Chapter XXVI. 1938: New York Men Again Win U.S. Team Championship--U.S. Men’s Team Selected for London (Wembley) World’s. 1938: Mildred Wilkinson, U.S. #3, Clara Harrison, U.S. #13, and Betty Henry, U.S. #16 to Represent U.S. in Corbillon Cup Play. 1937-38: South Bend’s Beginnings as a Midwest Table Tennis Power: W. B. Hester, Betty Henry, John Varga.
The most important tournament following these Intercollegiate’s was the 1938 Men’s National Team Championship held in St. Louis, in the Grand Ball Room of the DeSoto Hotel, January 8-9. Since there would again be just four 4-table playing sessions, two on Saturday and two on Sunday, only seven teams could participate. Of course a number of cities wanted to field teams even though they knew they had no chance of winning, for it would be exciting to be part of these exclusive Championships. What fun--to be able to try your best against, or even just watch, the prestigious players whose performance here counted so much toward making the U.S. World Team. But as even the addition of one more team to the round robin format would require 1/3 more playing time, sectional play-offs were again necessary.
It was hoped that a team from the Northwest could enter, including Seattle’s 16-year-old Pacific Northwest and Pacific Coast Champion Ray Pearson. But, as Ray had several years on the road yet before the skies opened to give windy welcome to the airline pilot he’d become, "icy mountain passes" made the journey for him and other Seattle/Portland players impossible.
So, joining the perennial New York, St. Louis, Chicago, and Indianapolis teams, would be winners of the Eastern Zone, the Central Zone, and the Western Zone.
The Philadelphia players, Bellis, Smolens, and LeBow, "drove all night through a nor’wester" to Boston for the Eastern Play-off (TTT, Dec., 1937, 20)--which no doubt played some part in their 5-4 defeat to Jacobson (3-0), Lowry (2-1), and the resurfacing Alan Lobel, 1934 National APPA Doubles Champ with Sam Silberman (0-3).
Out in Ohio, Hamilton, led by Cal Fuhrman (8-0) and Herman Lykins (8-1), won over Cincinnati, Dayton, Cleveland, and Detroit. Apparently weak West Virginia didn’t ask to be part of these Central Zone Play-offs--though Jimmy Pierson had just beaten Bill Warner in a tournament there as USTTA members were struggling to get their state "organized." These West Virginians had no thoughts of a trip from Charleston to St. Louis, for such a goal was unreachable; just the weekend time and money they’d need to get to Hamilton and back would prove deterrent enough.
In the Western Zone, given a default over no-show Milwaukee and uncontested ties against Lincoln and host city Omaha, Kansas City qualified easily.
Chairing this 7th annual Intercity event for the William S. Stewart Trophy, first offered in 1935, was ‘37 U. S. Team Captain Elmer Cinnater who, before remarrying in October, had already decided that three years as USTTA Treasurer was enough, he’d help the Association in other ways. Among those on his Tournament Committee were Lee Schlude, who’d encouraged his son Mark, had taken him to many tournaments, and young George Hendry’s father, John, who’d soon have reason to be even more proud of his already very accomplished son. In addition to being a good table tennis, basketball, and soccer player, George, born Sept. 2, 1920, and now a Beaumont High boy, was also the St. Louis Municipal Junior Tennis Champion (TTT, Mar., 1938, 12). He’d come to tennis after he was already very good at table tennis and felt that the spin in tennis was nothing compared to what he’d seen over the table with the smaller ball.
St. Louis, with Hendry, Nash, Woody, John McCloskey, and George’s brother Don (cheered on no doubt by the Hendry twin sisters Margaret and Melba), had to be psyched by their home-town, climactic positioning in the draw. They played the last of their ties against Defending Champion and heavy favorite New York. "Tie," by the way, is a somewhat strange name--not defined in, say, a 1990’s Random House Webster’s College Dictionary. It means of course a team match and reportedly came to us via Swaythling Cup play after officials had picked it up from lawn tennis (see Neuberger’s Intercity Binder, 5).
Despite the absence of both Bud Blattner, who’d retired, at least temporarily, supposedly to concentrate on his "schoolwork" but really because, as Hendry told me, Bud was very disappointed he didn’t win the Newark National’s, and Bill Price, who was out on Tour with Coleman Clark,* St. Louis, true to form, advanced to the final by beating the weaker teams 5-1, Chicago 5-2, and Indianapolis, 5-3.
