1943-44: USTTA Midwest-Centered E.C. Hasn’t the Savvy to Increase Membership. 1943-44: Servicemen’s Letters Home. 1943-44: Only D.C., N.Y. Hold Eastern Tournaments/Hazi, McLean Win Eastern’s. 1943-44: Cluster of Midwest Tournaments/Mel Nichols, Leah Thall Take Western’s.
Re-elected to the 1943-44 USTTA Executive Committee were President Larry Minneker, Vice Presidents "Ed" Kuhns, Carl Nidy, and Ed Cannon, and Treasurer Morris Bassford. However, Bassford of Silver Springs, Maryland, had to almost immediately resign because he worked for the Travelers Insurance Company, and his new office, entailing new responsibilities for him, was in Newark, N.J. Coming in to take his place as Treasurer was John L. Meininger (the just re-elected President of the District of Columbia TTA, who was succeeded there now by Guy Irving Burch). For the 1943-44 season Kauderer—"the senior bank analyst in the Bank Examinations Department of the New York Federal Reserve Bank"—was re-elected Recording Secretary. And Toledo’s Ralph Berry was appointed by Toledo’s Minneker as Executive Secretary. All these men then finished out their term—with the exception of Meininger who, on being inducted into the Army, was replaced by Bassford, who had a habit of moving in and out of office.
Wes Bishop became the Editor of Topics, while Berne Abelew remained Associate Editor and was responsible for finally, after 15 months, getting cover photos back on Topics (the first—in March, 1944—of Wes Bishop!). Welsh-born Peter W. Roberts, who once worked as a bricklayer on the Westminister Cathedral in London, and who was now a septuagenarian living with his wife Annie in Lake Forest, Illinois, took over as History Chair from Bishop.
Of course as sure as History repeats itself, or at least rimes as Mark Twain reportedly said, the season starts off with Topics trying to talk up the USTTA Membership:
"...Of the several millions of table tennis players in the U.S. it seems like a small task to secure 5000 new members. Some of our affiliates were unfortunate in not being able to secure a place to play last year and the condition may exist again this year. The fee of $1.00 is small but means so much to the Association that we feel it a duty of each member to give as much of his and her time to secure as many new members as possible. Give one week of your time to secure members for your Association and we are sure the satisfaction you will receive in being a part of this great endeavor will be well worth the effort.
We had hopes of reaching our goal [5000 members] by the time this [Oct.] issue went to press; however, we appreciate that a number of the clubs do not open until October 1st. We will be expecting a deluge of memberships during the month...."
I don’t know which is more pathetic—the paragraphs above (Oct., 1943, 7), or the ones below (6) which concern the E.C.’s newly passed "Resolution No. 2" and which Topics says "should be of great interest to all members":
"...Tournament sponsors should read this amendment very carefully. The resolution reads: ‘that paragraph number (4) ‘REQUIREMENTS,’ on page number two (2) of Form ‘S’ Tournament Sanction, line A-3 be amended to read: ‘Remit a One Dollar ($1.00) fine for each non-member permitted to participate either through negligence or other reason. If a membership fee in the sum of One Dollar ($1.00) is received at USTTA National Headquarters within fifteen (15) days from the stated date of the tournament described herein, the One Dollar ($1.00) fine for each membership so received, will be returned to the tournament sponsor. Any player participating in any USTTA sanctioned tournament without the benefit of USTTA membership, shall immediately be barred from participating in future USTTA sanctioned tournaments until a One Dollar ($1.00) membership fee plus a One Dollar ($1.00) fine shall have been received at USTTA National Headquarters; said non-member player shall lose credit toward ranking for his or her participation in such tournament, unless good cause can be shown by player for lack of membership.’"
How is the Sport gonna go anyplace—in the best of times, in the worst of times—with preoccupations like this? At season’s end, the regular membership will be 1167.
But tournaments continue to be held—though, sponsors, again you’d better be careful, or else Judge John J. Winn, another Toledo appointee, the new Disciplinary Chair, will be after you. Remember Resolution No. 1: if there are 8 or more boys who want to enter the Boys’ Under 15, that event must be held and so takes precedence over a Junior Boys’ Under 18 event.
Of course, common sense would tell you that even if you had half a dozen boys for the U-15’s you’d find a way to hold the event; or that even with a few entries an U-18 round robin could be held. And certainly U-15 boys could enter both the 15’s and the 18’s. Better, some would say, that the USTTA E.C. should resolve to resolutely spend their time on weightier matters.
