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History of U.S. Table Tennis - Volume I: 1928-1939 by Tim Boggan

Chapter XXX. 1938-39: USTTA Officials Playing Musical Chairs: Resignations Abounding. 1938-39: District Associations Forming; USTTA Dues Up, Membership Down. 1938-39: Society in Miniature: John Kauderer’s NYC MTTA’s Problems.

Under the Bassford Administration, a show of thanks was immediately extended to England’s H.N. Smith, the by now not so anonymous benefactor of our 1937 World Team, who in May/June had again visited the U.S. The USTTA made Smith their Honorary President--a title they’d chosen to bestow only once before, during the 1935-36 season, on U.S. Davis Cup Captain Samuel Hardy who never seemed to have any connection with table tennis at all.

In former President Zeisberg’s eyes Bassford had been given, or had himself taken, too much credit for being a peacemaker between the English TTA and the USTTA over the Ruth Aarons brouhaha. But, say whatever Carl would, Bassford, even as President-Elect, was alert to furthering Anglo-American relations. Before taking office he’d written an article for the May Topics in which he’d praised the 1938 London World’s Referee J. Morris Rose and his associates for running "a perfect tournament."

He called his U.S.readers’ attention to the fact that helping the Umpire on court at Wembley was a "Steward" assigned to each particular table whose responsibility it was to measure the net, help the players decide on a ball, time the match, and check the completed game scores. He also liked the fact that the London World’s had avoided the "multi-ring circus appearance" that had wrought confusion for the uninitiate spectators at so many of our U.S. tournaments. There were only four tables in view on the main floor, and these, "well spaced and separated by barricades," were used just for the "outstanding matches." The "less important matches" were played in another section of the Hall "and from these all spectators were barred except those of interested nations" (TTT, May, 1938, 7).

Would that the U.S. implement such features, he said: "we could use them to fine advantage." No doubt. But how did he propose we do that? A few years back Bassford had run that D.C. American Zone tournament. Wasn’t it hard enough to get conscientious volunteer umpires, let alone stewards too? And how many venues did we have large enough to emphasize the play on certain select tables while excluding others from view? Still, from the perspective of the ‘90’s, how uniformly at major tournaments does the USATT try to do what the English did six decades ago at the World’s?

For the 1938-39 season Bassford again successfully pushed for another booklet-enlargement of Topics--an improvement USTTA Gen. Sec. Joe Berna in an Aug. 8, 1938 letter to the Board of Directors and Affiliates said was intended "to make the magazine more suitable for news-stand sale." Perhaps, to begin with, we could start selling the magazine at our own public courts? "Each Place to Play that guarantees the sale of 25 copies of TOPICS will receive a free listing [and $.50 extra] that month." This of course was no more successful than any attempt by History, take all the time it wanted, to sell our very in-group publication.

The initial Oct. issue (with the presumably erroneous sale price of 10 cents on its cover when the season’s issues thereafter were 15 cents) featured an unusual inside cover ad for "Tensocrepe"--a wrist strap manufactured in Great Britain by a T.J. Smith & Nephew. This ad was reduced by half when it appeared on the inside back cover in two later issues, then, on changing into a full size ad for "Tensoplast," a band-aid dressing, it became for the ‘39-40 season the magazine’s back cover. It could have been a freebie given by the USTTA as another little thank you to H.N. Smith who in this small way might have advanced his own pharmaceutical cause. Far more likely, though, the ad was an unexpected "bonus," paid for by Smith and guaranteed to bring so little return to this "Surgical Tycoon" (or a family member) that you might as well say it was given to the USTTA. Either way there were certainly good vibes all around. The Oct. issue also contained an article by the English International Eric Filby, and a paragraph telling readers how they might subscribe to the official English table tennis magazine, a paragraph that later metamorphosed into an ad that continued to run even a month after the magazine’s pre-War issues had been discontinued.*

The new Editor of Topics was Boston-based George B. White, who’d handled the publicity for Ruth Aarons’ very successful "guest" appearance at the Boston Arena back in April. He replaced 20-year-old Joe Berna, who, while continuing on as the Association’s paid Gen. Sec. at its Philadelphia headquarters, would help by editing the "state news pages." However, a few weeks after the ‘38-39 season had ended, this popular young man, coming home at some early morning hour, apparently momentarily fell asleep at the wheel of his car, and, having "crashed into a stone wall and pole," was fatally injured (TTT, June, 1939, 3).