One of these weaker teams was Detroit. They’d backed into the tournament literally overnight when the Boston team couldn’t raise the money to come or, because of the long trip, just didn’t want to come. Lowry, particularly, should have been ready to play. He was about to win two upcoming tournaments--the Jan. 21-22 New England Closed over Jacobson and the Feb. 4-5 Massachusetts Closed over Frank Filipek. Moreover, all the Boston players, like those on the other teams entered, on arriving in St. Louis would have been assured of hospitality. Unfortunately, Boston, waiting until almost zero hour, didn’t give those Philly players who’d earlier persevered for hours through that winter storm, time enough to take its place.
Hendry came into the final St. Louis vs. New York tie with a perfect 11-0 record, scoring 3-game wins over Chicago’s Al Nordhem and Herb Aronson (AIR-on-son), each of whom had been playing well.
Nordhem had won both the Oct. Illinois Membership Open (over recent Chicago District Champion Jerry Lavan) and the Nov. Northern Indiana Open (over U.S. #16 Cal Fuhrman who though not making the World Team here would nevertheless go to London to play in the Championships).
Aronson had just the week before beaten Nordhem in the Chicago North Shore tourney. Since last season he was ranked U.S. #29, his 6-5 record here should not have been disappointing to him, for though he lost to U.S. #2 McClure, U.S. #6 Pagliaro, U.S. #7 Coulson, U.S. #8 Hendry, and U.S. #12 Nash, he certainly had to be thrilled with his straight game win over U.S. #1 Schiff. By neutralizing Sol’s serve and follow play, Herb was able to take over the attack--thus prompting how many, young and old, watching him to try some of his two-handed shots themselves back home.
Nash, like Hendry, came into the final St. Louis vs. New York tie with a perfect 11-0 record. He beat Aronson 19 in the 3rd, but, even better, he gave McClure the back of his hand--one of Jimmy’s two losses. When the USTTA lowered the net to 6 inches, Nash was to say later, "it was like there was only a line painted on the table" (TTT, Mar.-Apr., 1991, 18).
Clearly, both Hendry and Nash, who’d earlier taken turns beating one another in St. Louis tournaments, were in contention for the Outstanding Player Award.
New York, meanwhile, had begun by causing consternation among Ranking Chair Hammond and the USTTA E.C. Committeemen present who, because of incredibly little time, had to name the World Team immediately after the tournament. Last summer, the E.C., angry at the ITTF, had decided not to send U.S. Teams to defend at the ‘38 London World’s and so had no objection to a Jan. 8-9 date for the Intercities. Now of course this was much too close to the Jan. 12 sailing date for the Jan. 24-29 World’s. To further complicate matters--because of what Hammond, in a Feb. 14, 1938 letter to Zeisberg’s E.C. and his own ranking Committee, called a "ridiculous" N.Y. Tryout (from a consistently uncooperative N.Y. affiliate?)--both Berenbaum and Grimes, strong contenders to represent us at the World’s, were very conspicuous by their absence. Were they both, without playing here, and without regard to anyone else’s record here, simply to be given carte blanche to go to London? And where the hell was the Stewart Trophy? New York had misplaced it.
Joining Schiff and Pagliaro on a 3-man team was Johnny Abrahams who back in May had been suspended by the N.Y. Metro TTA, supposedly for a year--after which, denied a ranking (he might well have been in the top 12), he reportedly began taking boxing lessons (TTT, May-June, 1937, 21). This was definitely a young man who before the season was over people were betting on--betting he wouldn’t behave.
Abrahams, though he’d lost to Fuhrman and Kansas City’s Dr. Herman Mercer, had upset McClure, and so came into the tie against St. Louis with a 9-2 record, good enough to hold his own with Pagliaro’s 9-1 and Schiff’s 7-2 (both Lou and Sol had lost to Jimmy).
Schiff, who’d won the Southern New England Open over $18,000 N.Y. Post puzzle-contest winner Cartland** in the semi’s and Jacobson in the final, by mid-Dec. was out as far as Nebraska, apparently on Tour with Harry Cook whom he beat in the Omaha Open. But he then returned to New York and later, presumably with his teammates, took "a two-day sleepless bus ride" back out to St. Louis (Vernon Tietjin in the Jan. 10, 1938 St. Louis Star-Times). Though 5-man teams were allowed, Grimes, who’d been upset by Charlie Schmidt in that Southern New England tournament, and Berenbaum, who didn’t seem to be playing even in the few tournaments in the area, probably by all around mutual agreement accepted the fact that, while the others played in St. Louis, they’d stay home.
