USA Table Tennis
As we’ve seen in Volume II, USTTA President Jimmy Shrout, after his first (1951-52) year in office, implied that our Association was in danger of dying: “U.S. Table Tennis needs a network of clubs as badly as a wounded soldier needs a blood transfusion.” To his credit, Shrout not only noted the need but became involved with others in starting a “Dream Club”—the Net and Paddle Club in Chicago. Would other cities follow suit?
The negative answer can be found in Shrout's failed attempts to increase USTTA Affiliates around the country. Both California and Texas, for example, would hold successful tournaments, would be willing to report their results to Topics, but wouldn’t affiliate. And with many of the affiliates doing little or nothing, how was Table Tennis to grow? Indeed, how was the Association even to survive? In desperation Shrout tried to bring in new members by distributing 1,000 extra copies of Topics to recreation directors, school athletic departments, boys clubs, church groups, industrial plants, wherever he thought organized play was possible. But he’d warned that, if financially necessary, he’d turn Topics into more of a Newsletter than a Magazine. And without affiliate cooperation that’s exactly what happened. By the time he finished his 1953-54 term and resigned, he was saying that the USTTA had to have a paid Executive Secretary. You know, to increase membership, fund raise; or, as History knows, to take the brunt of failure off the President and his/her E.C.
When, in the fall of ’54, Otto Ek courageously took over as President, what was he getting into? Did he know? Maybe not. Here’s the opening of his Oct. 19, 1954 letter to the USTTA Executive Committee:
“Information has reached me that during the Summer Meeting a resolution was presented and approved to discontinue publication of ‘Topics,’ and replace it with issuance of a mimeographed letter prepared by the President. I have not yet been furnished with a copy of the minutes of this meeting.”
It’s certainly strange that Otto wasn’t at the Summer Meeting, and stranger still that the Board was making decisions involving him without his knowledge. He protests that “‘Topics’ appears to be necessary for an association such as ours,” and says that “we surely owe something to the present subscribers and advertisers.” He urges that, before his E.C. members “take any action so drastic as allegedly [sic] proposed at the Summer Meeting,” they all candidly talk over the situation. He calls for an Emergency Meeting—but not until Nov. 28-29. Meanwhile, there’s neither a magazine nor a newsletter. Ek says:
“I understand our current liabilities run close to $2,000 and the prospects to wipe out the indebtedness, even if we discontinue publishing ‘Topics,’ from expected revenues is not too favorable. Unquestionably, it is necessary for us to ‘tighten our belts,’ and also to find a means for paying our outstanding bills, before we get into serious trouble with our debtors.”
What had happened? Peggy Ichkoff, in her next to last issue as Editor of Topics (she was also Shrout’s Secretary at his ad agency) finally had had it with members’ letters of complaints, and laid it on the line. Progress has been impossible, she says. Why? Because only “22 of 48 states have any members at all.” Because “roughly only $750.00 income was derived from membership in the USTTA.” That meant the USTTA Membership was at an all-time low. As of April, 1954, there were only 657 members in the Association, with more than half of them paying just a $.25 membership fee. Of these 657, there were “only approximately 400 paid subscribers” (at $1 an issue) to Topics. Ek’s Oct. 19th appeal to the Affiliates is just what History would expect of a U.S. Table Tennis Administration—a combination of naivete and hopeless hopefulness.
“…There are 163,000,000 persons in the United States, and it has been said that from time to time ten percent of the population play table tennis. Currently, that means there are approximately 16,300,000 table tennis players. A very, very large percentage of the 16,300,000 never heard of the U.S.T.T.A. The potential membership, therefore, is exceedingly great.
If every Affiliate and every table tennis player who is now, or has been a U.S.T.T.A. member, will do his or her part, we should have little difficulty in gaining a total U.S.T.T.A. membership of 100,000! Approximately one-half that number should be gained as subscribers to ‘Topics.’
…Let’s begin right now, by everyone signing up 10 new members. Then ask each new member that you sign up to go out and sign up 10 more. Keep up the chain reaction….”
By January, 1955 an advance had been made. Ek, withstanding members’ complaints, game, persistent, took on the additional role of Editor, kept the lines of communication open as best he could with monthly mimeographed pages, bunched, unnumbered, sent out, as if hot off the typewriter. Topics, alas, had given way to the USTTA Newsletter.
