New York, like Illinois, stopped California 6-3.
In the tie for the Championship, which N.Y. won 6-3, Shahian gave Chotras her only loss of the weekend, but Neuberger did the same to Millie—so all three finished with 17-1 records, a result that in the past would almost certainly have guaranteed them places on the U.S. World Team.
However, did it really count with Bill that at this NTC’s Leah, Chotras, and Shahian had all downed Acton, and that Chotras, Shahian, Koehnke, and Carrol Jaeger had all downed Smith? He’d said he wanted a little more to go on. So, o.k., what did he learn from the Californians’ appearance at the NTC’s? That certainly Smith isn’t so obviously a best choice for the World Team (later, in the Jan. Greater Santa Monica Closed, Val will lose both to Acton and Tiny Eller), that Acton is perhaps no better on any given day than Neuberger and Chotras whom he says he wants to be fair to, and that, since Neuberger, Chotras, and Shahian all played 18 matches, he doesn’t have to worry about their fitness. But did any of this—or the fact that later Neuberger beats Chotras in the final of the Eastern’s in 5—really matter to him, or to Wasserman, or to USTTA President Rufford Harrison?
When it turns out that only two, not three, women will have their way paid to the World’s, and that Gunn; Selection Committeeman Wasserman, Acton’s coach; and President Harrison all push for youthful players, Acton understandably is selected, but m’god, so is 16-year-old Barbara Chaimson after 8 losses at the NTC’s and a –10, -14, -15 loss to Chotras at the Eastern’s!
The method of voting is as follows: “A point was given to a player each time he [or she] was chosen first, two points for a second, and so on, so that the final team could be picked by summing the various votes and starting with those who received least.”
President Harrison wanted the votes to remain secret, but Wasserman had already made his public. In his appraisal of the eight candidates he placed Acton 1st, Chaimson 2nd, Hoshi 3rd, Smith 4th, Koehnke 5th, Neuberger 6th, Julia Rutelionis 7th, and Chotras 8th! Considering that the final tallies were Acton 8, Chaimson 17, Chotras 18, Neuberger 22, and next, among those in the distance, Smith 27, and Hoshi 28, it’s clear that 4 of the 5 selectors assigned a total of 10 points to Chotras and that if Wasserman had even granted her 6th place she would have been on the Team and not Chaimson. If one understood that such a single voter, so at variance with the other four selectors, could have such swing power, the method of voting from the beginning might certainly be called into question.
Though Bukiet, who’d be 40 at the ’59 Dortmund, Germany World’s, was selected to the Men’s Team, Neuberger, never mind her record, was apparently just too old for the selectors. And yet Wasserman, and others, fully expected that Leah would pay her own way to the World’s, and so be available for Cup play. But they badly misjudged her reaction to the voting. Si “had the nerve to tell me,” said Leah, quite put out, that “I would be playing every [Cup] match”—only she wouldn’t, because she wanted nothing to do with a Team that was selected so, and would just play in the Singles and Doubles, though not with any U.S. Team member.
Further—and this hadn’t been anticipated by Wasserman, or by Harrison who’d agreed even after the NTC matches that the Californians were better than the New Yorkers—Leah, outraged with her record to be dismissed so, would not (for the first time in 20 years) go to the National’s (nor would Chotras), which was a requisite for anyone wanting to be on the Team. So there could be no changing Leah’s mind in Dortmund.
The Defending U.S. Open Champion Susie Hoshi didn’t do much defending at the 1959 Inglewood, CA U.S. Open, but of course she again won the title. Austin Finkenbinder, writing in the USTTA’s Apr. Newsletter, said that runner-up Sharon Acton’s “superb defense caused Miss Hoshi plenty of trouble. Time and again Susie put the ball away, only to see it come floating back low and loaded. Sharon’s determination enabled her to salvage a game from the champion.” Quite an upset was provided by Carolyn Norman of Ft. Worth, Texas. She beat #3 seed Barbara Chaimson—barely held on to win 19 in the 5th after being up match point 20-14.
Hoshi teamed with Tiny Eller to win the Women’s Doubles from last year’s Champions Acton/Val Smith. Best in the Mixed were Sol Schiff/Eller who got a break when Marty Reisman, paired with Hoshi, couldn’t play the final because of a sudden flu attack and a high temperature. In the semi’s, Sol and Tiny had ousted Bukiet/Smith in 5, while Marty and Susie had eliminated Sharon and Bobby Fields.