In the first match of the St. Louis-N.Y. final, Hendry and, as one fellow put it, his "curiously surviving push game in this age of hitters" (TTT, Feb., 1938, 3) produced more heroics, more hometown cheers, by beating Pagliaro 15 and 14. "Paggy tried to get through, but couldn’t," George said later. However, as it turned out, that was the only win for St. Louis, for Abrahams downed both Nash and Woody in straight games, Paggy took out Nash in 3, and Schiff, though having no trouble with Woody, reflected that young Hendry "in appearance and style of play" was so much like World Champion Bergmann (TTT, Feb., 1938, 15) that Sol just did beat George, 19-in-the-3rd.
Never mind, 13-0 or 12-1, 17-year-old Hendry’s record was tops and deservedly earned him the Outstanding Player Medal and a place on the World Team. Hammond, in a Jan., 1938 pre-World’s summary report to U.S. officials and others, notes Hendry’s poise and speaks highly of his game: "George, while still not as aggressive as some of the others, showed that he can and does put the ball away for sure winners when the chance comes and that in the process of building up for that last blast, he does not waste points in errors or in ill advised kills."
Hammond says that both Hendry and Pagliaro have the "sound game and absolute courage required for international play." He emphasizes that 18-year-old Pagliaro "now has an all around game. No longer is he the terrific hitter that could be made helpless with a heavy chop or blasted from the table if his opponent beat him to the hitting."
So, after last-minute hours of deliberation, our World Men’s Team is McClure, Schiff, Hendry, Pagliaro, and...
Last season, Berenbaum, #1 in ‘35, #2 in ‘36, was U.S. #5. But Ranking Chair Hammond had admitted that his Committee "could not possibly consider Berenbaum for as high a place as #5 if we considered only his 1937 record." And Hammond’s Committeeman Cinnater in trying to decide about the ‘36-37 Rankings said that, though Grimes and Berenbaum "are very even," he personally favored Berenbaum, for Abe was a great teammate in Baden and a "good man to have on any team." So, though Abe didn’t seem to have any current record, he still had a good chance to be selected for the ‘38 World Team.
However, just as Grimes eventually got last year’s ranking nod over Berenbaum, so it was Grimes (recall that his perfect 12-0 record at last year’s Intercities did not allow him to make the ‘37 World team) who hurriedly sailed Jan. 12 on the Acquitania with the rest of the team--Abe having made the sporting gesture of turning over the $47 he’d raised for his own fare to Bernie (TTT, Feb., 1938, 17 and Mar., 1938, 10).
St. Louis proved to be a young man’s Intercities--the youngest player, Frank "Bud" Miller, soon to be the Kansas City Metro Champion, was 14, the oldest player only 29, the average age "slightly under 20" (RHS, 89). Maybe it was this, combined with his friend Kittermaster’s hospital stay, that consciously or unconsciously prompted Hammond, after five years as Ranking Chair, to say that he "can no longer...spend an unlimited time on a hobby," for he’s now "the Production Manager of the Oldest Insurance Brokerage firm in Chicago."***
Perhaps Hammond had been too much a part of the Zeisberg-centered USTTA and was starting to suffer burnout. He seemed, in that Feb. 14, 1938 letter, more than a little singed by criticism from Zeisberg and by "all this griping about team selection." Who was griping? About what? (The selection of Grimes over Berenbaum, Abrahams, Nash for the Men’s Team? The exclusion--was it?--of Mae Clouther from the Women’s Team?) Hammond reminds everyone that it’s the Ranking Committee who selects the players for the U.S. Teams and that then the E.C. approves or disapproves their choices. This year, he points out, this method, which had worked well in the past, "was upset by Carl, who, probably correctly, decided to forget the established procedure and do his own personal choosing due to the haste with which team and money had to be gathered together."
1938 Women’s Team to the Wembley World’s
This year there wasn’t any Tryout for the London-bound Women’s Team--and, since three of the four members of last year’s winning Corbillon Cup Team--Aarons, Purves, and Kuenz--were no longer interested in playing internationally, the choices were, well, not anybody’s guess.
Hammond, who like Zeisberg, was a fellow who said openly what he felt, wasn’t going to miss the retired Purves. To him her play had become "disgusting." Jay, he’d said in his June 21, 1937 letter to his Ranking Committee, "is a great girl, a fine athlete with a real fighting heart, but she just hasn’t the game to stay up with the leaders....[It] was just her burning desire to get back to Europe...[that allowed her to win a place on the last U.S. Team] and then only by resorting to the worst kind of pooping."