Of course our country’s best players were hurting too. What kept them going, hoping? The U.S. Government would not issue Visas to the 1950 Budapest or 1953 Bucharest World’s, and our Association had no money to send a U.S. Team to the 1952 Bombay World’s. The idea of the U.S. again becoming a table tennis superpower began to fade. We had no expertise in the new techniques (the serve-and-spring of the Japanese), the new and controversial sponge rackets. The game had speeded up; we had slowed down. And nobody much seemed to care. The 1954 Fighting Fund came up short again, but fortunately again, as in ’51, the U.S. Army was willing to transport the Team in return for a series of exhibitions.
At home or abroad the various kinds of sponge rackets were generating controversy—and, with that, vitality. People wanted to express their opinions—and did, however misguided. Here’s the famous Herwald Lawrence who, for all his involvement, really wasn't very familiar with world-class table tennis, especially as it was evolving:
“…THE SPONGE RUBBER RACKET GENERATES MORE SPEED WHEN THE BALL IS HIT WITH IT THAN HUMAN REFLEXES CAN EVER COPE WITH…Organized Table Tennis can not be a party to such action, for eventually it will eradicate interest for both players and spectators….Several players who have recently turned to the use of these rackets, and have defeated players they never could before, intimate by their comments after a match, the feeling of having employed a weapon with which their opponents could not cope” (Newsletter, May, 1955,3).
However, former World Champion Johnny Leach was saying both before and after the 1955 World’s that:
“Sponge bats will die a natural death. It only needs time for rubber bat players to adjust their timing and the ‘sponger’ will fade out.
…I feel that if there were more sponge bat players the menace would be conquered quicker. Meanwhile, in my opinion it is setting table tennis back some two or three years.
Youngsters who are now taking it up will probably find sponge of little use in a couple of years, and it will mean them having to start over again learning the control that can only come with rubber” (Table Tennis, Jan. 1955, 5).
But those players using sponge were increasing every day, which meant that the “menace” some likened to a contagious disease was already spreading fast enough—indeed, too fast. Moreover, the variety of sponge bats was proliferating at a rate that made adjusting more and more difficult. 1954 World Champion Ogimura was saying that at the moment he was at a great disadvantage playing 1955 World Champion Tanaka. “I find it absolutely impossible to return Tanaka’s service,” he told Leach. So apparently for Ogimura the only way to combat Tanaka’s new racket that “consists of a thin layer of sponge over the top of ordinary pimpled-rubber” is to get one just like it. Of course by the time Ogi masters that, there will be something new on the market that will momentarily wreak havoc.
So what to do about this worldwide “menace,” if anything?
“The racket may be of any material, size, shape or weight. It shall not be white or pale in color, or partly white, and shall be non-reflecting.” That USTTA Law, in agreement with the ITTF’s, needs to be changed? Before doing anything drastic, ITTF President Montagu urges more “Research and Discussion.” In his article, “The Racket Problem,” in the 1955 English Open Program, he questions those who would quickly ban sponge:
“Do we really know enough, for example, to say that sponge spin and speed cannot be foreseen? Is this proved by the fact that our good players cannot foresee it? May it not be that precisely the best players who have learned the game before sponge, that is, those with whom understanding and expectation of conventional spins and speeds has become unconscious second nature, are those least likely to be able to cope with new effects?…
Do we really know enough yet to say a sponge hit cannot be returned? Is what happens between two experienced sponge hitters—say Japanese ones—the same as happens between, say, such beginners at sponge as Dolinar and Flisberg?….
Are we so sure sponge will destroy the game?…” (27).
Some players in the U.S. were. A virtual revolution occurred in California as early as the summer of 1955. There were two “Pacific Coast” tournaments, held in two different venues, on the same weekend. One for those sponsored by the established California TTA under President Si Wasserman who, while favoring play with any type racket, had hoped to avoid a rift by compromising—that is, by offering to accommodate the hard bat players with a special Class A event that barred sponge play. This, however, was against USTTA Rules and so couldn't be sanctioned. The accommodation wouldn't have been accepted anyway—hence, the other Pacific Coast tournament for those insisting on hard bat play only. This division of players was only momentary; the country over, spongers and anti-spongers continued to compete against one another. But not without cost….Here, in the Dec., 1956 Newsletter, is Californian Paul Schaeffer, Sr.:
“Speaking on the Sponge, first let me say I organized an Industrial League with 7 teams of from 4 to 8 men each. I had 9 men sign up on my team. After becoming acquainted with sponge bats, 4 dropped off the team before the league play even got a start; 3 tried it, but did not like to play with sponge or against it. The 2 poorest players stuck with it, and are now beating the better players. On the first night of league play, over 50 participants turned out. After 3 weeks of play 16 remained (mostly sponge players). How can we boost table tennis when such as this discourages new members to our clubs?”
