There’s a photo of an obviously serious-minded, not to say worried, four-year-old Ying Chow Lee, sitting in a park in Shanghai as if hoping the outdoor air will clear his head, looking for all the world like, "How am I gonna engineer a city-wide Kindergarten tournament when I’m six tables short?" Seventy years later, as USATT Officials Committee Chair and the man responsible for a smooth-running U.S. Open and Closed, he might again be found deep in thought, though likely now on the run, reminding himself that just as he’s simplified his given name to "Y.C.," so the solution to the problems facing him, very real ones now, is to try to uncomplicate them, one at a time.
Back in the 1940’s, while going to St. John’s University in Shanghai, Y.C. was playing competitive table tennis, and, somewhere amid the shelves of trophies to be found today in the Rec Room of his Los Angeles home, you might still find preserved the shirt he wore when he played for his "Green" Team.
But he would not with his penholder play in China acquire any table tennis distinction, nor attempt to be anything more than a leisure player in the U.S. when from the late ‘40’s into the early ‘60’s he preoccupied himself with acquiring degrees in Business Administration, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical Engineering, first at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, then at the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia. The USTTA was falling on hard times in the ‘50’s, so it’s doubtful that Y.C. was even tempted to be more of a player and less of a student. He was always very focused to become a high achiever, as his wife, Fae, and their daughters, Adrienne and Michele, would be with their advanced degrees. Understandably, then, table tennis could not be a very high priority with Y.C. for some time, and from the mid-’50’s into the mid-’70’s he was bent on acquiring more and more managerial skills--with RCA, General Electric, and Xerox.
In 1975, he became President of the Los Angeles Chinatown Table Tennis Club, and in 1980 a member of both the Advisory Council and Tournament Committee of the Chinese Athletic Service Association of Southern California--positions which he would hold into the next century. In the late ‘90’s, with his by now Realty/Management background, he was honored for his "Outstanding Efforts and Accomplishments in Redevelopment Activities" with the Los Angeles Chinatown Community Advisory Committee.
Since more and more his work was becoming his play, and his play his work, it was only natural that he start to become involved in the USTTA. He began an intensive 10-year, take-charge involvement with the Association. This seemed to be indirectly touched off in part by his play. Although he’d been runner-up to Dr. Michael Scott in the Over 60’s in the ‘85 Closed, his first National Championship was won in ‘88 and his second in ‘90--the Over 60 Doubles with fellow Californian Leon Ruderman. In between, in 1989, he accepted his first USTTA appointment--as a member of the Board of Directors of the USATT Foundation. This "quiet" position--he has been and still is the Treasurer--further established his credibility, his stature, among those officials who’d had contact with him, but he was still very much unknown.
Lee had been running tournaments and trying to encourage juniors at his Palo Verdes Estates Chinatown Club. But there seemed to be little follow-up. Though his Feb., ‘89 tournament, for example, was announced in Topics, the results never appeared. A coach of some kind he had to have been, but he wasn’t on any listing of USTTA Coaches. An Accredited Director, he didn’t go to a ground-breaking Jan., 89 Tournament Directors Meeting in Colorado Springs attended by many well-know Directors of the day. Granted he was a USTTA National Umpire, that could hardly have been significant since there were already 22 USTTA International Umpires. Coming into the 1990’s he was not on the USTTA Executive Committe, not on any Committee at all, and not involved in running the U.S. Open or Closed. In short, nationally, he was pretty much invisible.
Y. C.’s rapid ascendency to positions of great weight in the Association was furthered by fellow Californians, early 1990’s USTTA Vice-Presidents Terry Timmins and Shonie Aki. Timmins had proved himself--for example, by running successful Pacific Coast Opens--and in 1991 became the USTTA Tournament Chair for the U. S. Closed/ Olympic Trials, held at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Along with other Californians--Tournament Director Rich Livingston; Operations Director Peter Antkowiak; Chief Umpire Tom Miller--Y.C. was assigned a key position, that of Tournament Referee. (It was not unusual to have such a close-knit area "team" like this; it had been common practice at the National’s since the beginnings of the USTTA in the 1930’s.)