The retired Aarons, however, he was going to miss, and in his Jan., 1938 pre-World’s U.S. Team summary report hinted at what he thought might be some disloyalty on her part:
"In spite of her [ill] treatment in Prague, Baden, and London and her ability to earn more money from her exhibitions than any of the volunteer officials, who have led her on her way for four years, can make at their own businesses, I still thought that she would be eager for the coming opportunity of keeping the United States at the top of the women’s game."
Kuenz, though leaning towards retirement, would attend the March, 1938 National’s in Philadelphia and, as we’ll see, do exceptionally well in doubles. Thereafter, while raising "a family of five," she’d continue to play sporadically--and play well, even managing to win, with Don Lasater, the Mixed Doubles at the 1945 Detroit National’s. Usually, though, she’d compete only in her local St. Louis area, where by 1946 she’d have won eight State Singles titles (TTT, May, 1946, 11).
The fourth member of the U.S. 1937 World team, Fuller, now our best active player, was likewise not interested in going to London. She had come from a well-to-do family (her father was President of Bethlehem Steel?), had been educated "at Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem" and had then gone on "to Briarcliff Manor." As she became more interested in table tennis she took up residence with her mother in New York, in a penthouse on Central Park West. Paul Whiteman, the famous band leader, also lived in this Essex House.**** However, Emily’s primary reason for coming to the Big City was not merely to get better at table tennis but to "study singing." Her ambition, she said, was "to develop a really good voice, whether I ever use it professionally or not" (TTT, Feb., 1939, 6) According to her voice teacher, she was "one of the great potential sopranos in the country" (Reba Kirson column in TTT, Apr., 1938, 9). It thus appeared, for better or worse, that neither her table tennis or her singing would get her undivided attention.
So, with last year’s Corbillon Cup Champions all unavailable, who did that leave?
Wilkinson, last season’s U.S. # 3, certainly. Our "best woman hitter" Hammond had called her--though it wouldn’t be long before young Sally Green would be considered an even better one. Mildred, a widow at a very early age who preferred to be called "Miss" rather than "Mrs." Wilkinson,***** would happily lead this Defending Women’s Team: think of the play, the attention, they’d all get.
But U.S. #6 Mayo Rae Rolph hadn’t the money to go abroad. Besides, after graduating, class of ‘37, from Portland’s Jefferson High, she’d temporarily retired to attend college.****** And the best of the other Northwest players, U.S. #21 Georgiana Fossas of Seattle, couldn’t be considered, for surely no selector would have to go that far down the Ranking List trying to find enough women willing to pay all or at least much of their own way to London.
How about the Easterners--the New Englanders particularly?
U.S. #12 Corinne Migneco who was on the ‘36 Team and whom Hammond himself wanted to rank U.S. #7? Forget her--she didn’t start playing last season until February, and it wasn’t clear whether she intended to play at all this season.
U.S. #7 and Massachusetts #1, Pembroke collegian Jane Stahl, though beaten by U.S. #11 Lucia Farrington at Provincetown to open the season, was a possible candidate? Jane would come back to win the New England Closed over U.S. #8 Barbara Shields after being down 2-0 in the semi’s to Provincetown Bronze Dolphin winner U.S. #9 Mae Clouther. In the earlier Massachusetts Open, Farrington, beaten by Clouther at Provincetown, had escaped Mae deuce in the 5th, then had taken the title in 5 over Shields. That was worth some consideration? While in the Southern New England Open, the only New Yorker other than Aarons in the Top 25, U.S. #10 Mae Spannaus, would also get by Clouther in 5 before losing in the final to Fuller.
Does any of this help a selector? Or the combative Clouther, who, after upsetting Kuenz at the ‘37 National’s, was dissatisfied with her ‘36-37 ranking and whose husband Jim (perhaps at Mae’s suggestion?) had just become a member of the Ranking Committee?******* Are any of these women really interested in financing their way to playing abroad? Clouther at first apparently indicated she’d go, but then she (or possibly Zeisberg?) changed her mind.
Which brings us to U.S. #13 Mrs. Clara Harrison, whose son Brad for a tournament or two looked as if he might want to play competitively. Yes, of course, Clara would be proud to make the trip, play those early matches at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall.
And how about U.S. #14, young teenager Sally Green? Once "frail and ill as a child," this vibrant youngster had already won "more than 30 swimming trophies" and so was poised for the inevitable meeting with ever-flexible Fame.******** Her "springboard": the three table tennis tournaments she’d practiced winnning last season. But, no, "school work"--and piano lessons and "three hours daily" practice too? (so affirmed the Mar. 16, 1938 Toledo News Bee)--prevented her from going to London. Which reminds me: when Bellak, also into swimming and diving and swinging a playful racket, was Sally’s age, his mother wanted him to play the piano too. So he dutifully learned one simple little Bartok piece, and ever after, when he couldn’t resist casually playing it in public, and of course only it, people always thought he was the more educated, the more refined, which naturally pleased him.