This would be Hoshi’s final tournament, for she was getting married and her husband didn’t want her to play seriously—a point of view that was difficult for her to accept. But after some tearful nights she relented and accepted her retirement. “I’m 24,” she said, “and that’s old. No man wants his bride away every other night [playing table tennis]. He wants his supper. And, really, what wife wants to be away from her husband every other night?”
The Open ended Mar. 15th, and by Mar. 18th Sharon had joined her teammates and had taken wing from Idlewild (later Kennedy) Airport in New York. First stop: the Mar. 21-22 Belgian Open. In the 31-entry Women’s, why the U.S. #1 Acton had to open against the #1 seed, Agnes Simon, I don’t know, but if initially it was a shock to Sharon, then maybe with all the pressure of that first international match eased, it was fun? Chaimson and Koehnke also lost early. But Neuberger, after beating South Korea’s Hwang Yool Ja and France’s Moktari in straight games, reached the semi’s, where she got zipped by England’s Ann Haydon, an easy winner over Simon in the final. In Doubles play, Neuberger did best—in the Women’s she partnered New Zealand’s Joyce Williamson to a win before being eliminated by the Koreans Cho Kyung Cha/Choe Kyong Ja; and in the Mixed she and Dick Miles reached the quarter’s where they –19, -19, 22, 16, -17 tried but failed to pull off a gutsy comeback against the 21-year-old Korean Champion Pak Sung In/Choe.
In a Mar. 24th Practice against the Belgian Pantheon Club, our women won a 9-match tie, 5-4—with Acton, down 1-0 and at deuce in the 2nd, eking out a win against Corbillon Cup player Wouters. The Team left Brussels on Mar. 26th and flew the 200 miles to Dortmund by helicopter, Sabena adding the handshake of a Good Luck! Bouquet of red and white carnations. The Team was met by an official of the Deutsche Tische Tennis Bund and joined at their Grosse Dortmund Hotel by USTTA President Harrison.
We were soon ready for Corbillon Cup play, were we? Perhaps. But we didn’t do very well—in fact, we lost all 8 matches. So of course you knew what was coming: the woman scorned. Neuberger in a letter to the E.C. would lead off with a blast, “Never in the history of the USTTA has an American team made such a poor performance.” With the U.S. leading Spain 2-1, Acton in the 4th match lost the 1st game at deuce, and Chaimson in the 5th match lost her last game at 19. Against Sweden, Sharon 23-21 in the 3rd gutted out a grueling opener against Lena Guntsch, then easily downed the Swedish Champ Birgitta Tegner. But Chaimson was beaten badly in both singles, and in the doubles the Guntsch sisters finished with a 22-20 swing game. Sharon also won a fierce match in the Swiss tie where Jackie Koehnke, down 1-0 and at 25-all, stayed alive, only to lose the 3rd. In the other five ties we couldn’t score at all.
It was embarrassing to watch them, said Leah, but don’t blame the players—they did the best they could. “The blame should go to the selection committee who elected to choose inexperienced players to participate with the best players in the world.”
The “A” Group was won by China over England, 3-2; the “B” Group by South Korea’s Cho and Choe (a rumor was going round that these players were being hypnotized to win), 3-2 over both Rumania (without Rozeanu and Zeller) and Czechoslovakia; and the “C” Group by Japan, 3-2 over the Hungarians. In the three-way play-off, Japan and South Korea downed China, 3-0. In the final, Korea scored big when Cho took Matsuzaki (who’d win the World Singles here), and Choe had a one-game lead in the 5th over Taeko Namba, a lefty penholder who used pips-out rubber, not sponge. But Namba, who’d won the Asian Games, came comfortably back to allow Japan a successful defense of their Championship.
In Women’s Singles, the U.S. didn’t have a single win. Such a thing had never happened before. Well, there was always the Consolation. Except Marianne Bessinger, Koehnke, Chaimson, and Acton all lost their first round there too. Only Leah advanced—over weak opposition—until stopped –14, -9 in the quarter’s by Rumania’s Geta Pitica (destined at the next World’s to be a World Women’s Doubles Champion). I can’t help but think Leah’s “demotion” by the USTTA Selection Committee was a deep wound to her ego, damaging to her confidence, and affecting her play.
In the final, Japan’s Eguchi, still using a hardbat, could not retain her title; Matsuzaki, playing with pimpled sponge, “softer and a little thicker than ordinary,” took down the Champion.