After only two issues, Oct. and Nov., White, who must have been responsible for the very distinctive drawings of Art Editor Jack Donovan, would be history. A "Notice to subscribers" in the Jan. issue said that the Dec., ‘38 issue "was omitted because certain materials could not be obtained during the holiday season from voluntary contributors" (3). Perhaps White was disgusted at not being able to put out a Dec. issue and quit--certainly he wasn’t listed as either Topics Editor or Publication Chair in the Jan., ‘39 issue. Perhaps he’d argued with Zeisberg, who’d been brought in as Associate Editor when White took over the Editorship, and quit--leaving Zeisberg to do most or all of that Jan. issue.

It didn’t appear, though, that Zeisberg wanted to be the Editor of Topics. The new Editor was Victor B. Rupp, of Philadelphia, whom Bassford had enlisted to write the USTTA Manual--"a sort of table tennis officials’ encyclopedia" with continuing loose-leaf supplements. Editor Rupp would last all of two issues (both of them published by an "overworked USTTA headquarters"). Soon after Bassford quit, he did too.

Bassford would resign the Presidency? Yes, and without a word of explanation in Topics. And First Vice-President Trolle, who might have succeeded Bassford? Though nobody twisted his arm, at least not the one he’d soon break trying to crank up a car with, he resigned from the E.C. too, also without any public explanation. So by right of succession Second Vice-President Stanley F. Morest assumed the Presidency. And, with Morest’s blessing, Zeisberg then finished out the season (put together three issues) as Topics Editor.

Neither Morest nor Elmer Cinnater in their letters to each other 40 years later would remember what exactly caused such dissension. Morest wrote simply that Bassford and Zeisberg had "reached a state of policy differences" (TTT, Nov.-Dec., 1972, 21). Policy? What kind of influence did Zeisberg still wield? His only "office," if you could call it that, was "Advisory Editor" of Topics. Perhaps Cinnater was more to the mark when, in his Apr. 3, 1979 letter to Morest, he ventured that Bassford’s resignation was the result of "mostly a clash of personalities." Bassford’s man Rupp and Zeisberg couldn’t get along? And, after all Carl’s service to the Association and the recent encomiums given him, it wouldn’t do for Bassford to try to fire him? So when the inexperienced Rupp couldn’t work with Carl, Bassford, rather than get a new Editor, had had it with Carl too? Perhaps Bassford had only been persuaded to take the Presidency when he thought Carl was ready to give up power? Here’s Morris in his first Aug. 8, 1938 communication to his E.C.:

"We have an organization built on a good solid foundation due to thecourageous and enthusiastic work of my predecessor. Mr. Zeisberg in retiring from the highest office which could be bestowed upon him does so with the admiration and best wishes of his many friends. He pioneered a trail during the early struggles of table tennis which makes it easier for us to follow on to new and greater fields. To whatever line of endeavor he now turns we wish him God-speed."

But Zeisberg, consciously or unconsciously, wasn’t really ready (especially if he’d read this Thank God He’s Gone letter?) to give up much except his local league play? Cinnater in that ‘79 letter to Morest wrote that "Carl was a straight shooter and Morris would bend a little on the rules." But, granted Carl’s aim was true, if he were trigger-happy, he might just be too disturbing to be around.

Zeisberg was surely the most complicated and controversial figure in 1930’s table tennis. In the first of the last three Topics issues he edited, he could be shamelessly fawning--captioning a triptych of Jascha Heifetz playing in a buttoned-up business suit: "JASCHA HEIFETZ, internationally famous violinist and Honorary Vice-President of the USTTA, is almost as adept with the pebbled rubber bat as with the magic bow" (Apr., 1939, 13). And, having a professional way with words, he could dress up a vulgarity, not to say obscenity, with the best of them. In describing a June, ‘39 Topics corner-cover pic of table tennis bad boy V. Lee Webb in action, he scathingly enjoys the prickly line, "His tongue seems expanded by expletives or something" (10).