Other women in the ‘36-37 Top 20--Mason, Shade, Van Dusen--were married and, if asked, apparently declined.
Understandably, U.S. #20, Ruth Wilson from Swarthmore, PA, could not be taken too seriously, for it was only after the U.S. Team had left for the World’s that this "Kewpie-Doll" Philadelphia City Champion had avenged last year’s loss of her State title to hard-hitting Matilda Rauscher (now Plaskow) to become the Pennsylvania Open Champion. We’re told that Ruth began playing when she was 11, and that it took her about six months to beat her father a game. Violet Smolens wrote that Ruth had an unorthodox grip--"uses only one side of the racket, with the forefinger in the middle"--and that Violet’s husband Gene helped develop Ruth’s driving attack with which she won the Pennsylvania Championship (TTT, Mar., 1938, 17).
Nor could any selector know ahead of time that unranked Dorothy Halliday, the 15-year-old Baltimore Closed Champion, would, in just several months, reach the final of the U.S. National’s.
So the third woman player on our ‘38 World Team was U.S. #16 Betty Henry of South Bend, Indiana. Originally, Hammond hadn’t wanted to rank this 15-year-old in his ‘36-37 Top 25. But two of his Committeemen, Merle Arens of Ohio and Henry K. Spaulding of Indiana, pointed out that Henry’s record was enhanced by wins over U.S. #17 Glee Shade and an unranked Helen Ovenden, whom Hammond in a July 27, 1937 letter to his Ranking Committee had to agree was "plenty good when sober." Despite wins over #3 Wilkinson and # 14 Green, and considering her past performances, Helen wasn’t good enough for a Top 25 ranking? For shame, Reggie.
South Bend Begins to be Noticed
Since Betty Henry was about to startle not only South Bend but other parts of the world far and near, some background as to just what had been and would be going on in the sport in that city will interest us, for, as History would have it, South Bend had already begun to do more than cradle its upcoming National Junior Champions.
Although Indianapolis was the center of table tennis in the state, other Indiana cities, in an all points radius from Indianapolis, had shown interest in serious play too, including the LaPorte/South Bend area. As far back as Nov., 1934, Billy Condy had defeated Carlton Prouty to win the Northern Indiana Open at LaPorte, and in Jan., 1935 Billy Harris had beaten Bob Freshley in what was the first Topics acknowledged South Bend YMCA tournament--the beginning of the famous, now near mythical South Bend Y tournaments, that, particularly under John Varga, would be as talked of as Midwest weathervanes, above and beyond, for decades.
How much of a crowd that Thursday-evening South Bend final between Harris and Freshley drew I don’t know, but the very next day, at that same Y, reportedly 484 spectators came out to watch the Walter J. Buetttner-organized leg of the "Coleman Clark Circus" Tour featuring 4-time (soon to be 5-time) World Men’s Singles Champion Victor Barna; his 1933 World Men’s Co-Champion Doubles partner Sandor Glancz; and the 1932 and 1934 APPA National Champions Coleman Clark and Jimmy McClure.
So interest in table tennis was alive, and stayed very much alive, in South Bend. There was the 1935-36 season’s YMCA Tribune sponsored tournament in which the Men’s Singles was won by Harold Gensichen and the Women’s by...13-year-old Betty Henry. And that April there was another scheduled "Circus" appearance--Barna being accompanied this year by England’s #1, Adrian Haydon.
However, throughout the whole 1936-37 season, neither George H. Cottrell, who’d
been one of the first to publicly advocate the use of the lower 6-inch net, and who’d succeeded Frank B. Nusbaum as President of the Indiana TTA, nor Fred P. Green, Sally’s supportive father who’d briefly succeeded Cottrell, nor anyone else in Indianapolis or Indiana, had the motivation to start a USTTA membership drive. As a result, Indiana was no longer an organized table tennis state, and no longer had any State President on the USTTA’s Board of Directors.