Also, tournament sponsors, please remember that, excluding Mixed Doubles, males are allowed to play in 7 events—Man’s and Men’s Doubles, Men’s Consolation, Veterans’ and Veterans’ Doubles, Junior Boys’ and Boys,’ and females in 2 events—Women’s and Women’s Doubles. Under no circumstances in any of these events can the sexes mix....What’s that? No, there isn’t any USTTA Women’s Chair—not this season nor for almost half the next.
And, sponsors, one other thing. Please don’t accept any Serviceman or woman’s entry without a definite statement that he (she) will play "until fairly and honestly defeated." Too often Servicemen are on "short time passes" and are apt to have to default matches. At the same time, it behooves sponsors to include a "Serviceman’s Event" in their tournament "in which players in uniform are permitted to play without entry charge." Why? Because, since "table tennis balls are no longer available for civilian use," it may be possible to get them for tournaments if such an event is offered.
Servicemen’s Letters Home
While a number of sponsors had prepared for the ball shortage and so were able to hold tournaments on what stubbornly remained of a circuit, those in the Armed Forces often had to take their play where they could find it. Here are some excerpts from this season’s Letters Home:
N. Y.’s Jack Cherry (formerly Jacques Tartakower) writes Kauderer from somewhere in Iran that he’s about to play for an Army team against an Iranian team. He asks Kauderer if John couldn’t please send over a table via the Red Cross.
In another Cherry (V-Mail) letter to Kauderer, a "thoroughly censored" one, John took the liberty of trying to reconstruct "the obliterated words" with what Editor Bishop says "seems to be excellent, logical reasoning." But the first sentence in what follows is clearly whacky:
"...I met the king of Iran [he means Muhammad Reza Shah?] at the table tennis World’s Championships in Cairo in 1939 when I played in the finals. [!] About a month ago I had the luck to be introduced to someone who told me he could get me into the palace since the King already knew me. He told me the King was a great table tennis fan and played the game very well himself. I really got to go to see him and played with him twice so far. This should make a pretty good story for Topics, I think. Also we played, I mean another American and myself, against the Iranians and beat them 3-2. This time in the Palace of the King. We got beautiful presents and a lot of pictures were taken..." (Oct. 1943, 3).
Yes, Jack’s right—that does read like a "good story." And yet there’s confirmation that it’s true. Turns out that other American was Ted Bourne, and that Ted’s good friend, Florida’s Randy Hess, says he’d seen documentation in Ted’s "huge photo album" that he’d played with Cherry before the King and Queen of Iran and received a silver cigarette case, or cigar box, with engravings. Also, the Iranian Champion M. F. Mohtadi in the Feb./Mar., 1947 issue of the English TTA magazine Table Tennis, says, "In 1944, the Middle East Championship was held at Khorramshahr (Southern Iran) and was won by Sergeant Jack Cherry, of U.S.A., who beat me 3-1 in the finals. Cherry ("Yank") and I played many exhibition matches throughout the Persian Gulf Command army camps as well as in the Royal Palace" (2).
And now to continue with another letter home, here’s Huntington, Indiana’s Ned Steele—his letter censored not only by the Army but by the USTTA:
"...It might surprise you to know that I am in India. When we wake up in the mornings, most generally a cow is bawling beside the bed. Can’t blame them as we took their home so they should kick.
...For a while I was working for the Red Cross doing recreation work. Not bad. No action as yet so not much to tell. Words are limited anyway....
Anything to drink besides water costs $15 a quart. It is lousy too. Hope to be getting some American canned beer soon—at least that’s been filtered.
Coming over on the boat, whom did I meet but Dr. [Harry] Sage from Columbus, Ohio! I played table tennis with him every noon for about 45 days. Sure made the trip over interesting for me...
Expect it [action] soon and I can hardly wait to get one of those little_________ _________ and give him an _________ with some gasoline..." (Oct, 1943, 3).
