Leah Thall’s younger, tennis-playing sister, 17-year-old Thelma “Tybie” Thall, made her first recorded t.t. tournament appearance at Cincinnati’s Feb. 8, 1942 Jewish Center Midwest Closed. She was a straight-A student and “the first girl in the history of [Columbus, Ohio’s] East High to win a varsity letter in the sport [of tennis]” (TTT, Dec., 1946, p. 4). On giving up the larger racquet for the smaller one, and, though offering little 10, 12 competition to Leah in the Women’s final here, she too, in time, being, like her sister, a determined practice partner and a fierce opponent, would be destined for greatness.
At the moment though, Tybie apparently didn’t share that addiction to the Game felt by her advancing peers in the East, Bernice Chotras and Peggy McLean, for, on surfacing at the Mar., 1944 Western’s, she was beaten, 19 in the 4th, by Barbara Cannon who in the final would be no match for Tybie’s sister Leah. Still, the fact that Tybie, just turned 20, had played so sparingly this season that she was ranked, unflatteringly, Ohio #7 and yet could engage in a contested match with U.S. #3 Cannon, showed that very likely she had to be considerably underrated.
Tybie turns up next in the Nov., 1945 Michigan Open where she goes down in 5 to veteran Margaret Koolery Wilson. Then at the Mar., 1946 Western’s in her hometown, Columbus, before losing to her sister Leah in the final, she beats Chicago’s Mary Specht in 5. So, though this may have been one of those times Tybie snapped her bra-strap and, a bit frantic, had to go hunting for a safety pin, she did just fine.
At the Mar., ’46 National’s, she’s on-court for the Singles final—but as a “ball girl” for her sister Leah who, though a perennial challenger now, must wait still another year before she can claim the title. Tybie suffers with her sister. A major disappointment: she and Leah lose the final of the Women’s Doubles to Shahian/Clouther, 24-22 in the 5th.
Perhaps, though, Tybie is starting to get the bug. In July, she’s up in Chicago playing in the Western States and gaining the Singles final before losing to Leah. The sisters are also a successful twosome in Women’s Doubles. In Nov., at the Toledo Maumee Valley Invitational (Invitational suggests Negroes aren’t welcome?), Leah wins another final from Tybie.
Both Thalls, we learn from an unsigned article in Topics, probably by Dana Young, are book-keepers—Leah “writes a beautiful long-hand.” They have three sports-minded brothers, Abe, Lou, and Bennie, who in “basketball, handball, and golf…have made quite a name for themselves in Buckeye circles.” While the brothers served in the War, “the girls helped to entertain the wounded soldiers by giving t.t. exhibitions throughout Ohio’s many hospitals.” Leah, it turns out, likes fudge cake and so as not to risk putting on extra poundage bowls in a Columbus league, where she has a 160 average and a high triple of 606. Tybie enjoys cheese blintzes with sour cream and might be seen, rain or shine, riding about on her red and white Roadmaster bicycle, holding up an umbrella if need be (Dec., 1946, pp. 4, 12).
The Women’s East-West Matches, held Dec. 14th at Mae Clouther’s Colonial Club in Newton Corner, Massachusetts, would decide who’d represent us at the 1947 Paris World’s. Qualifier Tybie could not be picked, for she lost to both McLean and Hawthorn. However, she was now definitely into playing, and, in addition to winning the Feb., ‘47 Ohio State Open, she enjoyed teaching “a weekly class for Columbus youngsters.” In March, at the Michigan Open, Barbara Cannon had no chance against her.
At the National’s, in which Tybie’s sister Leah would finally have her breakthrough win, #5 seed Tybie defeated Carlyn Blank in 5, but then was stopped by Defending Champ Chotras, the runner-up to Leah. In the Mixed, Tybie and Arnold Brown beat Chicago’s Ralph Bast and wife-to-be Carolyn Wilson, but couldn’t save themselves in the 5th against Schiff/Corinne Delery. However, Tybie with Leah did win the Women’s Doubles—and this after what earlier might have been a spirit-breaking 24-22 2nd game that sent the sisters down 2-0 to Reba Monness and England’s visiting Elizabeth Blackbourn. Then, after surviving that team, the Thalls in their 5-game final exacted sweet revenge over Clouther/Shahian who’d beaten them deuce in the 5th last year. This was Tybie’s 1st National Championship, Leah’s 7th.