Women’s Doubles, how’d we do there? A loss almost every time a U.S. pair went on court. Sharon and Barbara walked over, as it were, merely to meet and shake hands with the Hungarians. Little consolation to our young women that Mosoczy couldn’t defend her 1957 title with Simon because Agnes had expatriated to the Netherlands; she was now partnered by Koczian, destined in ’61 to be World runner-up. Leah had a great partner in Simon, but after they’d won three matches, they had no chance at all against Eguchi/Matsuzaki, eventual runner-ups to Namba/Yamaizumi.
Mixed? Sharon and Lennie Cooperman lost their opening match, as did Bukiet/Koehnke. Van de Walle/Chaimson and Miles/Neuberger lost their second match. Ogimura/Eguchi didn’t lose any.
Well, there was still the English Open—and Hope, a stowaway, flew along with the Team to London. Women’s Singles? Come quick—watch our women play. First round: Jackie’s gone down, 12, 12, 9 to England’s Yvonne Baker. Chaimson’s gone too—but she showed plenty of heart in her –21, -15, 14, 14, -18 loss to Scotland’s Hawkins. Second round: Acton, who, down 2-1, had won her 1st round against England’s Margaret Fry, again fought gamely, but on this particular day, Kathie Best, England’s 4-time Corbillon Cup player, as well as a housewife and mother of a 3-year-old, was –19, 20, 15, -12, 6 best. Leah? She’d struggled through 5 games to advance over Essex’s Mary Hook…only to meet Ann Haydon, the current World #5. But, though Leah lost, -13, -17, 19, 20, -11, she was obstinate, persistent. Haydon was experimenting with a sandwich bat, for she’d realized in Dortmund that she had “no chance against the Japanese with a pimpled rubber bat.” Leah’s consolation? You guessed it—she won It.
The final, between Eguchi, who’d eliminated Koczian, and Matsuzaki was explosive—a fusillade of hard-hitting exchanges—with the ’57 World Champion just outlasting the ’59 one, 18, -21, 19, -17, 20.
In Women’s Doubles, Acton had by far the best results. Teamed with England’s Betty Isaacs Bird, in the 1st round they upset the Korean Corbillon Cup runner-ups, World #7 Cho Kyung-cha and World #10 Choe Kyong Ja, who pleaded (post-hypnotic?) exhaustion from their play in Dortmund. Then Sharon and Betty won again, in 5, against Simon/Williamson. But in the quarter’s, they fell in the 5th to England’s Best and Pam Mortimer who complained that after a two-year ban on sponge in her home-country she was ill-prepared to play these international spongers. The Women’s Doubles final was a replay of the one in Dortmund, except this time Eguchi/Matsuzaki avenged as best they could their larger loss to Namba/Yamaizumi.
In the 1st round of the Mixed, Gusikoff/Acton were beaten 3-0 by the Koreans Pak/Choe; Van de Walle/Chaimson by the Hungarians Foldi/Koczian, and Bukiet/Koehnke by India’s Divan/France’s Rougagnou. Miles/Neuberger, down 2-1 to England’s Jeff Ingber/Mary Hook, prevailed 19 in the 5th, but afterwards lost badly to the eventual winners Murakami/Matsuzaki.
Our Team’s best results came in the Junior Miss Singles with Koehnke who advanced to the semi’s, where she lost deuce in the 3rd to the Korean Hwang on two point-ending nets. Hwang then lost in the final to Britain’s Jean Harrower, whom Leah pointed out was not selected for the English Corbillon Cup Team, though she had wins over such strong players as Haydon, Diane Rowe, and Mortimer. In the Junior Miss Doubles, Barbara and Jackie won a gritty –15, 23, 12 match against two English girls before being blasted away by two others. In the Junior Mixed, Barbara lost right off, but Jackie and Cliff McDonald, who’ll be the next Australian Men’s Champion, got to the semi’s.
On playing England three Official Matches after the Open, the best the U.S. could do was tie one of them. At Tottenham, Acton/Chaimson had a nice win over Bird/Harrower, but at Cheltenham they couldn’t take a game from Rook/Mortimer. In Singles play at Leeds both Acton and Koehnke were beaten by Best and Mortimer.