New York’s former Hungarian World Doubles Champion Sandor Glancz writes from somewhere in the South Pacific:
"[Former Hungarian World Singles and Doubles Champion Miklos "Mike"] Szabados is in Australia, is married and has a table tennis club. We tried to get together but I don’t get a chance to see anything but cocanuts and fuzzy wuzzies. As a matter of fact there is much intense T.T. activity in the various parts of Australia among the Americans and Australians. And the irony of it is that I cannot possibly get permission to participate and the same time lots of events are advertised as U.S.A. vs. Australia and the Americans always get beaten disastrously. The American Red Cross and the Australian T.T.A. tried to take advantage of my being here and have me play Szabados but no dice—I can’t get leave when he is free" (Oct., 1943, 3, 6).
Then, Sandor again:
"We have a recreation tent here with two tables in the jungles and have wooden coca cola bats. You can imagine what they are. And the balls are bad too, but this is the Army Mr. Jones. However, the boys play a lot and it is a great source to overcome boredom.
The boys who played the Aussies are unknown to me. The only one I know of who played them was Dan Klepak. I don’t know if he lost too, but I know that is where these matches were held.
Harry J. Dickel, he was Wisconsin Champ, hails from Muskegon, Mich., and played all over the Midwest and is a very good player. He is here and I saw him many times. He is a first lieutenant in the Air Corps and he has one of the most interesting jobs in the Army as he is right in the thick of the events you read about in the papers. He is busy, of course, but when we have a chance we put on an exhibition for the boys. Of course most of it is outdoor stuff. At the last games we had about 1500 boys watching us. It was really a beautiful scene as it was in the middle of an airfield, planes all over and a little green table and the white celluloid ball and a huge crowd all around. The boys do enjoy it a great deal. Of course we have to combat the wind, poor equipment and the dirt that is all the time on the ball....But the most amazing thing I saw was when I played for the officers. In the middle of the jungles neon signs, _________, slot machines, beautiful porch at the winding river, the inevitable poker and dice tables, and a most modern bar with coca cola, ice cream and G-I-N. I had 12 gin and coke. The amazing part is that the enlisted men are getting all the things themselves. And of course they all like the game and many of them saw me and Ruth Aarons at the Rainbow Room and the Palmer House. And it is amazing how many are playing a pretty good game with proper strokes. Only a chop is what hinders them a lot. But all in all Table Tennis is here to stay in the jungles and maybe some day we may have a fuzzy wuzzie as a world champion. In as much as the females here go around half dressed, their participation in tournaments would be quite an added attraction. Am looking forward to get Topics..." (Dec., 1943, 3).
The last of the season’s letters I’ll include here is from Herb "Chubby" Aronson who’s recuperating from a leg injury somewhere in India:
"...Now that I know my leg will get better and soon be 100%—here’s the news.
I have been running a TT tournament for the Red Cross. The patients at the hospital thought it was wonderful. I put on sort of an exhibition on crutches—showing them the different strokes, trick shots and old-fashioned trick serves, finally playing someone with a paddle in my mouth. Today Capt. Melvyn Douglas came to the hospital with a show. I’ve never met a nicer fellow—he looks just like he does in the movies—and wanted to know if I’d be interested in going around playing exhibitions and running tournaments for his show. I hope it works out—it’s tentative yet, but it would mean I’d get to see the whole of China, Burma, and India. I’ll be out of the hospital in a couple of weeks—so, table tennis, I hope we go!" Apr., 1944, 9).
Everyone in the little sphere of our world among worlds hopes table tennis will "go." And that includes nearby Puerto Rico, where, on Dec. 27, 1942 as Topics belatedly reported, Clemente (Kaki) Fernandez of Rio Pedras, after downing former Champion Jose A. Salivia in 4, defeated Luis Rigual of Santurce, -20, 21, 16, 15 for the Island Championship. "Ex-champion Salivia played under protest and registered an appeal before the Commission of Recreation and Sports...[arguing that,] because of his place as champion, he deserved [to be byed] to meet the winner of the final match." But the Commission upheld the official rules of the USTTA obliging the champion to risk being eliminated with the other contestants.
Absence of Eastern Tournaments
This season, as last, however, there’s no "Go," no "Green light" for tournaments in the Eastern part of the U.S. By year’s end, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania—once powerful states with hundreds of USTTA members—now have in toto a mere 30 members; Connecticut and Rhode Island have none. Apparently, the players, the officials, the clubs are gone. (One Pennsylvanian writing to Topics laments how the "once mighty PTTA" has become "non-existent" and says that "the Reading group [they’d run the 1940 Eastern’s] has disposed of all its equipment and deposited the proceeds from its sale in the bank so that activity can get under way when our members come back.")