The 1947-48 season started with the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) Open in Toronto. Tybie lost in Singles to Peggy McLean who then beat Leah in the final. However, the sisters did win the Women’s Doubles.
That fall, in back-to-back tournaments in Michigan and Missouri, Leah bested Tybie—but now in both she was forced into the 5th. What’s more, in the West Qualifier for the East-West Matches that would determine the U.S. Team to the 1948 World’s, Tybie not only beat Leah but all the others trying to qualify. She had arrived. On Sunday, Nov. 30th, at Lawrence’s, the Team to the London World’s was decided. Although Tybie lost to Mae Clouther (who also beat the West’s Leah and Betty Jane Schaefer), she prevailed over McLean and Millie Shahian both in the deciding 3rd, and also won her doubles with Leah. Thus the two Thalls and Clouther were picked to represent us overseas.
Tybie said her mother had misgivings about her 23-year-old daughter, who’d never been on a ship before, taking the long voyage. Was it really worth it? Who was she apt to beat? What was she apt to win? Well, maybe quite a few Hostess cupcakes. Hostess had sponsored a radio audience-participation show, and Tybie, before sailing, had participated in it and had unabashedly said, “I’m on my way to London to win a world title.” Really? Well, if you win, said Hostess, come back and see us and we’ll give you plenty of cupcakes. (Tybie, who to my surprise once confided that from birth she had a slightly misplaced jaw and never in her life had a proper bite, and who was then at Miles’s weight or a little heavier—119 pounds—later confessed that it was these cupcakes that started her on the way to gaining 40 pounds.)
It was a blustery trip over to London. “Talk about having an excuse for missing a shot,” said Tybie, “try playing table tennis on a ship crossing the Atlantic in winter.” And yet, she said, “Reisman kept doing his cigarette trick—never missed it.” Uncanny—that was the word she might have used to describe, no, not Reisman’s hand/eye coordination, but the (“He never smiled”) dour look of Garrett Nash, another of our Men’s Team players.
Perhaps even Nash had to smile though on hearing about Tybie’s misadventure during the Team’s pre-World’s commitment to play exhibition matches in Sweden. Seems that in connection with one of these exhibitions Tybie was giving she found a room she thought she might change in, had set down her shoes and rolled-up poster she’d been given, only to be shocked to find others there—five Swedish male athletes, all naked. Taking up her shoes and poster, she blurted out on leaving the only line of Swedish she knew—“Thank you very much.”
Nothing like a compliment, eh?
Although Tybie would tell English t.t. writer Peggy Allen that she “couldn’t understand why, when having a shampoo [in London], the assistant made you lean forward, thereby wetting your face, when in America they do it the sensible way and lean back,” she had nothing but praise for this Feb. 4-11, 1948 Wembley World’s, the cost of which was perhaps $50,000. “It was worth coming to England,” she said, “just to see this wonderful show, so wonderfully organized.”
In 16-team Corbillon Cup play, the U.S. women with a 5-2 record finished 3rd in their group. They might have been better, for, against Rumania, though granted Angelica Rozeanu was too singles strong for us, their #2 Sari Kolosvary might not be (Leah beat her), and so if the Thall sisters hadn’t (19, -19, -18) lost the close doubles, Mae might have been able to swing the Tie our way. (Later in Singles, Mae lost to Sari 19 in the 5th.) Against the favored English, though the Thalls were clear winners in the doubles over Peggy Franks and Vera Dace Thomas, neither Leah nor Mae could put any pressure on the naturalized Hungarian Dora Beregi or the veteran lefthander Thomas.