By Nov. of 1936, though, a man by the name of W. B. Hester (the W. stood for Weldon), with several years of experience at the Sioux Falls, SD and Kewanee, IL YMCAs, had come to the South Bend Y to start up Boys’ activities there that for some time had been discontinued. Hester wrote of his Y background 60 years later, after he’d been tracked down by South Bend’s history-minded Brad Balmer. He said he’d known nothing about "ping-pong" other than to bat the ball around a little with his penholder grip, but had decided to turn a "large basement room directly under the sizeable Boy’s lobby...into a Table Tennis Club Room." Before long Hester was also able to organize "a YMCA table tennis league among the churches," and encourage some of his league players to support nearby tournaments--such as the Indiana State at Kokomo, the weekend before Christmas, won by McClure and Sally Green. With Hester at the helm, the Feb. 20-21, 1937 (Hester named) "St. Joe Valley" South Bend YMCA tournament drew 71 entries in the Men’s. Which certainly suggests (as comparably-formed clubs in the country were confirming) the tried and true axiom that "If your guys come to my tournament, my guys will come to yours."
A further boost was given to South Bend table tennis with the Spring arrival of the third performance of the touring "Circus"--this time featuring the 1936 Czech World Champion Standa Kolar and the Hungarian 3-time World runner-up Laszlo Bellak.
Hard on the heels of that world-class exhibition was the four-day Great Lakes Open at the South Bend Studebaker Athletic Club which reportedly drew tens of thousands of spectators. This Open offered numerous Closed events and $235 worth of prizes (TTT, Apr., 1937, 1). Want to have that $235 put into some perspective? In June of ‘37 my father, mother, younger sister and I would begin a cross-country Ohio-to-California-and-back trip by car, and I note from one of my father’s meticulously kept scrapbook entries that on June 18 we drove 529 miles and spent, for gas, food, tips, tourist cabin, and sundries, $12.63.
Hester was so proud of this Studebaker tournament, "one of the greatest ever held in the Midwest," that a few weeks earlier he’d driven up to Chicago (apparently on the very same February weekend the St. Joe Valley tournament he was also Chairing was being run) to show off these much larger than usual trophies. As he wrote to Balmer, he brazenly set them up on a table at the Illinois Open, dwarfing that tournament’s prizes, and urged everyone to please come to his mid-March tournament. Moreover, when Hester found that McClure was interested in playing in this Studebaker tournament, he boldly told him he’d have to pay his entry fee like anyone else. At first Jimmy said, "I won’t come then." But he relented and helped Hester bring in the top Chicago players.
Even with all this tournament and exhibition activity going on (Kolar and Bellak also played Indianapolis and Muncie), at season’s end, Indiana had exactly 35 USTTA dues-paying members (TTT, May-June, 1937, 25). How account for the fact that, say, Massachusetts, eighth among the states in population, compared to Indiana’s twelfth, had almost 10 times as many members? Anybody in Indiana care? Anybody got any ideas?
As it happened, they did. At an historic 1937 meeting in Kokomo, a number of players and officials forever important to Indiana table tennis gathered together to reorganize the State Association and to elect South Bend’s Hester as their President (TTT, Nov., 1937, 9). A selected Who’s Who at this meeting would include, among others (see TTT, Nov.-Dec., 1973, 23), Hester, Bob Green, Bernie Hock, Bill Hornyak, Harry Kitselman, McClure, and newly arrived on the scene...Hungary’s John Varga, destined to become a South Bend legend.
John, born John Varga Brewer in 1912 in Barcs (a town in southern Hungary on the Croatian border, nearer Zagreb than Budapest), was a contemporary of Barna and Bellak, both of whom were born in 1911. We learn from the 1995 South Bend North American Championships Program (Tournament Coordinator Brad Balmer) that in 1922, on his 10th birthday, John, now living in his uncle’s home in Budapest, reportedly received the present of a London-made Slazenger paddle--presumably the same kind (where "the humidity warped the plywood blades" and players needed to add "a varnish coating as a waterproof protection") that Barna and Bellak would own when as 13-year-olds they started playing in Budapest and became obsessed with the game (see Bellak’s article in Table Tennis Illustrated, May-June, 1997, 31).
On interviewing Varga (TTT, Apr., 1947, 4), Dana Young tells us that his mother left Hungary to come to the U.S. to be with her father, who was ill; and that in 1916 his father died fighting the Russians. Perhaps John’s interest in, and yet distance from, children came in part from the fact that he himself was "orphaned" at such an early age? On being raised by relatives, and after attending schools in five different European countries, he "studied Mechanical Engineering in Paris and Switzerland" and got a "Master’s degree in Karlsruhe, Germany." Thus, though he’d been singled out with that special paddle, as if perhaps he were to do great things in the Sport, his life would take a different turn from Barna’s and Bellak’s.