Lack of plywood rackets and decent balls were taking their toll on the Sport. Jim Williams, a longtime Western Maryland player, was telling me recently that, at the rec room in the Cumberland Y during these War years, there were two makeshift ping-pong (board on billiard-slate) tables, and that players used homemade aluminum rackets. These rackets had riveted handles, were affixed with rubber, and were so floppy-thin that, if you swung really hard, the aluminum would bend and so force you to turn the racket to the other side to smash it up straight again. Jim also said that if you put $.05 into something like a gumball machine, out would come a table tennis ball curled with ridges that, never mind the bounce, was absolutely unbreakable.
During the 1942-43 and 1943-44 seasons Maryland had no more than 10-15 USTTA members, and Williams said he never saw a regular table tennis racket for sale in any local store. In the East, only the District of Columbia and New York (including Long Island)—affiliates that made up 20% of the entire USTTA regular Membership—continued to help the Association survive by running a few tournaments.
Stan Fields won the ’43 Fall D.C. Open—without losing a game to finalist Jimmy Shea or anyone else. And of course in Men’s Doubles, Fields/Shea were peerless. At the Thanksgiving tournament in D.C., Fields won again—over no less an opponent than Tibor Hazi, who’d spent several months after his induction in Finance School, and whose U.S. #2 game was now as much on leave as he was. This would be Fields’s last tournament for a while, since he was entering the Navy.
Perhaps some friends threw a "We’ll Remember You" party for Stan? That’s what New Rochelle’s formally Nationally-ranked Annabelle Slenker and her husband Ralph did for longtime Westchester, N.Y. Player/Official Jack Hartigan and his wife Helen. Guests at the Slenker home to celebrate Jack’s induction into the Army were "George and Peggy Bacon, Bill and Mae Gunn, Charles and May Spannaus, Morris Bassford and Jimmy Jacobson."
At the Nov. 19-20 N.Y. Metro Open, Pagliaro 15, -15, 23, 16 defeated Miles in the final. And Bernice Charney bested Peggy McLean. Though Sol was in the Army he may not have participated in the play-for-free, 24-entry Servicemen’s Singles, won by Pvt. Johnny Somael over Pvt. Gus Rehberger.
Northwest veteran player Earl Adams was telling me 50 years after Pagliaro had won his first National’s how Louie could look at you, talk with you, while bouncing a ball on his racket. It was with such seeming nonchalance that he scored again—at the Jan. 21-22 New York State Open—by downing in the final Somael (who’d knocked out Miles in the quarter’s, Schiff in the semi’s). Bill Gunn won the Veterans’—over Simeon Sabre. Keith Schaber, after 18, 19, 21 getting by George Chotras, took the Junior’s, 18 in the 5th, from Fred Storfer (who’d eliminated Bob Wilkenfeld in the semi’s). Charney again won the Women’s—from down 2-1 in the semi’s to Hawthorn, and from down 2-0 to McLean in the final—her seeming casualness reflected in an on-court mien of expressionless, gum-chewing impassivity. Paggy prevailed in both Doubles—in the Men’s (with Miles over Lt. Dan Kreer/Pvt. Somael) and in the Mixed (with McLean over Somael/Hawthorn). Somael again won the Servicemen’s Singles over Pvt. Sam Babener who’d played for Boston in the ‘41 Intercities.
Hazi/McLean Eastern Winners
With the entry of the East’s top players—many of them furloughed—the Feb. 12-13, ‘44 D.C. TTA/Washington Star-sponsored Eastern Open was sure to be a success. Early-round matches would be held at the Stan Fields-managed Columbia Center, followed by the finals at Heurich’s Gym, later site of the Kennedy Center.
More than a week before the start of the tournament, the Star’s Sports Editor Denman Thompson, though distancing himself a little snidely even while dutifully hyping the Sport, quotes D.C. TTA President Guy Burch quoting Look magazine as saying that "Table tennis affords more exciting fun per square foot than any other game" and asserting that "statistics show that the Government has expended more money on table tennis equipment than upon equipment for any other sport." Included in this Thompson article’s emphasis on the importance of "participation sports" and the "new recreational movement" was a quote from golfer Patty Berg stressing that table tennis "is a fine game for the development of quick reaction. Every muscle in the body is called into play." I don’t know how many fun-conscious spectators this wholesome health-talk would bring to the $.85 General Admission seats, or how many rec enthusiasts would later watch the anticipated newsreel coverage of the tournament, but Marine Lt. Berg herself would be there on Finals night to present the trophy-cups and War Bonds to the winners.
