Back in the 1950’s, Chicago’s Steve Isaacson was twice U.S. Intercollegiate Table Tennis Champion—and, at the same time, uniquely, U.S. Intercollegiate Bowling Champion. Four decades later, at the Illinois Senior Olympics he was being named Outstanding Senior Amateur All-Around Athlete in Illinois. At last count he’d won 40-some Illinois State Table Tennis titles, and had done pretty well outside of Illinois too. Like in 1955 when, with his punishing forehand, he had a 12-3 record at the Worcester, MA National Intercities, beating such strong players as Tibor Hazi, Harry Hirschkowitz and Norbie Van de Walle. Also in that 1955-56 season, he and Tim Boggan were the dominant doubles team in the Midwest, winning four out of five times on the circuit.
After he was a U.S. Top 10 player and had retired from competition, Steve went out to California for a while, but of course couldn’t stay away from the Sport. In ’61-’62, under CATTA President Austin Finkenbinder, he was 2nd V.P.
By 1965 he was USTTA Selection Committee Chair working in tandem with USTTA Ranking Chair John Read. Steve’s selection, I might add, was the subject of an article in the Apr., 1968 Topics (p.11) by Bob Rudolph. Turns out Steve has won a few money matches by selecting not a paddle to play with but a checkerboard. Says Rudolph:
“Encouraged by his success, he [Steve] has now worked up a devastating offensive game, a retinue of serves, a following of fans, and a patter of burlesque comments to interject during play. After defeating one opponent with a series of unbelievable and unreturnable drives, he quipped, ‘This is the worst checkerboard I’ve ever played with—does anyone have a sponge checkerboard?’
On another occasion, after defeating a USTTA official…he offered the use of the checkerboard to the not-too-happy official and a 19-point spot on the condition he use only the white squares….”
In the years that followed, Steve was a contributor, especially when I was Editor, to both Table Tennis Topics, the official USTTA magazine, and Timmy’s, my own table tennis periodical. Articles, cartoons, poetry showed his versatility. He was also, with his cartoonist’s eye, responsible for getting the highly imaginative watercolor (this was Jim Davey’s Chicago Club?) that appeared on the front cover of the Dec., ’79 Topics.
Sometimes Steve’s articles were factual, serious, as when, with his Selection Committee background, he proposed round robins for U.S. Team Trials but not for U.S. Championships. Sometimes the articles were fictional, humorous, as when he gave us his 1984 fantasy account of the 1953 South Bend St. Joe Valley tournament.
But of course Steve’s unquestionable claim to table tennis recognition is his historic founding of the USATT Hall of Fame. His 1966 article in Tennismagazine popularized his seminal idea that Table Tennis, eventually to become an Olympic Sport, should have, like so many other sports, its own honoring Hall. With the indispensible help of then USATT Executive Director Bill Haid, this Hall, in 1979 with Steve as a Charter Member of its Board of Directors, became a reality.
Just recently, Isaacson was responsible for a new millennium idea. It concerned an historical oddity—the fact that 1936 U.S. World Champion Ruth Aarons was unable to successfully defend her Championship because her 1937 final with Austria’s Trude Pritzi was stopped when the match exceeded the time limit, and the title was declared vacant. Steve thought the ITTF should award posthumous medals to both women, thus giving the U.S. another World Championship. So he asked Tim Boggan, the ITTF Council Member for North America, to liaison with ITTF President Adham Sharara to see if this couldn’t happen. As Adham was for it, it did happen—and at the 2001 Osaka World Championships USATT President Sheri Pittman accepted the belated Award for Aarons and the U.S., and Isaacson himself was later honored by the USATT for his suggestion.Currently, Steve also serves on the Selection Committee that decides who will receive the 1999-instituted Mark Matthews Lifetime Achievement Award (Matthews was formerly Marcus Schussheim, our first U.S. Champion). It was Mark, as sponsor, who generously provided funds for a Perpetual Trophy and also for a projected decade of annual individual trophies, but it was Steve who painstakingly went round to trophy shops to make the selection.
USA Table Tennis Hall of Famers: Tim Boggan, Jack Howard, and Steve Isaacson
For more than 20 years, then, Steve has worked to better establish our Hall. Along with President Jimmy McClure, and USATT Historian Tim Boggan, he has contributed mightily to the success of the annual Awards Banquet which at the present time has seen almost 100 Players, Officials, and Contributors inducted. Many of these inductees literally gave the better part of their lives to Table Tennis. They, and all those in the Table Tennis world able to recognize and appreciate their achievements, have Steve to thank.
Steve Isaacson with Si Wasserman and top US junior players receiving grants
from the Nate Wasserman Memorial Scholarship Program