Wendell Dillon, as he tells us in a brief biography, played in his first sanctioned USTTA tournament—the National Intercollegiate’s—when he was a second-semester freshman at Ohio University in 1954. But you wouldn’t say he’d begun to make his mark in the Sport, not yet, not for a while—in part because he served in the U.S. Army from 1957 until he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1980. Although he reentered the tournament scene in the late ‘60’s, played some in Orlando, FL while stationed at Fort Benning, GA, it wasn’t until he’d returned from his third tour of duty in Vietnam in 1973 and settled in Atlanta that he really got involved in the Game. While stationed at Fort McPherson he began playing tournament table tennis—paired with Cyril Lederman in an Atlanta two-man team tournament. Lederman had started the U.S. Umpire Certification Program, and had early on certified Dillon. Soon, Wendell was not only interested in umpiring, but with his desire for order and clarity found that he enjoyed running tournaments more than he did playing in them
Of course trying to set things right in an Atlanta tournament sometimes presented problems. Who could forget the debacle of the 1971 U.S. Open? Wendell wasn’t responsible for that, nor could he help what sometimes befell him as he tried on tournament weekends to do his best. Here, for instance, in just a little pocket of the mid-‘70’s, about the time he’s writing his Atlanta Tournament Guide, are…diversions he has to put up with.
At his Oct. 25-26, 1975 $1,400 Atlanta Fall Open:
“…My apologies to those players who followed directions and parked next to the tournament hall. Saturday morning as we were about to call the first matches, the fairgrounds police chief came in and informed us that we would have to move all cars outside the fence because he had to lock our gate. His tact on passing on this pleasant information was about as delicate as tournament director’s. He simply announced that any car not moved immediately would be towed away. This wouldn’t have been too hard to accept but for the fact that specific arrangements had been made to use that gate and to park inside. When confronted with the problem, the fairgrounds contractor replied casually, ‘Oh, yes, we had a function in another building and decided to lock that gate; sorry ‘bout that’—or words to that effect.”
At his Jan. 24, 1976 Atlanta Winter Open:
“I want to thank all the players for their outstanding cooperation in enduring the winter-like playing conditions. The heat in the building didn’t work most of the time and the floor at times was as slippery as ice….The slippery floor was caused by improper cleaning and has been corrected. The air-conditioning works and maybe by next winter we’ll have heat.”
At his May 8-9, 1976 Atlanta Team Tournament:
“Vandalism struck the tournament before we got started. After we had set up on Friday night, vandals broke in and tore the place apart. They knocked down the barriers, knocked the nets off the tables, sliced up one of our Hanno nets, and broke a table. Fortunately by the time the players arrived Saturday morning, we were able to get it all set up again except for putting a few nets back on the tables….”
Despite such disturbances, Wendell has continued to run tournaments in Atlanta for 30 years, and shows no signs of quitting. A controlling figure he is, but as I said in my write-up of his $4,000 Nittaku Southern Open (where he was assisted by his wife Mikkie), “Best of all though was the promise this tournament held for the future Why? Because the mind behind it, Wendell’s mind, wants to take command with the best of motives—which means, most importantly, that player after player can expect to be given responsible and considerate treatment.”
In 1979, at the Benihana U.S. Open in New York, Wendell began a three-year stint as the USTTA National Tournament Chairman, and his Atlanta manual ($1 a copy) was adopted as the Association’s Tournament Guide ($2.50 a copy). Here are some sensible lines from the Forward by someone who’s “been there”: “The best tournaments are almost always those where it looks like the tournament director doesn’t have much to do. That isn’t accidental; it’s an indication that he’s worked hard before the tournament and that he has a good committee to help. Anything that can be done before the tournament starts should be.” Buy this Guide or not, you could be sure to be apprised of the USTTA’s latest tournament policies and operations by reading Wendell’s end-of-the-‘70’s/beginning-of-the-‘80’s “Tournament Tips” inTopics. The latest edition of the Guide, Wendell would say later, “includes a disk with all formats needed to run a tournament.” The Guide is also available now on the USATT web site.
In addition to serving as Disciplinary Chair and Nominating Chair, Wendell in the last 20 years has continued to show a primary interest in umpiring and referring. Experience gained not only at countless major U.S. tournaments but as an International umpire at the ’85, ’91, ’04, and ’05 World Championships has allowed him to participate “in developing the advanced umpire program and to write the exams for the advanced training (AUT) program as well as the IU exams.”
After qualifying as “one of the first U.S. International Referees,” Wendell became Deputy Referee at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, then Referee at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.” During the ten-year period preceding his service as Deputy Referee at the 2007 German Open, he served as Referee or Tournament Director at a number of ACUI finals, and as Referee at both the U.S. National Team Trials and North American Olympic Trials.
In 1993 Wendell started the U.S. National Referee Program and began conducting seminars to improve the quality of both umpires and referees; he’d also take on the role of Evaluator of officials and would urge enforcement of umpire recertification (every three years). Understandably he’d become (who better) Chair of the USATT Officials Committee.
By way of summing up Dillon’s long career, let me close this Profile with comments by Dick Evans who gave the Hall of Fame introductory speech for Wendell at his induction. Though Dick knows of Wendell’s Georgia background beginning in the 1970’s as President of the Chastain Park TTC, he focuses in this excerpt on what he’s seen of Wendell both personally and professionally in the last ten years:
“Wendell Dillon regularly contributes 20+ hours per week for U.S. table tennis in his role as Chair of the USATT Officials’ Committee; a job which involves coordinating the training, testing and certification of U.S. umpires, and receiving and processing invitations from ITTF member associations for U.S. officials to participate in international events. Wendell also writes and updates extensive USATT tournament manuals, DVDs, seminar materials and tests for the training and certification of umpires. He has been a high-ranking official (referee) of countless national and international tournaments, making the draws, ruling on questions of law, and selecting and assigning match officials.
Wendell is dedicated to improving the quality of officiating and tournament management at all levels, and expects commitment from all officials working with, and for, him. He is a credit to our Association and to the Sport of Table Tennis.”