By the time Varga was 25, Young relates, he’d served a year in the Hungarian Army, was a Lieutenant in the Reserve, and finally was able to bribe his way out of Hungary and so could come that summer of ‘37 to the U.S., to South Bend, where his mother, who’d remarried, was living. John immediately began working for the Bendix Aviation Corporation. It was probably only coincidental, however, that Walter J. Buettner was a Vice President at Bendix. That winter of ‘37 Buettner had been elected "Honorary Vice President" of the USTTA, so not only had he had been the local official in charge of the 1935 and ‘36 "Circus" stops at the South Bend Y (TTT, Feb., 1935, 3 and May, 1936, 5), but presumably any thereafter. Likely it was he who’d seen to it that Bendix sent girls in beautiful dresses to act as ushers and that tournament officials were dressed formally. However, since John told Young that shortly after his arrival in South Bend, he didn’t know where to go to play table tennis, likely he’d not had any contact with Buettner who as it happened wasn’t a table tennis but a badminton and lawn tennis player (TTT, May, 1936, 5).
Though I don’t know why, Buettner’s Bendix wasn’t interested in Varga’s plans to organize table tennis there. But, though John couldn’t speak English very well, he and Hester talked the same language. Their working agreement was that Varga would become the coach at the South Bend Y and Hester would be the organizer and promoter. Membership was limited to 16 players--with Betty Henry at first being the only girl in this all-boys Table Tennis Club. "John wanted to teach me to play [too]," Hester wrote to South Bend’s Balmer, "but I said ‘No’--I had too much to do and T.T. was just one phase of my job."
In the very beginning, while John was making a career for himself as an engineer at Bendix, he probably didn’t really have a lot of time for that which a decade later would make him so well known--playing and coaching table tennis. The first nationally-ranked South Bend players that Varga influenced to some extent were Betty Henry--she would partner him in at least two Mixed Doubles finals that fall, one at Muncie, another at Chicago--and, then, Mary Baumbach, the Indiana #3 behind Green and Henry. Both were young, single women, both would leave the sport at the peak of their careers, and both, shortly thereafter, would marry.
Varga himself, who remained single throughout his lifetime, did not accompany either of these young women to many out-of-town tournaments, at least not to the extent that he would the South Bend boys and girls he would later champion. No doubt the foremost reason was because he himself, from mid-1937 till mid-1941, did not compete that much or as well as he did later when he was in his 30’s and 40’s and a surrogate father figure. Playing sparingly in ‘37-38, his first season, he’d be ranked #5 in Indiana.
So neither Betty nor anyone else on our Team to London had, as is de rigueur in the ‘90’s, an official Team Coach. The thought, even more than the expense, was beyond us.
*Price missed the ‘37 Western’s and National’s because of "professional engagements" (I assume with Clark). Cokey, ever the professional (he’d "receive royalties from the Cambridge Rubber Co. for a Coleman Clark shoe") signed a five-year exhibition contract with Music Corporation of America and opened at Detroit’s Ford Theatre with Price--TTT, May-June, 1937, 10 and 24. Clark also gave exhibitions at Dallas’s Baker Hotel--TTT, Feb., 1938, 8--and, with an "exhibition troupe," including the now tournament-retired Mark Schlude, was on a Texas Tour for three months--TTT, Apr., 1938, 15. Reportedly, Clark once gave a performance before only one person--"the manager of a Dallas night club" (TTT, Mar., 1946, 16).
**TTT, Dec., 1937, 18, and Jan., 1938, 7 (Kirson column). Cartland told me that, after he’d won that Post puzzle contest, he won another $10,000 puzzle prize, but under an assumed name.
***Hammond’s Feb. 14, 1938 letter to Zeisberg’s E.C. and his own Ranking Committee. Reg, Cornell class of ‘20, did have at least at one time, another hobby--golf. Though perhaps by now he’d pretty much given up serious play, on Aug. 21, 1931 he shot 38-35 on the par 72, 6439-yard Sunset Valley course to lead qualifiers for 16-man match play (RHS, 92 shows his hole-by-hole scorecard).
****In TTT, Oct., 1937, 6, Ervin Brody speaks of newspapermen in Budapest, on the U.S. Team’s visit there prepatory to the Baden World’s, being very interested in Fuller because of "the many millions which a local daily said Miss Emily Fuller possessed." In the next issue of TTT, Nov., 1937, 10, Fuller denied she was a millionaire. Tibor Hazi was under the impression that Emily’s father was President of Bethlehem Steel, but I’ve not been able to confirm that. Cartland remembers Emily and her mother living at Essex House (which today still prominently maintains its highly desirable location opposite Central Park and features one of the most expensive gourmet restaurants in the world). Elmer Cinnater told me that Paul Whiteman also lived there.