Though Leagues Chair Dr. Morest had stepped into the breach, he was affiliated with five Kansas City hospitals and belonged to three medical associations (TTT, Mar., 1939, 16), and didn’t really have the time to be, or ("Beware of the wolves, Doc" warned Topics columnist Reba Kirson) really didn’t want to be, the USTTA President. Perhaps that’s why, with Bassford’s resignation, the USTTA suddenly formed a Board of Regents composed of the Publication Chair Zeisberg; his right-hand man, the Nominations Chair Kittermaster; and the Ranking Chair Cinnater (TTT, Apr., 1939, 30). Again, since it seemed to be necessary, they would help hold the Association together.

On May 1, 1939, the USTTA Board of Governors, following Illinois President James J. Leahy’s lead, would unanimously elect Frederick J. "Jim" Clouther of Arlington, Mass. the USTTA’s new President. Morest would revert back to being the first of three V.P.s along with his first-time appointees to the posts, Ed C. Cannon of Toledo and Robert B. Sturtevant of Minneapolis. Urb Lamay, formerly the 3rd V.P., would take Clouther’s place as Treasurer. Portland’s Don Vaughan, though reelected as Recording Secretary, would immediately resign "to devote his entire time to [the] development of the game in the Pacific Northwest" and would be replaced by Omaha’s Jerrold M. "Jerry" Woodruff who himself had earlier replaced Executive Secretary Jack Hartigan when he’d resigned. A replacement for Woodruff would take some months, but then Vic Rupp would be back with the title of Executive Secretary. By late fall of ‘39, V.P. Morest would resign and the E.C., or Board of Directors, call it what you will, would continue to be one member short.

Such an upheaval! And this at a time when Topics was hyping "the great boom in table tennis throughout the country which [had] swamped [USTTA] headquarters with mail" (TTT, Apr., 1939, 28).

As the decade moved shakily to an end, would these radical changes in leadership portend for our USTTA the broken bits and pieces of ITTF table tennis that had chaotically begun to totter and fall with the impending crisis of World War II? Or, in the U.S.’s for how long extended isolation, would our Association be built up, get the local, regional, and national leadership it had to have to make some much needed progress?

District Associations Forming; USTTA Dues Up, Membership Down

Bassford, short though his tenure would be, was on the right track when he undertook a revision of the USTTA Constitution and By-Laws so as "to provide for a change from State Associations to smaller compact District Associations, for those States which want to be split into smaller groups" (Bassford’s Aug. 8, 1939 letter).

As the 1938-39 season was about to begin, there were 16 "organized" states and 22 "unorganized" affiliates. By the end of the season there would be 14 "organized" states and 49 "unorganized" affiliates. Included among the latter were now 16 "group membership" affiliates, a number of whose members needed to be induced into supporting the USTTA--the more so since they were not beginners but, to use Zeisberg’s apt word, were cheapskates and ought not be permitted to pay a mere 10 cents for a membership. Ohio President Larry Minneker’s Constitutional Amendment, enforced as of Sept. 1, 1939, later put a stop to this abuse and forced all those who played in Open tournaments to buy regular memberships (TTT, Dec., 1940, 10).

Clearly many associations/clubs preferred their own local jurisdiction to one state-wide. Understandably, many volunteer workers wanted to team only with those they felt compatible with, and with whom they could have a share of power and the vanity payment they needed to continue the otherwise thankless job of being volunteers. Or, to put it another way, the public posture way, many local association/club leaders really did feel by breaking away from state control they could organize better, and, in gaining the personal satisfaction that went along with such successful organizing, do more for the sport.

Pennsylvania, as of Feb. 1, 1939, the state with by far the largest number of USTTA members (501), flourished as an "organized" state, and perhaps one reason for this was that its President, Robert G. Metcalf, "appointed his vice presidents as district supervisors with power to sanction tournaments, leagues, etc." (TTT, Jan., 1939, 10). There was talk that Massachusetts with its 200 members was going to dissolve into four separate TTA groups (Boston, Cape Cod, Worcester, and Springfield), but though that didn’t happen, temperamental ex New Yorker Johnny Abrahams didn’t want to recognize the authority of the Connecticut TTA and so established his hometown Hartford TTA.