Before the competition started, the Star’s covering reporter, Rod Thomas, focused on the Columbia Courts’ former manager and Defending Men’s Champion, Cpl. Tibor Hazi. "Appearing downright natty in his uniform," Tibor took a few minutes out from practicing with the Honorary Tournament Chairman, Col. George Foster, to talk of how much he preferred being in the U.S. Army as opposed to the Hungarian Army he once served in. Dressing well, making a neat appearance, was always important to Hazi, and well he remembered how in Hungary as an officer student, "not even my shoes fit."
But here at the Eastern’s, everything pretty much fitted him to a T. This was the fifth year in a row that Tibor had been at the forefront of the action—and again he won the Singles, beating Schmidt in the quarter’s (-14, 10, 23, 16), Miles in the semi’s (20, -18, 16, 19), and last year’s runner-up Pagliaro (12, 20, 16) in the final.
Against Schmidt, the third game was key. Here’s the apparently very inexperienced, new-to-the-Sport Thomas reporting: "With Schmidt leading in games 2-1 [sic], and needing a single point to clinch the match [sic], Hazi returned six well-hit shots, gradually approaching the table from a deep defensive position and driving back his opponent. On the seventh return Hazi lightly dropped the pellet [sic] over the net and Schmidt, hot-footing, got there just in time to smack it into the mesh [sic] and lose the game, 23-25.
Earlier, Pagliaro’s toughest match had been with Sgt. Laszlo Bellak. As in their 1940 U.S. Open semi’s, Lou had Laci 2-0, but had to go 5 to beat him. Paggy then teamed with Miles to take the Doubles from Hazi/Bellak.
Defending Women’s Champ Mae Clouther, though now managing the Colonial Club in Somerville, Massachusetts, hadn’t been practicing much. Why? Because—as her recently received citation from the USO for "outstanding service to men and women of the Armed Forces" would attest to—she was "captain of the Junior Hostesses of the Boston Stage Door Canteen" and was assisting "in other war work and relief agencies" (TTT, Apr., 1944, 5). Mae did get to the final, though—after a 22, -16, -13, 18, 18 semi’s struggle with Davida Hawthorn—but then was beaten quite convincingly by Peggy McLean.
Although there was no Veterans’, no Junior’s, no Boys,’ and no Women’s Doubles (why not?), there were some exciting matches in the Mixed. In the one semi’s, Hazi/Clouther defeated Fields/Carolyn Wilson; in the other, Somael/Hawthorn snuck by Pagliaro/McLean, deuce in the 5th. In the final, however, Tibor and Mae rallied to down Johnny and Davida in 5.
At the Jan. 8-9, ‘44 Colorado Closed, Jim Wolfe, a winner in Charlie Cox’s last Denver tournament, almost won again—in the final had a two-game lead over Warrant Officer (jg) Don Hendry, George’s brother, who was stationed at Colorado Springs. However, on losing that, deuce in the 5th, Jim had to be content with taking the Veterans’ from Cox, the Men’s Doubles (with fellow Vet Ray Thomas), and the Mixed with Lois Woodward. In the Women’s, Kerns, down 2-0, rallied to beat 4-time State Champion Leslie Friedman who must have taken last year’s nasty criticism of her playing style to heart, for this time her "game was much changed from former years" and even in defeat she "looked like a champion."
Lots of good vibes at the new Omaha Club, especially if players continued to follow up their league play with some friendly socializing and liquid refreshments. Four marriages among the members in just four years—that, at the moment, was the Club record. At their Feb. 26-27 Missouri Valley Open, Johnny Tatom, Nebraska TTA President and Omaha Club Chair, won the Men’s over Club Treasurer Marvin Travis. Losing semifinalist to Tatom was two-time Colorado Open/three-time Topeka City Champion Cecil Woodworth. In the Women’s it was an all-Des Moines semifinal. Helen Baldwin took the title in 4 from an enlivened Ginger Fidler, after Fidler had won a suddenly spiced-up 15, 17, -22, -20, 20 semi’s from Audrey Richards.