A Timmins-chaired, Mar., 1992 tournament--the Chinese New Year International, with its sponsor Accurate Tax (a firm Y.C. was Vice President of)--saw the presence of North American world-class players Johnny Huang and Cheng Yinghua; Dr. Jiing Wang, later to be USTTA Executive Vice-President; and Colin Clemett, long-time ITTF Rules Chair. Such a prestigious tournament--at which Y.C., on being observed by Clemett, became an International Referee ("Being an umpire and referee is most challenging and fun, and it makes me very proud and satisfied")--increased bonds among the Californians, and Timmins gave Lee his proxy to attend the Mar. USTTA Executive Committee Meeting at Colorado Springs. Y.C. was then two months shy of his 68th birthday.
At its Sept. 25, ‘92 E.C. Meeting, the USTTA’s new Officials Committee--its purpose: "to recruit, develop, and compensate tournament officials"--came into being, and at the Dec. World Doubles Cup/ U.S. National’s, where he was Tournament Referee, Lee was chosen (for a term ending May 31, 1996) to chair it. The Committee then began to envision, plan, and bring about a series of (what would become yearly) umpire and referee seminars and clinics. Also, an "Officials’ View" column, by Azmy Ibrahim, began appearing in each issue of the now USA Table Tennis (USATT, not USTTA) magazine.
In 1994 and ‘95, in addition to being the Deputy Tournament Chair for the Chinese New Year International, Y.C. also held that position for the U.S. Opens under Tournament Chair Jiing Wang. After the ‘94 Anaheim, CA U.S. Open, Tournament Director Timmins, in a very complete Report made public, acknowledged that the major criticisms were "too many mistakes in the draw, an unrealistic playing schedule and some shortcomings in communication and presentation." In ‘95, at the Anaheim U.S. Open (and later that year at the Las Vegas Closed), Y.C. as Tournament Director, would have to try to address and solve these and no doubt other problems. When you have almost 700 players in 63 events out on the courts, there are bound to be difficulties--and, though this ‘95 Open and others would make money, Y.C. would be as vulnerable to criticism as many another who accepted ultimate responsibility.
Earlier, the USATT, mindful of its officials, had asked Tim Boggan, as ITTF Vice President for North America, if he could plead the cause of Umpires, urge the ITTF to rescind its Directive, strongly favored by ITTF President Ichiro Ogimura, that Match Officials at World Championships and World Title Games be automatically rejected if they were "more than 60 years of age." This rescission, after a presentation before the ITTF Executive Board in Tokyo in Jan., 1994, Boggan was later able to effect, with help from some colleagues, by insisting at the ITTF Council Meeting in Tianjin, China, in June, that the question be called. After all, the USATT Officials Committee now had an evaluation system in place, and so the only discriminating question that ought to be asked is, "Does this umpire do a good job?"
As a result of this rescission, Y.C. was able to umpire at the ‘95 World Championships in Tianjin. Could he see the ball? I should think so. Six months earlier, hadn’t he paired with 1948 World Mixed Doubles Champion Tybie Thall Sommer to win the Over 70 Mixed Doubles (and a Silver in Men’s Doubles with Neil Smyth) at the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah?
This question of just which officials were going to be selected for "plum" officiating assignments at home and especially abroad would continue to be a thorny one, since more and more of them--as typified by the now (Jan. 1, 1995) 47 U.S. International Umpires--would rise up through the ranks to qualify. But at least a mechanism to try to resolve the assignments fairly was set up--an Appointment Subcommittee.
Following Y.C.’s umpiring duties in Tianjin, he was the Referee at the ‘95 Atlanta World Team Cup--where the U.S. Men’s Team, in reaching the semi’s, had its best showing since the late 1940’s.