Across the country, even as decade by decade improvements in air, rail and road travel slowly allowed California to feel more a part of the USTTA, the North, represented in the 1938-39 season by the Sacramento TTA, and the South, represented that season by the Southern California TTA,** would long remain isolated from one another. Idaho and Iowa, both with only 32 USTTA members as of Feb. 1, nevertheless had between them five separate TTAs. St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri were used to, and, as Elmer Cinnater would confirm in a Nov. 14, 1960 letter to California TTA President Ben Wollman many years later, quite content with, their separate Associations. ‘Unorganized" New Jersey alone had five TTAs, and the always independent New York even more--seven TTAs.

Society in Miniature: John Kauderer’s NYC MTTA’s Problems

One of the separate New York associations was the historic Metropolitan TTA. At the beginning of the 1938-39 season, when John G. Kauderer succeeded John Morgan as President, it was in bad shape. Its Executive Secretary had been Bernard Joel, whose "business practices," Kauderer wrote in an Aug. 25, 1939 letter to Jim Clouther, "were somewhat loose" so that he had gotten "into trouble financially." The Broadway Courts (1721 Broadway) that Joel managed used to be the Headquarters for the MTTA, but Kauderer moved the Association to 81 Claremont Ave. and had as his trustworthy Treasurer Fred D. Thompson, long the Director of the Uptown YMCA. ***

Kauderer wrote in his letter to Clouther that when he took office on Oct. 23, 1938 almost all MTTA memberships were due to expire a month or so after that date, so that he and his helpers had to work fast. If not, as he says in his official 1938-39 MTTA Report, "if another month had slipped by we would have had less than ten members in the Association." They pushed for renewals, and were in fact helped by the new USTTA directive that as of Dec. 1 the USTTA membership dues would go up from $.50 to $1--which meant that the MTTA, the longtime duly constituted USTTA body in New York City, would then charge its members $1.50--$1 of which would go to the USTTA ($.50 to its General Fund and $.50 to Topics) and $.50 to the MTTA. Players could save $.50 by getting their USTTA/MTTA membership quickly, before the Dec. 1 deadline. Kauderer feels that he and his helpers did well--by Jan. 1 the MTTA had 137 members, by season’s end 176 members.

Of course in that swing month of Nov. when members could save $.50, "the USTTA took in the greatest number of memberships it has ever received in a single month"--more than "the total increase from June 1937 to April 1938" (TTT, Jan., 1940, 8). As of Jan. 1, 1939, N.Y. state had 253 members, the USTTA 3,229--but this total included the beginning to be abused "group memberships" which had swollen last season’s membership to 4,000. New York was never in contention for the Topics Membership Cup which this season (with renewals during Dec. and Jan. counting double) was based "on the ratio of USTTA members to the population" and won by Colorado (8 members in the ‘37-38 season, who knew how many in ‘38-39). For whatever reason, after the Feb. 1, 1939 USTTA Membership total of 3,198 (including both regular and group memberships) was listed in Topics, no further figures were made public for 20 months. Then, as of Oct. 1, 1940 the Membership total was 2710 regular and 1915 group. Obviously the new $1-a-year Sport just wasn’t catching on as for the last seven years it was hoped it would.

When Kauderer took over as President, the MTTA, as John made clear in his 1938-39 Report, had a cash balance of $7.84--nothing to work with. Still, the MTTA officers, in addition to running their traditional Round Robin League from mid-Jan. through mid-Apr., decided they’d plan a few local tournaments and establish City Rankings. Immediately, however, they were faced with a setback. None of the commercial table tennis centers in the City wanted to run these tournaments and risk losing money.

So, what to do? They evolved a Borough Championship Plan where matches could be played at various borough clubs, out of which would come winners and then an overall winner. As it happened, the Plan was sustained only in Manhattan and the Bronx, and getting the matches played, as the Minutes from the Aug. 30, 1939 MTTA Meeting make frustratingly clear, would be a "dragged out affair in which it was hard to maintain a competitive spirit." (In light of which, it was not surprising that the overall winner was Doug Cartland who just beat out the almost equally tenacious Charlie Schmidt.)

This Borough play was supposed to be primarily for members, but Kauderer calculated that nearly 250 non-members also played. Why weren’t these players members? Kauderer also complained about the USTTA’s "group membership" plan applicable not to "organized" states but "unorganized" states like New York. It’s unfair, he said in his MTTA Report, that the MTTA "has no legal right to sell group memberships," and yet the USTTA "can invade our territory and sell group memberships [for a mere 10 cents] and thereby undermine ...[our efforts] to build a strong association in this territory."