How nice for any player—especially a woman player—to feel wanted. The Des Moines, Iowa TTA wanted to have a Women’s league, and the local WACS had been encouraged to participate. Affiliate President Herb Smith was pleased that although "the girls are transferred every few weeks," Lt. Martin "guaranteed to bring a five-girl team each Monday night." Regardless of whether in the beginning each new group of five can keep a point going, Smith hoped that in this way "table tennis play for the women—so badly needed—will be greatly stimulated." I’m not sure if this Women’s league ever got underway—for, from Jan., 1943 to May, 1944, the Des Moines TTA lost a third of its members—but Smith was willing to give all the WAC participants membership in the USTTA. Later, at the annual New Year’s Day tournament, Wayne Losh, "on a 24 hour pass from Scott Field," won the Singles and (with Ken Klauenburch) the Doubles. (Topics had no women’s results--did they play?)
Minnesota’s former President Helen Grant in hyping the Feb. 4-5 Minneapolis 10,000 Lakes Closed spoke of the "half hundred active, enthusiastic players...hoping for a big tournament." They got it—but by May they had only 13 USTTA members left (out of 73 a year and a half ago). This Lakes Closed had as its highlight a Servicemen’s event. "Dan Kwong, China’s Number 1 player [sic]," stationed at Camp Savage, beat New York City’s Paul Feuerstadt, 17 18, 22. "Dan used the outmoded penholder style, but it was good enough to play one of the best finals and exhibitions of American style table tennis [sic] ever witnessed in Minnesota. Every point had spectators leaving their seats and screaming and often the umpires’ senatorian [sic: for umpire’s stentorian] voice was completely drowned out" (TTT, Dec., 1943, 6).
The Men’s was won very easily by Dick Kelly over Mayo Beske. Virginia "Ginny" Engberg defeated Grace Janowiec in 4 to win the Women’s. Kelly completed the hat trick by taking both Doubles—the Men’s with Beske, the Mixed with Shirley (nee Fridholm) Lund.
Quite a trick, too, for a New Yorker to show up for the St. Louis County Open...until you realize he’s Pvt. Eddie Pinner stationed momentarily at Scott Field. Eddie downed Don Lasater in the Men’s final. Earlier, Lasater had upset "his former teacher and coach," Pvt. Bill Price, who, down 2-0, had stubbornly saved a 27-25 3rd game but couldn’t survive the 25-23 4th. In the Doubles, U.S. #10 Nichols/U.S. #11 Lasater were too strong for Pinner/Jack Kyger. As anticipated, Mrs. Delores Kuenz won the Women’s without difficulty. Shirley Nelson was the surprise finalist.
Where was U.S. #4 Allan Levy? Off with Coleman Clark, who kept picking up different partners whenever he needed them. Last summer the two had made a Columbia Pictures short called "Table Tennis Topnotchers" (as of its release date, May 5, Topics requested readers to ask their theater manager to order Reel 5808). Now they were just finishing up "a tour of the theaters on the Pacific Coast with the Martha Raye shows." Also missing from this St. Louis tournament, and also almost missing in action for the moment, was Claude Camuzzi, Second Lieutenant, Bombadier, who "had to bail out of his plane, My Devotion, somewhere over England." Camuzzi "chose an English cottage upon which to land and did—with a thump. His parachute caught in the roof and Claude was left dangling four feet from the ground. The residents of the cottage, assisted by the village police, released [him]."
At the Illinois Membership Open, held in Chicago, Oct. 16-17, U.S. #18 Berne Abelew beat Dick Suhm in the final of the Men’s after Dick had rallied to defeat Veterans’ winner George Ochs, deuce in the 5th. In the quarter’s Berne lost his only game in the event to 1942 National Veteran’s Champ Marlin Tucker. Marlin had taken over managing Chicago’s only remaining table tennis club, North-Town, from Norm Aronson, whose wife Sylvia was now pregnant (come May Day, little Dennis, thanks to Norm coughing up a dollar, would be the youngest member in the USTTA). Next to Aronson’s playful letter toTopics on the birth of his son ("we’ve made some enlargements and additions to our home—shelves galore—for the trophies. My boy!!!"), there’s one from Herbert Freundlich, another Chicagoan and National Veterans’ Champion (1935), who, as a traveling salesman, recalls playing t.t. "in the homes of mayors, congressmen, bankers, fire chiefs, actors and even in the establishment of an undertaker."