Also, in ‘94 and ‘95, Lee, as Deputy General Manager to Team Leader and Sponsor Jiing Wang, accompanied U.S. Teams to the King Car International Youth Championships in Taipei, Taiwan. In an article in the USATT magazine, Wang gave great credit to Y.C. for his ‘94 involvement:
"...Y.C. Lee, Deputy General Manager of the Taiwan Trip, was involved in organizing this Taiwan trip from the very beginning, even though he was not planning to go with the team at the beginning due to previous engagements. He graciously agreed to help me when I told him that the team was larger than we originally planned. He quickly changed his plans [in order] to go with us, entirely at his own expense. He was a great help to me before and during the trip. He interfaced well with the Taiwan Tournament Committee, especially when I was tied up with other matters. The Tournament Committee recognized his contribution to the success of this tournament and decided to give him a personal achievement award. This award was not for me or the team, it was especially for Y.C. Lee. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his help and hope he will continue to help in future tournaments. I think the players and parents should also thank him for his help."
In 1995, Y.C. ran for USATT Vice President ("I will run USATT like my own business," was one of his campaign promises)--and, with Terry Timmins as President, was elected to office. On June 30, he made the following proposal to the E.C.:
"... to appoint Y.C. Lee to the position of Tournament Director/Trainer for the 1995 U.S. Nationals and the 1996 U.S. Open with the option to direct the 1996 U.S. Nationals, the 1997 U.S. Open, 1997 U.S. Nationals and 1998 U.S. Open. Estimated savings to USATT budget will be $5600 per tournament with a possible total savings of $33,600 in three years. Six Deputy Tournament Directors will be trained to be Tournament Directors for future major USATT tournaments...."
At the July 9-10 E.C. Meeting in Anaheim, this Proposal--in which Y.C. as Tournament Director would also develop "a computer operation system," and a "Handbook for 5-Star Tournament Directors" was accepted. He would receive no salary, just expenses.
No responsibility seemed too much for Y.C. to handle. Now he was also the Chair of the just formed Organizational Committee--his duties to "Oversee and develop recommendations on nominations, elections, ethics, disciplinary, and legislative matters." Surely he’d become a full-time, unpaid employee of the Association?
As expected, he was the Referee at both the newly established Gilbert Cup International, played at Merv Griffin’s Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, and at the Olympic Trials. He was then invited by the ITTF as a Special Guest to attend the ‘96 Olympic Games themselves.
Since the ‘96 U.S. Open (and hopefully subsequent ones), had become part of the ITTF’s new Pro Tour, the demands on Lee as Tournament Director were greater, the burden heavier--particularly with regard to recognizing, and presenting the matches of, the world’s elite players. Recognition, Y.C. knew, was important, and it was gratifying to him to see presented at this Open the first annual Dr. Michael Scott Award for deserving umpires.
Lee then hurried off from Fort Lauderdale to Curacao for another International event, the South American Championships, where he himself would umpire.
Seeing all these world-class players may, consciously or unconsciously, have helped Y.C.’s own table tennis game, for in ‘96 and ‘97 he won back-to-back U.S. Open Championships--the Over 70 Doubles with, first, Michael Scott, then Szu-Huang Shieh.
After warming up as the Referee for the U.S. National Team Trials at the Oakbrook Training Center in Michigan, Lee followed the Team to the 1997 Manchester, England World Championships where he’d been selected as Deputy Referee. Later, in June of ‘98, he’d also hold that position at the Japan Open.
Back home, Y.C. joined President Timmins and other members of the USATT Board of Directors in voting for some controversial changes in election procedures. No longer would each USATT member vote for Association officers as they had for decades; now their choices were limited, for there would be Regional representation on the Board, and Board members themselves would elect their executive officers.
Since Lee was universally recognized, even by his critics (and those in power always have them) as a dedicated worker, and since Timmins could say that the USATT’s "financial house is in order, our reputation with sponsors is impeccable, and revenues have never been higher," this change in the election procedure, so unpopular with many, probably more than any other factor (though Table Tennis History tells us that voters automatically get tired of incumbents) contributed to Timmins and Lee’s defeat in the 1998 USATT elections.
However, the new administrations, headed by President Jim McQueen and then our first woman President, Sheri Soderberg Pittman, continued to utilize Lee’s talents and his unabating energy. He remained as Officials Committee Chair, and as Tournament Chair for the U.S. Open and Closed.
Since, going into the new millenium, Y.C. not only was inducted into the California Hall of Fame, but the USATT Hall of Fame for his many contributions, you might say that he has undergone, and successfully endured, as former President Timmins once put it, a "trial by fire."