The U.S. trip had come to an end. But four Team members wanted to capitalize on this unique opportunity to play competitive matches abroad. So, under Gusikoff’s Captaincy, Bukiet, Van de Walle, and Acton went off to play first in Germany, then in Switzerland. Leah, looking to marshal every argument she could against the Selection Committee’s decision to put the inexperienced teenagers Chaimson and Acton on the Team, complained of Sharon’s conduct at the World’s—criticized her for staying up into the pre-dawn hours of the morning, and smoking and drinking to excess. But I don’t know that Leah was ever much for rigorous training, and I’ll say this for Sharon: she was in no hurry to go home—some matches she won, some she lost, but she wanted the action, wanted to play.
Only, after watching and sometimes playing against world-class players, when she got home she for a time was apparently in something of a funk. President Harrison writes to his E.C. that Klein, Cooperman, and Van de Walle aren’t into playing, and cites Wasserman as telling him that “Acton has given up the game.” “Certainly,” says Rufford, “she is disillusioned about her many poor losses in Dortmund, and she has one of the poorest temperaments I ever hope to see on one of our teams. But nevertheless she will be an asset to the USTTA if she stays with us, and no use if she doesn’t.”
Which will it be, do you think, if either?
Well, it may have taken a while, but come the Nov. Long Beach Open, Sharon hadn’t given up the game, was back, and apparently better than ever, for—how is it possible?—she trounced Val Smith, 7, 5, 12! Val did win the Mixed, though—with Richard Card (who in four months will be the U.S. Junior Champion)—over Sharon/Russ Thompson. USTTA Recording Secretary Austin Finkenbinder speaks disapprovingly of Russ who has connections with “the Armed Forces Special Services and has supposedly signed Sharon Acton, Erwin Klein and Mike Ralston” to a summer Tour of Alaska. “He has promised them the fantastic salary of $200 a week, plus expenses. And because of this he has finagled to play doubles with both Mike and Sharon. He is an ‘angle’ guy.”
The Californians didn’t come to the Women’s NTC’s this year, but they were active. At the Dec. Pacific Coast, it’s Acton again over Smith, and in the Mixed, Acton/Ralston over Smith/Bobby Fields.
The 1960 National’s were held at the Sheraton Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. Among the missing were Easterners Shahian, Chotras, Lona Flam Rubenstein (mother of three now), and all the Canadians. Sharon, the #2 seed, met Chaimson the #3 seed, in the semi’s, but, no contest, Sharon outclassed her 14, 14, 11. In the other semi, Smith lost the first game to Neuberger then beat her convincingly. Shonie Aki, for one, speaks of Val’s “tenacious, steady pushing game,” and says, “it’s unequaled among women players.” The all-California final saw Sharon defeat Val in a punctuated 21-4 in the 4th ending.
In Women’s Doubles, last year’s runner-ups Acton/Smith were this year’s winners—over the very docile Neuberger/Chaimson pair. Sharon completed her coveted hat trick by winning the Mixed with Gusikoff from Schiff/Neuberger. When Sol and Leah lost the final in 4 to Bobby and Sharon, it marked the first time since 1950 that Leah (holder of 28 U.S. Open Championships) went home without winning at least one event at the National’s. To add insult to injury, while Acton was getting the bouquet of roses, some guy, perhaps seeing the Sportsmanship Award Leah (“Pingie”) was given, reportedly asked her if she had any more trophies.
At the 4th of July Open in San Jose, Smith independently struck back at her doubles partner. After she’d won both the Women’s and with Bob Ashley the Mixed, she downed Sharon deuce in the 5th. Then beat her again at the Dec. Pacific Coast, 19 in the 4th. In the Doubles though, Acton turned the tables—paired with Chuck Zsebik to oust Earlene Ulrich/Stuffy Singer deuce in the 3rd, and in the final Smith/Ralston, 19 in the 3rd.
The 1961 Detroit U.S. Open was historic because the venue was Cobo Hall’s 9,000-seat Arena and table tennis was the very first sports activity to take place there. There were 41 entries in the Women’s event, but 8-time U.S. Champion Leah Neuberger, whom the press reported as being 43, was not among the top seeds. Aside from 1959, when she was angered and didn’t play, Leah had never been seeded worse than 3rd for 20 years. But she passed her first test—a season’s worth of sweet revenge by downing #2 seed Smith in straight games in the quarter’s. Did Pauline Somael, #6 seed, beat Millie Shahian. No. But in the semi’s Leah did, with little effort.