Of course there are striking differences between the new and old rackets. The greater elasticity and hurled-forth force of the sponge bat favors the offensive player. But the Hungarians, pioneer Champions in the early stages of the Sport who now are beginning to embrace sponge as they once embraced rubber over wood, say that rubber can be used against sponge with success—and they point to their World Champion Sido as proof positive. Perhaps, though, since the Sport now demands more from the player than it did before, many Americans don’t want to pay the price. Success, says Hungarian TTA President Sandor Bognar, is “dependent on better reflexes, better physical fitness, greater nervous concentration, speed and flexibility, and stronger chops in defence. The player is forced to concentrate more on the ball, on judging its return speed, angle of bounce and direction” (Newsletter, Sept., 1955, 7). That’s work.
Ironically, the Japanese, Swaythling Cup winners in 1954 through 1959, who want to ban “professionals,” seem to me to be professionals themselves. They’re University students into heavy physical conditioning, training, practice, and competitive play. Don’t tell me they’re also studying to be doctors. How many U.S. players of this era were willing to make such sacrifices?
Perhaps a few. In 1956, N.Y. tournament player Jack Howard, attending the World’s, walked into a Tokyo T.T. Club, where he was greeted cordially. Courts were set up in a row—let’s say six of them—and it was understood that players were assigned tables according to one’s skill. Table #1 was for the strongest players; Table #6 for the weakest. Mr. Howard, as might be expected from the polite Japanese, was assigned Table #1…then gradually, with the most save-face delicacy, he was transferred to Table #2, then Table #3…and finally to Table #6, where he was beaten badly by a 13-year-old girl who blasted balls through him. It was then that Jack decided, if one wanted to be a good player, he/she had to do physical training and tactical drills as well. But perhaps Jack was a mite discouraged. For the next six years he didn't want to be a good player, didn't want to be a player at all. It was only later that he had the opportunity, the time, and the motivation to say to fellow N.Y. players, Irv Wasserman and Jerry Kruskie, “I’m going to show you how to become good players.” When the three of them started training and doing drills, Jack said, “Everybody laughed at them.”
So, for the great majority of U.S. players, make such table tennis efforts, sacrifices, to what end? They had jobs. Had to secure a future. Were there job openings in table tennis for trainers, coaches, administrators? Prize money for our top players? One day, perhaps—much sooner in Europe and Asia than in the U.S.—but not in the 1950’s. Meanwhile, our most avid players, away from all the world action, away from all the latest advances in the Sport, did what they could—their enthusiasm was undiminished. So sing no sad songs for them? Well, maybe a few plaintive little ditties—for USTTA Officials and Players continued with their decades-long antagonisms (U.S. Team Captain Bill Gunn vs. Marty Reisman in this era a case in point); and our U.S. players had but one last World Championship to win. I say “last” because, since Leah Neuberger and Erwin Klein won the 1956 Mixed Doubles at Tokyo, nearly half a century has passed, and we’ve not won another—though in 1959, at Dortmund, Dick Miles made a great try in the Men’s Singles.
As for the reaction of the spectators to sponge, Sam Kirkwood, writing in the Nov., 1956 English magazine Table Tennis, makes the following points:
“Reports from Continental countries tell of falling gates at tournaments and diminishing interest in the game in general. Table Tennis is suffering a decline in countries hitherto numbered among the world’s most flourishing and enthusiastic, T.T.-wise.
The reason? Sponge bats. Sponge, say officials, has robbed the game of spectacle, interest, excitement. Players no longer use or care about footwork, but stand almost stationary at the table waiting for a kill. Rallies are as short-lived as to be almost non-existent. Tactics are at a discount, all-round play is not to be seen, styles are crude and ugly. And fighting spirit of sponge-users is almost at zero. If they can’t get their hit in they lose heart.
Officials are worried that matters will get even worse. Faster bats, of even more freakish composition than those so far introduced, are coming on to the market…” (23).
Harrison Edwards, Editor of Table Tennis, in the Nov., 1957 issue spoke of the freak “balloon bat” from Germany:
“This is an inflatable plastic bag on a bat frame which can be blown up to any required degree. It can be made so limp that it would not return the ball, or so tight that it would rebound the ball with tremendous force….[Although this bat was admittedly not to be taken seriously, one wondered…] What will they think of next—a ball under remote control?” (3).