Tybie’s early Singles opponent was England’s Pinkie Barnes (nicknamed so because of her complexion). Pinkie believed that “what a girl wears and how she looks is important.” Her advice: “Take to heart all that the beauty experts say about hair, and brush it till it gleams. As it is apt to get unruly when you play, wear a ribbon round it to match your outfit….By all means use some make-up, but don’t plaster it on. A player looks better with it than without it.” Her motto: “The better I look, the better I play” (Table Tennis Review, September, 1946, p. 9).
In their 4-game match, Tybie looked…well, better than Pinkie. But in her next match against Ireland’s Minshull, she lost the first two games. Then, as if with the abandon of the little kid she used to be playing tackle football, she 6, 10, 10 rushed right in and crunched her opponent. Next up: the Hungarian Rose Karpati, who’d had plenty of 20, -19, 15 trouble with Sweden’s Halling in the Team’s. Since Minshull, who’d averaged only 9 points a game against Tybie in that lopsided finish, had destroyed Halling, wouldn’t that make Tybie the favorite against Karpati? Except again she lost the first two games, and though she fought back, winning the 4th at deuce, this time she couldn’t recover. Barnes, meanwhile, prettied herself up—and won the Women’s Consolation.
As for Tybie’s vivacious sister, Leah, how’d she do? Alas, win or lose, nothing could be more uninteresting than Leah’s four straight 3-game matches—the last her –14, -16, -10 quarter’s with the eventual winner, Hungary’s Gizi Farkas.
In Women’s Doubles, needing a careful attack against the solid defense of World Singles runner-up here Rozeanu and her partner, former World Champion Trudi Pritzi, the Thall sisters, after losing the 1st, got back into the match by taking the 2nd, also at deuce, and finally won in 5. But though in the Team’s the Thalls had beaten with 13, 14 ease the pair they now faced in the semi’s, Thomas/Franks, and so seemed to have a great chance for the Championship, they –14, -14, -17 couldn’t contest at all, and the English pair went on to take the title from Beregi/Helen Elliot who in the quarter’s had sent into risked-rumpledom that most photo-oppable of pairs—our Mae and her pick-me-up partner Barnes.
In the Mixed, two of our U.S. teams lost to Bergmann/Beregi. First down was Nash/Leah Thall who couldn’t put up a fight, then Reisman/Clouther who, after losing the 1st 26-24, couldn’t challenge either. That left Tybie paired with Miles who was bitterly disappointed on losing his quarter’s Singles match against 1938 World Champ Bo Vana after leading him in the 5th (Vana would go on to win here).
Dick reluctantly agreed to play his opening Mixed match with Tybie—but only because Captain Bill Price insisted, under threat of suspension, he do so. The World Singles was what mattered to Dick, and with that gone he’d just as soon head for home. Tybie and Dick hadn’t played together before—Dick wouldn’t even partner her in practice. She said he deliberately came half an hour late for the opening match, was smiling because he thought they’d been defaulted, and was irritated to learn they’d been given a walkover against no-show Belgium. The wooden Wembley playing floor lay over an ice rink, and the venue, though not as cold as the Paris one, was cold enough. “I don’t want to be out here,” Dick, who might have been in overcoat and gloves, told Tybie, his breath as frosty as his demeanor.
They were in the 64th position in the Draw and, after that opening walkover, they proceeded past a French pair who for whatever reason had received a walkover from Price and his arranged English partner, and who, according to Tybie, were upset when (“You make fools with us?”) Miles at the end of the match didn’t bother to shake hands with anybody. Years afterward Dick would say, “Yeah, I acted like a real shit.” The turning point came in the quarter’s against the strong English team of Johnny Leach and Vera Thomas when, behind 2-1, the U.S. pair managed to win the last two games, 24 and 19 (after being down 17-14).