Abelew also took both Doubles—the Men’s with Bill Meszaros, and the Mixed with Women’s winner LaVera Weber over Wes and Women’s runner-up Vee Bishop. In June, former Illinois Women’s star Mildred Wilkinson Shipman gave birth to another daughter, Sara Gay. Later in the new season George Koehnke, who wanted to start his Glen Ellyn Winter League, was urging Mildred and every other past or present player in the Chicago area to help him by quickly buying up the retail limit of two table tennis balls per person at wherever they were still sold.
At the Dec. 12 Chicago District Open, Abelew again took the Men’s when his "cool, heady playing swept through the entire tournament"—or so the Topics write-up said, ignoring his 5-game semi’s struggle with South Bend teenager Bill Early to focus on his uncontested final with John Varga.
At this tournament the Singles was Abelew’s only win. Highland Park’s Schaaf and Milwaukee’s Jack Holton took the Men’s Doubles, and Varga won the Mixed with—surprise—his former pupil, 1938 U.S. World semifinalist Betty Henry Link, who, after marrying Radioman 2/c Edward Link in Sept. of 1943 had again come out of retirement, perhaps again merely to oblige her former Coach, for she would not be playing in next month’s St. Joe Valley Open in her own hometown. In fact, Betty leaves no record of ever playing in a tournament again, for in less than a year, while still in her early 20’s, she died in her aunt’s home in South Bend, "after an illness of several months," of cancer.
Betty and Mary Baumbach’s Varga-coached South Bend successor, Helen Morozo, lost the Women’s in straight games to Milwaukee’s Carrol Blank. In a dynamic Veterans’ final, Hammond, Indiana’s Matt Fairlie finally won out over Chicago’s Joe Marcin, -15, 18, -20, 22, 23. Varga’s Y proteges, recipients of his "patient teaching," fought it out in the Junior’s—with Dale McColley defeating Boys’ winner Les Leviton in 5. Topics praised John for his young players’ "sportsmanship, conduct, and true table tennis ability," and said that "every city, large and small, needs its own ‘John Varga’" (Dec., 1943, 6).
Actually, it seemed Varga was everywhere—including the Feb. 19-20 Illinois Open, which he won by downing Abelew. Leah Thall added another Women’s title to her growing collection—but the win was an unexpectedly precarious one, for she beat LaVera Weber in the final, deuce in the 5th. This tournament marks the appearance of Chicago’s Mary Specht whose play was terminated by Baldwin, 3, 4, 11—a defeat so discouraging it’d be apt to send anyone back home to try another sport. But in just three years, Mary would be U.S. #6.
South Bend’s Jan. 8-9, ‘44 St. Joe Valley Open certainly had Varga—but since he was offering 11 events, his tournament was becoming more and more popular and, as the matches "ran into the early hours of Monday morning," he had more entries than he could reasonably handle. However, his overseeing responsibilities didn’t stop him from winning the Men’s Singles. After rallying from 2-0 down to Junior Stan Webley in the semi’s, he took the title in 4 from Antonowicz. Earlier, Walt would have met Sterling Mitchell, who’d dispatched #3 seed Abelew, if Sterling, on a short time pass, had not had to hurry back to his base. Abelew, playing with Green, also had to default—unfortunately the final of the Men’s Doubles. Like some other players he had to catch the last train out—in his case to Chicago—so the title went to the Indianapolis pair of Webley/Dorsey.
Then—surely this was unprecedented, in South Bend or anywhere else—two more defaults. National Champion Sally Green, who, Topics said, "carries a very heavy teaching, selling and school schedule with very little time for table tennis, developed a sore arm in the late afternoon on Sunday." As a consequence, she’d played two shaky matches—6, -19, 22, 18 against Weber, and 19, -11, 18, -20, 17 against Carrol Blank in the semi’s. In the final against Thall, she was down 1-0 and 19-14 in the 2nd "when she believed that she could not continue without doing further injury to her arm," so called it quits. Though Sally was able earlier to play in and win the Women’s Doubles with Leah, she and Dorsey had to default the Mixed to Green/Thall, which put Bob in the strange position of being in two finals, neither of which were played.