Don’t laugh…yet. According to Sam Kirkwood in Table Tennis (Feb., 1958), the Rumanians have seriously experimented, using air in the racket, with what they call a “Rocket Bat.” And this works…how?…
“So far as can be gathered, it has spring-operated metal strips inside its rubber-coated blade. In its handle is a control mechanism by which the blade can be inflated or deflated, as and when required. When the rubber is inflated it gets harder; when deflated softer….[So] a player is virtually in a position to change his bat when he feels like it” (14).
However, as the balloon bat is a deliberate joke, and the rocket bat isn’t easy to operate, I can say in hindsight that, even though you’ll have to wait another 15 years or so, it’ll be far more effective and practical for you to pick up a sheet of dead anti-spin sponge, affix that to one side of your racket, then twiddle it constantly in combo with the other, lively side.
For four years (1954-‘56/’56-’58), through the sponge controversy in the U.S., President Ek would struggle. The mimeographed Newsletter in appearance continued to reflect an Association subsisting but not thriving. Because for many issues it had no ads or photos, there was more room for content in it than in the previous magazine, and, as Ek had some very competent people assisting him, tournament results were conscientiously reported, and, as a consequence, more tournaments were held and publicized all over the country. What Otto would say in his May 31, 1957 E.C. Report was true: “From the handful of USTTA members and the near $2,000 deficit in the treasury of three years ago,” much progress has been made—thanks to “much hard work, devotion to the sport and certain frugal methods of operating.”
But as Ek also realized that “there are not enough persons with altruistic motives [to help the Association]—more are anxious for the promotion of ‘self,’ and many more criticize more freely than constructively go to work”—he’d finally had enough.
Wouldn’t he please reconsider? In a Feb. 12, 1958 letter to the E.C., Bill Gunn, one of Otto’s staunchest supporters, writes:
“In the years of his administration, he has taken a bankrupt, demoralized, disorganized association from the brink of dissolution and turned it into a strong and growing organization which, while rapidly forging ahead, is still in dire need of his guiding genius.
…His loss now, before we have reached full stature, and with many things requiring his magic handling, would be a blow from which we might never recover.”
Ready, Rufford? After Otto, it was Rufford Harrison’s turn to struggle through two two-year terms (1958-‘60/’60-’62). The move toward standardizing the racket—the world-wide change that would come about during Rufford’s tenure—can perhaps best be expressed succinctly by Emlyn Jones in the Mar., 1957 issue of Table Tennis:
“After all, the original intention was that table tennis should be a contest of skill between opposing players and not a test of the ingenuity of players and/or manufacturers to produce a new type of bat. If other factors affecting the character of the game are clearly defined—the height of the net, dimensions of the table and the specifications of the ball—why not state the requirements for the bat?
The definition can be such that it still leaves room for individual idiosyncracies; it does not necessarily mean that sponge has to be banned, but the extremes [such as foam-thick/mattress-thick rackets] could be eliminated.
In this way it might be possible to compromise with the East [proud source of the sponge rackets]….”
Sol Schiff, who along with Rufford and others, was on the USTTA Racket Standardization Committee, offered (see the Nov., 1957 USTTA Newsletter) his opinions as to the natural [not foam] sponge rubber manufactured in Japan. He objected to 4 to 6 millimeter sponge (anything more was “cumbersome to the user”), and favored 2 to 3 millimeter sponge, and, if one wanted, pimpled rubber, or inverted pimpled rubber, on top of that to make the so-called “soft rubber” or “sandwich” racket.
This view, slightly modified, would be the one put forward originally by China and accepted in a close vote by the ITTF member countries, so that, beginning in the 1959-60 season, a player could use either “plain, ordinary pimpled rubber, with the pimples outward, of a total thickness [on either side] of not more than 2 mm,” or “sandwich” rubber “consisting of a layer of cellular rubber surfaced by plain ordinary pimpled rubber—turned outwards or inwards—in which case the total thickness of covering of either side shall not be more than 4 mm” (Newsletter, May-June, 1959).
Prior to the ITTF’s acceptance of sandwich rubber, the USTTA, following England’s example and aligning themselves with other European countries, had banned, as a one-year experiment for the 1958-59 season, not just the thick, mattress-type sponge rubber, but all sponge. Since sponge play was becoming more popular in the U.S.—one of its most enthusiastic supporters was the future 1961-62 USTTA Editor Norman Kilpatrick—Harrison was faced with some defecting affiliates, even at one point a rival Association.