*****See Hammond’s June 21 and July 27, 1937 letters to his Ranking Committee.
******A Feb. 26, 1976 article by Lenna Fitch (I presume in a Clackamas Community College Newsletter) says that Mayo, who was then teaching psychology and philosophy at Clackamas and listed in Who’s Who of World’s Women, attended Linfield College in McMinnville, OR "on a tennis scholarship to coach tennis." Mayo told me that another good Oregon player, Hal Philan, was a student there at Linfield with her.
*******From Hammond’s July 30/31 letter to his Ranking Committee, it’s clear that Ranking Committeeman Jim Clouther had confided to his wife Mae some private Ranking Committee correspondence, including perhaps something that Hammond had said which she didn’t like, but especially Zeisberg’s opinion that her match with Kuenz was a "pooping match." Heatedly taking exception to this, she wrote Carl, with a carbon copy to Hammond.
That Mae’s ranking was very important to the Clouthers (more so than such a show of self-worth would be to many a player?), and that Hammond flip-flopped in appraising her final position can be seen from the following sequence of events:
In a July 2, 1937 letter to his Ranking Committee, Hammond had Migneco #7 and Clouther #8. Clouther is "pretty high," said Reg, expressing some reservation, "but her fine record in the National in beating Kuenz and taking a game from Fuller definitely put her ahead of Stahl, whom she beat anyway; and Shields in spite of the fact that Shields beat her three times. Shields is definitely below Stahl and Clouther is definitely above Stahl--so in these A-B-C triangles [actually, counting Migneco, there are four New Englanders bunched together] someone must suffer and I think it should be Shields, who played in but three tournaments to the others’ five." On July 7, President Zeisberg, an ex-officio member of the 8-man Ranking Committee approved of Hammond’s first eight, including Clouther. And on July 20, Cinnater had no objections--though, since he didn’t have any opinion about the women’s field after the first six ranked players, he gave his proxy to Reg to rank the remainder. By July 30, however, the final rankings were established and there was quite a reshuffling--for Migneco would fall all the way to #12 and Clouther to #9, behind Stahl and Shields. What happened? As with many committees, some members had more influence in rendering a decision than others?
Committeemen Charlie Dahmen and Jim Clouther agree (everyone else on the Committee disagrees? some, whose voices History records as being silent, don’t care?) about "the New England situation"--this after Jim Clouther’s letter of July 19 in which he thinks Stahl should head the New England women in the Rankings and that his wife should be second. He "resents the reference" of Mae’s match with Kuenz "as a ‘pooping match’ when those who witnessed it will testify that it was nothing of the sort." He goes on to say that, against the strong hitter Kuenz, Clouther was the better offensive player in the match. Only in the 5th did Mae get into "a tight defensive game."
By July 27, Hammond is saying to Jim that the "only possible excuse for ranking your wife ahead of Migneco, Stahl and Shields is because of her beating [what now seems very important to Hammond, an off-form] Kuenz in the National’s.
On July 30, Zeisberg is writing to Clouther, "Please tell Mrs. Jim [sic] that my statement that what I saw of the Kuenz-Clouther match [--that] it was a push match [--] was not intended to be derogatory regarding her. I am a pusher myself. If we rigidly enforced our close laws no pusher would win, hence would not get good rankings. As it is the pusher’s wins are counted and they are ranked but other things being equal, the driver should be ranked ahead of the pusher."
Huh? The close laws are not being rigidly enforced? Why not? And when Zeisberg says someone is playing a "push match" that’s not derogatory? Since when? It may be that Carl influenced Hammond to change his mind on the Rankings (perhaps the two of them were affected by Jim’s unexpected and irritating divulgence of their comments to Mae?). Anyway, Zeisberg doesn’t answer this letter of Mae’s, doesn’t want to deal with it, turns it over to Hammond, who, as Carl might know, had already received a carbon.
********See TTT, May, 1940, 29. Note also Hammond’s July 27, 1937 letter to his Ranking Committee in which he replies to his Indiana Committeeman Henry Spaulding, who’s apparently spoken highly of Sally. Hammond says, "COLOR" is what we need at Team Tryouts--"and if Sally Green can give it, she’s as good as selected for a place right now. I was sorry we had to decline her last year." The Ranking Committee is Hammond’s Committee, and, like Zeisberg, he’s ready to push forward his views.