In a 1949 English Open interview with Peggy Allen, Tybie would recall how for years as a young child she was on a Sunday morning radio program, reciting poems she’d learned, and had grown up taking large audiences so much for granted that “nerves” were never a problem for her. To keep focused here in her matches she just kept repeating to herself, mantra-like, “Hit this ball”—as if to say: “It’s the only ball I’m going to hit all day. And I’ve got to hit it better than I ever hit one in before.” This technique—and/or Tybie’s sun-bursting enthusiasm that thawed Dick’s cold pride at even trying in this for him unworthy and meaningless event—produced a gutsy winner. Then their momentum, and Dick’s meticulous footwork—“It was phenomenal,” said Tybie, “especially considering we were strangers to one another’s movements, how he was always in position”—carried them 18, 20, -18, 16 on through the formidable pair of Sido/Rozeanu.
But off to a very bad –13, -14 start in the 11:30 final against Vana and Vlasha Depetrisova Pokorna, a pre-War World Women’s Singles and Doubles Champion, Dick, by now thinking to himself that Tybie was “a crazy hitter,” told her, “Listen, this is embarrassing. Just push the ball back—you don’t hit a ball until I tell you to.” And now—“with Miles driving fiercely” and Tybie taking “Vana’s sneaky service with coolness” (“I tried to return the balls deep,” she said)—they weathered 18 and 19 games, then, with Tybie in a zone, hitting in forehands, they couldn’t have played a better 5th. English Coach Jack Carrington said in Table Tennis that Tybie “treated us to a display of mixed doubles play which few women could ever equal.” She “inspired her partner to fight back. She chopped Vana’s drives and services safely back [the open-palm serve rule, new to Europeans, helped her to do that?], pushed his difficult chops, and drove with ferocity whenever possible” (February-March, 1948, p. 13).
On winning—as in a fairy tale, the clock had just struck midnight—“Tybie threw her racket in the air and came over for a hug,” Dick said. “But I pushed her away.” Uh, perhaps. But Tybie remembers Miles, later jubilant, pulling her by the hair, then saying later, “I wasn’t excited.” “Afterwards,” said Dick, “good players congratulated me, fussed over me—it was sickening.” The photos don’t lie, though—Dick did allow a smile when he and Tybie were presented with the Heydusek Cup.
After all this excitement the U.S. Team, minus Price and Nash (who’d left for home…or somewhere), went to Ireland to play in the Leinster Open. Men’s winner Miles (he beat Reisman in 5) didn’t play Doubles, and Bergmann, who won the Men’s Doubles with Barna, didn’t play Singles. The Mixed winners were Reisman and Leah over Barna/Clouther. Women’s Doubles (which Tybie sat out) went to Leah and Mae who were much too good for the opposition. Completing the more or less U.S. title sweep, Tybie had an unusual victory in the Women’s Singles—she beat her sister Leah in the final, -15, 16, 18.
Back home, and playing in Detroit’s Central Open, Tybie, up 2-1, almost does in Leah again. In the Mixed, she and Arnold Brown are upset early by Bob Harlow and 1st-round loser, Topics columnist Dana Young.
Time for the Apr. 2-4, 1948 U.S. Open—and Tybie, with a win over Peggy Ichkoff, then fell in the semi’s in 4 to that other Peggy—McLean—who’ll beat Leah in the final. Again, though, Tybie and Leah take the Women’s Doubles.
With the coming of the ’48-49 season, Leah has married Ty Neuberger, and before playing in the CNE the sisters are back in their hometown Columbus for the Sept. 4-5 Ohio Open, in which Leah easily beats Tybie. In Toronto, neither Leah nor Tybie could take the Women’s title; both were beaten in 4 by McLean. However, the sisters did have a no-contest win in the Women’s Doubles over Peggy and the Canadian Association’s Publicity Chair cum Tournament Hostess Marge Walden.