Defending Champion Acton, described by one reporter as the “most colorful player in the tournament, “breezed by Sherri Krizman, now 20 and soon to be married; but then, along with the spectators, Sharon was stilled to a silent flutter in her follow-up deuce-in-the-5th quarter’s win over Barbara Chaimson. Bernice Chotras, the #3 seed, didn’t look to be at her best against Montreal’s Denise Hunnius—but the revitalized 1946 U.S. Champion survived in 5. Acton, however, didn’t let Chotras contest their semi’s, and so advanced into the final against Neuberger. This was the fourth straight Women’s final for Sharon, and though she only got 10 points the 1st game, she focused determinedly and was able to double that in each of the last two games. Of course since it takes 21 to win, Leah blitzed her as she had everyone else. Make the most of it, Leah. It doesn’t seem possible—but it’s the 29th and last U.S. Championship you’ll ever win.
In the ‘50’s, Neuberger had won four U.S. Open Women’s Doubles titles with Shahian, but in ’57 and ’58 they’d lost close matches to Acton/Smith. This year, with Leah playing well, they looked forward to unseating the Defending Champs. But it wasn’t to be—Leah and Millie, up 2-1, were upset in the semi’s by Chaimson and Toronto’s Velta Adminis who then were beaten in the final by the Californians.
Sharon also successfully defended her Mixed title with Gusikoff—in the semi’s over Chotras/Marty Doss; in the final over Neuberger/Schiff.
The 20-year-old Acton would have one more go at serious play—this next season she’d yo-yo in and out of the Sport and get her Phys. Ed degree at Long Beach State College. That summer, though she’d entered the Shonie Aki-run Hollywood Cinema Open, she defaulted in both the Singles and the Mixed (Sorry, she said, gotta work). Meanwhile, her mentor Wasserman had finally called it quits with his longtime L.A. Club. His lease was up in May, and he said Ashley and his friends were irritating him, getting into the place through the skylight after hours, so 8 years of single ownership—with all the necessary hard work and diplomacy—was enough.
Acton did play in the Nov. Long Beach Open. She won the Mixed with Chuck Zsebik over Ulrich/Ashley, but couldn’t wrest the Women’s from the tenacious Smith. Finkenbinder, now the California TTA President, in his Dec., 1961Topics “Coastscripts” column, briefs us on the Singles final:
“Sharon started…in her usual powerhouse fashion, blasting ball after ball through her doubles partner. However, after taking the first game in this fashion, Miss Acton decided to change her game and tried to push and pick her way through Mrs. Smith’s stubborn defense. The result was disastrous. Vallerie stepped in, began hitting and unnerved Sharon to the point that she started missing the important shots” (12). [Note: Acton was 1-1 and at 21-all in the 3rd.]
New York’s Pauline Robinson Somael, having made a second visit out to California, joined Acton and Ulrich to form a team for the ’61 Women’s NTC’s run by George Schein in N.Y. The home team, playing a complete 8-entry round robin that included matches among one’s own teammates, finished 1st with these individual results: Chotras, 22-1 (lost only to Neuberger); Neuberger, 21-2 (lost to Acton, Chaimson); and Rubenstein (16-7).
Surprisingly, the runner-up team that finished 6-1 was not California (Acton, 22-1—lost only to Chotras; Somael, 18-5; and Ulrich, 10-13) but the Washington, D.C. “A” team (Chaimson 21-2—lost to Chotras, Acton; Yvonne Kronlage, 16-7; and Julia Rutelionis, 14-9). D.C. had a 5-4 win over California when Acton took all 3, Ulrich dropped all 3, and Somael, though downing Rutelionis, fell not only to Chaimson but to Kronlage who (for also beating Canada’s Velta Adminis) won the Outstanding Player Award.
Sharon continued her strong play in the 3-star Pacific Open, winning the Mixed with Zsebik from Singer/Ulrich, and taking the Singles from Smith. At the late-Feb. Asuza Open, Acton rallied from down 2-0 to down Smith and receive a clock-radio; she also partnered San Diego’s Tina Poland to a Women’s Doubles win over Valerrie and Milla Boczar.
But though she had two Doubles titles to defend, and, after being in four straight Singles finals, every expectation of being there again, she did not go West to the U.S. Open in New York. In fact, she just stopped going anywhere to tournaments. Which surely meant that some part of her identity, her place in the world, had abruptly been left behind. But not all parts, for when the California Hall of Fame was formed and inductions began in Anaheim in 1994, Sharon was there in person to be honored.