As you’ll see, the MTTA had other problems too, but at least "the backbone of this Association," its Round Robin League, was successful. True, its five-team "B" League had to be canceled when two teams dropped out. But seven of its eight scheduled teams in the "A" League competed, and the entry fees, less expenses, were divided 50%, 30%, 20% among the three top finishers. Some of the well-known managers of these teams were: Melvin Rose, whose Brooklyn team was the winner, Irving "Whitey" Sheraga (representing the Bronx Jerome Club), Abe Berenbaum (the Broadway Club), Sam Hoffner (the Educational Alliance Club), and George Schein (the YMHA 92nd St. Club).

As the summer of 1938 is about to begin, before Kauderer takes over as MTTA President in October, a rival New York City Association, the NYTTA, has been formed, headed by Ross Ackerman of NYC’s Midston House (TTT, Oct., 1938, 12). The season-long lack of cooperation between these two local associations can be anticipated by an Aug., ‘39 exchange of letters between newly elected USTTA President Jim Clouther and Kauderer.

Here’s Clouther:

"The Akerman group can do much for the game in New York City and I can see no reason why they cannot maintain their separate organization and from time to time meet with your group to cooperate in the formulation of plans that will be beneficial to all concerned.

You can recognize that the Metropolitan T.T.A. as a group is composed of what may be termed cosmopolitan players representing various degrees of social strata and that in itself presents a problem of association. In plain words, the Ackerman group is composed of some mighty fine people such as Octavus Roy Cohen, R. B. La Rue, Sidney Lenz, Emily Fuller, Arthur Ayres, James O’Connor--to mention a few.

The Metropolitan group likewise has some fine people in its organization and in so far as the Association is concerned has contributed in a tangible way to Association activities. However there is, within your group, a great majority of members with whom the people that I have mentioned will find it increasingly hard to mix. I believe that you can recognize that this condition does exist and it accounts for the reluctance on the part of the Ackerman group to go ahead with their plans.

As individuals the Ackerman group do not hold anything against these fellows. To them it is a matter of association and I think you will agree that they have the right to choose the people with whom they feel that they can work for the best interests of the game. There is a happy medium whereby your group and this one can work harmoniously this coming season and put table tennis on the map in

New York City...."

Kauderer begins his response to Clouther by agreeing that "New York is a cosmopolitan city and [that] it is natural therefore to have cosmopolitan players. It would be ridiculous to expect otherwise." In other words, the MTTA is made up of players of various classes and cultures. Some players may not be so refined as others, some may not be Christian. (Kauderer himself--see TTT, May-June, 1975, 9--was born in China of missionary parents, was carried up a mountain to school in a sedan chair, traveled by houseboat extensively through China before coming to the U.S., went to Colgate where he played football, wrestled, and ran cross-country, and afterwards graduated from the American Institute of Banking).

But (shades of those unsmiling Parker Brothers men faced with their Lower East Side 1930 Champion Marcus Schussheim) so what?--that’s the thrust of Kauderer’s remarks that follow:

When you popularize a sport, you don’t reserve it for a chosen few. Sportsmanship is democratic and if the spirit is not there it is not sportsmanship.

The New York Table Tennis Association of limited membership can have their own private club. I can assure you that we won’t disturb them but I can’t see how a private club is going to bring about an expansion of the game in this section of the country.

As you know, the N.Y. Table Tennis Association was organized in May 1938 and here it is August 1939 and you inform me, in effect, that since a majority of the members within the M.T.T. A. are individuals with whom N.Y.T.T.A. members will find it increasingly hard to mix, the N.Y.T.T.A. is reluctant to go ahead with its plans. [Kauderer will later ask, What plans?] I can’t understand what this is all about. Is it because we have a large Semitic membership? or could it be some other reason. I would say close to 90% of our membership reside in unusually desirable residential sections in New York City....We have bank clerks, bank examiners, auditors, insurance clerks, lawyers, doctors, and professional men, a concert pianist, clerks, plain business men from all lines of business."

Kauderer now lists, off the top of his head, 47 MTTA members, and says he’s "purposely omitted any Jewish names." His policy, he says, "has been to get more Gentiles into our membership so as to bring about an equitable balance between Jewish and non-Jewish groups." He tells Clouther he "invited Mr. Ackerman to our annual meeting last June but he declined saying it was ‘impossible to accept.’ He meant it the right way, I believe, although it struck me like a ton of bricks."