Along with Peggy Ickoff and Betty Jane Schaefer, Tybie qualified for the Women’s East-West Matches in St. Louis that would determine who was going to play on the U.S. Corbillon Cup Team at the ’49 Stockholm World’s. The East qualifiers, as it turned out, were too strong for the West—McLean and Chotras both were undefeated in singles and doubles, and Shahian lost only to Tybie. It seemed then that only these Eastern players would make up the U.S. Team; however, Chotras declined to make the trip because she had a 6-month-old daughter to take care of, and so Tybie, because of her win over Shahian and because she could defend her World’s Mixed Doubles title, was named in Bernice’s place.
Before play actually began in Stockholm, the U.S. Team, once in Sweden, was divided into two exhibition units. Captain Jimmy McClure, Reisman and Tybie played matches in “the little fishing town of Gravarne,” where they were presented with “beautiful leather-fitted cases.”
In Corbillon Cup play, McClure went with McLean and Shahian in the singles, and McLean/Thall in the doubles. In Group A, England reached the final, after Peggy Franks and Pinkie Barnes won crucial 3-2 ties against runner-up France and 3rd place Austria. In Group B, the U.S. won most of their ties easily. We defeated Scotland when Helen Elliot could beat Shahian but not McLean. And downed the Czechs when Peggy took both matches—against Eliska Fuerstova and Kveta Hruskova—and Peggy and Tybie came through with a cramped but all-important deuce-in-the-3rd doubles win. Then against Hungary, when Shahian succumbed as expected to Defending Singles Champion Gizi Farkas, and we dropped the doubles, it seemed we’d lost the lucky dice to our game play. But Chance handed us another pair, and, lo, Peggy rolled, hurled through Farkas to send the tie into the 5th. Which meant Shahian vs. Rose Karpati. “My arm was petrified,” Millie later wrote me. But when she won the first game at deuce, the second, she said, “was easy.”
In the final, against England, after Shahian had lost two close games to Franks, Peggy overpowered Barnes, then with Tybie’s help gave us a tie-turning deuce-in-the 3rd doubles win. After which, up 1-0 on Franks and at deuce in the 2nd, Peggy again held on, as she had against Farkas, to win for the U.S., for the second and last time, the Corbillon Cup.
Though Tybie didn’t play singles in Team play, she sure did individually. With a 5-game win over France’s Jeanne Delay, she got all the way to the semi’s before losing, 18 in the 5th, to Fuerstova who’d right away knocked out McLean. However, in Women’s Doubles, Peggy and Tybie, seeded #2, met disaster in the 1stround—were upset by the Welsh pair of Audrey Bates and Nancy Evans, wife of the future long-term ITTF President Roy Evans. Also, for Tybie, as for Peggy, focus came and went? She and Dick (surely he was trying), the Defending Mixed Champions, lost in the 1st round—to admittedly a strong team (some 1st-round pairing), Johnny Leach and Peggy Franks.
At the English Open that followed, Tybie did very well. She won the Women’s Doubles with McLean over England’s Franks and animated Junior Girls Champ Adele Wood, whom Millie Shahian had found “smashing” as aboard ship coming from the World’s to England she went cavorting about the deck singing and dancing. Tybie also won the Mixed with Miles—via their semi’s over Leach/Franks, who’d beaten them off the bat at the World’s, then in the final over Reisman/McLean, 23-21 in the 5th. In the Singles, Tybie, down 2-1 and at 22-all in the 4th, had a gutsy quarter’s win over Pinkie Barnes, but then with a strained a foot muscle wasn’t at her best in losing to McLean, the eventual winner.
On coming home, Tybie played in the 1949 U.S. Open as the #6 seed and was stopped in the quarter’s by #3 seed Reba Monness. But she and Leah again won the Women’s Doubles. Now, though, like McLean, she would marry (Norman Sommer from Scranton, Pennsylvania) and leave the Sport, perhaps to return, perhaps not.
Did I say “leave the Sport”? I was a bit premature. Tybie qualified for the 1950 East-West Matches, where she lost only to her sister Leah, and made the 1951 U.S. Team, downing Patty McLinn, 24-22 in the 3rd. Lucky for Peggy Ichkoff that Tybie then declined to go to Vienna. Now she would retire?…