In the Boys’, Varga-coached Richard Leviton won out over Varga-coached Gordon Barclay—about to be the most preeminent of John’s 1940’s "whiz kids." In a Jan. 14, 1981 interview with Bill Moor of the South Bend Tribune, "Gordy," born in 1932, said he must have been about 10 when he came under John’s no-nonsense, very directing tutelage at that 5-table basement Club in South Bend’s Main and Wayne Y. "It was a time when the sound of the balls bouncing attracted a lot of youngsters like myself downstairs to the tables." Thereafter, said Gordy, "It seems like I spent most of my free time there at the Y."*
The Feb. 5-6 Ohio State Open at Toledo brought another disappointing result. Chuck Burns, the #1 Men’s seed, called in "late Saturday night when he was unable to make the trip"—and as a result Dale McColley emerged the Men’s winner over Dave Spence and a ferociously competitive field. Close matches were the rule from the beginning. Dr. Harry Sage, who’d won the Columbus Membership Open in the fall, eliminated the #2 seed Varga in the 8th’s, 19 in the 5th, then succumbed in 5 to Spence who’d been 2-1 down to Pat Gillen. Bill Ousley—he’d win the Veterans’ Singles and Doubles, but not without 5-game struggles—did away with Gus Louris in 5, then lost a close 5-gamer to #3 seed Max Hersh, semi’s loser to Spence. Les Leviton also made the semi’s, but only after escaping the Ohio #1 Sam Shannon, 19 in the 5th.
More of the same combative play in the Junior’s. Spence, after being forced into the 5th in the quarter’s with Early, fended off Dorsey, and in the final beat Les Leviton, who’d also been extended to 5 in the quarter’s—by Carl Culp. In Men’s Doubles, Varga/Antonowicz -18, 20, 20, 16 withstood the Toledo team of Gillen/Feak. The Women’s hadn’t the intensity of the other events. Defending Champion Leah Thall won the Singles easily, giving up only 34 points total to runner-up Barbara Cannon. The Cannon sisters almost as easily won the Women’s Doubles—from Leah and the inexperienced Dana Young. Ohio’s formerly Nationally-ranked player Gladys "Pete" May, was now (2nd) Lt.—to (1st) Lt.—Thomas. So, wish them luck; though Shirley’s stationed at Fort Knox, and his wife Pete is with the WACS in Indianapolis, hopefully the twain will meet.
Mel Nichols, Leah Thall Win Western’s
Unfortunately, at the March 4-5 Western’s, neither Defending Men’s Champion Holzrichter nor last year’s runner-up Levy were available to play. Billy (though he’d be able to get leave to defend his National’s title) was in Aviation Radar School in Corpus Christi, Texas where he’d shortly be part of a B-24 squadron crew seeing action overseas, and Allan was about to start off with Clark on "an extended USO Camp Show...playing chiefly at army camps."
But Mel Nichols, 1943 Men’s Doubles winner with Levy, as well as runner-up to him in the Junior’s, was strikingly present. In winning the Men’s, Nichols had no trouble at all with finalist Dave Spence, but was fortunate in the semi’s to outlast Max Hersh, 27-25 in the 5th. Spence’s only 5-gamer was in the quarter’s with Dr. Harry Sage who’d upset #1 seed Varga, 24-22 in the 5th. Like Holzrichter, Sally Green wasn’t around to defend her Women’s title. Leah Thall, with only a one-game lapse, really had no competition. Runner-up Barbara Cannon beat Leah’s sister, Thelma ("Tybie") Thall, 19 in the 4th. Tybie, just turned 20, who’d played sparingly this season, would be Ohio #7, but the fact that she could engage in such a contested match with Cannon, who’d be U.S. #3, shows either that the USTTA V.P.’s daughter was overrated or that Tybie was underrated. Students of the Sport must wonder just how good those players who aren’t from the East are when, in the semi’s of the Women’s Doubles, Cannon and U.S. #10 LaVera Weber have to go 19 in the 5th to get by Ohio #9 Virginia Driscoll and Ohio #14 Loriene Taylor. Meanwhile, there’s no doubt who the Women’s Doubles Champions are. Leah and the as yet inexperienced Tybie will do a lot more winning in the years to come.
*In 1992 at the St. Joe Valley Open, I met Bill DeMeyer who’d first brought 10-year-old Barclay to the South Bend Y. He was accompanying Gordy, now a spectator using a walker, but still his indomitable self after by-pass surgery and speech-slurring strokes.