Are we supposed to fold up our MTTA for the 20 or so NYTTA members? Kauderer asks rhetorically. "For the most part they seem to be a fine group of people," he says, and wishes these "respected individuals" well if they want to open their own private club.

But he does not like Sandor Glancz: he "dominates unduly--[is] self serving. His influence is, in my honest opinion, detrimental to the best interests of the game." Naturally many players would differ with Kauderer’s view of Glancz. Considering that Sandor for almost three years now has been the Advisory Chair for the USTTA and that he’s clearly been a ubiquitous presence from Times Square to Topeka in popularizing the sport, he’s scarcely been doing harm, has he? Except of course, from Kauderer’s specific MTTA viewpoint, Sandor sure isn’t helping that Association flourish. Nor does Kauderer think highly of Herbert W. Allen, the NYTTA Secretary, who’s been an MC for Glancz/Bellak--he wouldn’t be a good USTTA E.C. member, for he’s self-serving too. As for Octavus Roy Cohen and Sidney Lenz ("a delightful man" George Hendry called him), they’ve been "ineffectual in New York Table Tennis." They’re "a front--friendly to the game."

Kauderer takes offense at the notion that the MTTA "is a source of embarrassment to the NYTTA." From his point of view the Glancz-guided NYTTA is a source of embarrassment to the MTTA and to the USTTA too. Refugees who’ve fled the turmoil in Europe have told Kauderer that they’d heard that "there is no USTTA; everything is Mr. Glancz; he is the USTTA. Nothing burns me up more than to hear something like that. Do you really think," he asks Clouther, "that the NYTTA group dominated by Glancz will build up a strong organization here in New York? They have done nothing in 1 [and] 1/2 years."

What contributions leaders like Kauderer and Glancz will continue to make, and whether New York table tennis in particular will continue to benefit from their efforts, only time will tell. Writing to Manny Moskowitz more than four decades later, Kauderer says that President Morris Bassford did not hold N.Y. table tennis in high esteem "because no one answered letters." He then adds, "I changed that image in a hurry," and under President Clouther "relations improved remarkably." Good. But these perhaps resolvable New York class and ethnic differences mirror the hugely diversified USTTA’s perennial problem: How get all the table tennis factions, so geographically and culturally separate, to work together for the good of the game?

As the 1938-39 season opens, Glancz has begun the first of a series of articles--lessons on technique--for Topics readers who, to judge by the initial Oct. article (7), have to be absolute beginners. A far broader audience will then puzzle over the pic of Sandor in the Nov. issue supposedly illustrating the "correct" bat position for a forehand drive (9). But let’s not be picky. Talk about technique, talk about forehands! By Nov. Glancz has brought over the Czech World Champion Bohumil ("Bo")Vana, and is ready to start on another whirlwind Circus Tour of U.S. cities.

SELECTED NOTES.

*The ad was placed from Feb., 1939 (15) through June, 1939 (12). See also TTT, Mar., 1949, 4, where Historians Laflin and Roberts say this English magazine Table Tennis "ran from November, 1935 through May, 1939, and did not resume publication until...October, 1946."

**TTT, Apr., 1939, 30. See also Mar., 1939, 17 for a Northern California TTA, with Ray Phelps as President. They held their first (and non-USTTA-affiliated) tournament on Feb. 24-26, 1939 at "Lobell’s Recreation of San Francisco."

***In his Aug. 25, 1939 letter to Clouther, Kauderer says that the MTTA Headquarters was at the Broadway TT Courts until Oct. 30, 1938, and that he took over as President Oct. 23, 1938. See also TTT, Jan., 1939, 18 for last listing of Joel as Instructor at the Broadway Courts, and Feb., 1939, 21 where the MTTA is still listed (though without mention of Joel as Instructor), and will continue to be listed through June (a "carry over" listing?), as having its Headquarters at 1721 Broadway. However, on his official 1938-39 MTTA Report, Kauderer shows an 81 Claremont address, and in a May 7, 1980 letter to Manny Moskowitz he states he established the MTTA Headquarters at "81 Claremont Avenue which was the home of the Uptown YMCA, with Big Chief, Fred Thompson, as Secretary of the Association."