Also, he and the very efficient Lillian Guyer, USTTA Chair of Courts, Clubs, and Leagues, would have problems with organizers who persisted in running unsanctioned tournaments, or, to circumvent sanction fees, “Closed” tournaments that were really “Open” ones, and with those who just couldn’t do paperwork, get tournament results to the Newsletter editor. Rufford always wanted to run a tight ship, even insisting for 2-3-or-4-star tournaments players wear a playing outfit of certain required colors—so of course there was often talk of disciplinary action, of warnings, fines, possible suspensions—and withal the need for the Association to sometimes play it cool. Indeed, Kilpatrick, who would succeed Harrison as USTTA President, would urge a less legalistic approach
Slowly the USTTA Membership began to grow. By March of 1959, there were 981 adult/multiple members ($2 a year/$5 for 3 years) and 448 juniors ($.25 a year). Southern California, heeding Si Wasserman’s good sense over the years, became a bastion of USTTA membership, and in 1959 Englewood, California was awarded the first-ever National’s west of Kansas City.
For the 1959 World’s, however, Selection Chair Bill Gunn, who’d earlier pressed a more or less private vendetta that resulted in Marty Reisman being banished from Team play abroad, pushed for and got an inexperienced U.S. Team. One of the outraged victims of his zeal was perennial U.S. Team member Leah Neuberger who exclaimed to the press, “It’s one of the worst things I ever heard of. Bernice [Chotras, another U.S. National Champion] and I have the best record and whoever heard of picking an international team except on records.” Bobby Gusikoff, who would join Reisman in winning his first U.S. Open (both would also begin establishing their N.Y. clubs about this time, Marty first, then Bobby), complained about the injustice done Neuberger and Chotras even while he, as National Champion, was being added to the Team. “For many years,” he said, “it seems like the thing to do is to do as much harm as possible to the top players.”
In 1959 Harrison attended his first World Championships, in Dortmund, Germany, and, as our Delegate to the ITTF’s U.N.-like Biennial General Meeting (BGM), could see from his own tally that when alphabetically it came time for the U.S. to vote for or against the next (1961) World Championships to be played in “Red China,” Peking had already secured the vote. So, thought Rufford, though the U.S. government wouldn’t allow a U. S. Team to participate, why not vote “For,” for somewhere down the line it might bring us some goodwill.
And why not some “Cold War” goodwill too. With Leonid Makarov, his USSR ITTF-delegate counterpart at Dortmund, Rufford, with the considerable help of Walter Keim arranged a Cultural Exchange Program, and in 1960 U.S. Juniors under the Captaincy of Keim (whose son, Billy, was on the Team) went to Russia, and thereafter Russian Juniors came to the U.S.
Harrison’s tenure as President will end for us here in 1962, but in the years to come, we’ll see again and again instances of his long service to the USTTA and his even longer service to the ITTF. Rufford’s table tennis life, then, would go on—for another 40 years. But how about Miles’s? Or Schiff’s? Or Bukiet’s? Or the lives of Neuberger, Chotras, Shahian? How long could they go on? How long before they’d say with Jimmy McClure, “If you had played an awful lot, and if you had been good at it, you don’t have as much desire to do it when you can’t play as well anymore” (TTT, Sept.-Oct., 1990, 30). For them, for Jimmy, were there Championships still to be won, other table tennis avenues still to be pursued? If there are, we’ll follow them.
Japan’s Kimiyo Matsuzaki, who would win the World Women’s Singles Championships in 1959 and ’63, the Mixed with Ogimura in 1961, would never, like the Americans, consider playing seriously past the single decade of her ascendancy. She knew well what was demanded of a World Champion. In fact, after her retirement, she said regretfully that she hadn't worked hard enough:
“I would never take any day of the week for my rest. When I could, I would continue to play every day. I’d only take a rest when I could not practice any more at all. Besides, there might happen to be a day when you could not play even if you should want to. So there might be six days a week including such a day. I’d want at least three hours a day of actual practice; that is, the practice time when I could actually hit the ball.”
In this, she was a kindred spirit with such legendary U.S. Players as Miles and Reisman—except that they wouldn't do drills; they’d play games, money matches for hours on end, day after day. And certainly they’d part company with Kimiyo in regard to an hour of hard physical training every day. Were the Americans serious enough?…No?…Would they ever be?…Could they ever be?
A coach? A trainer? A personal coach? A personal trainer? For U.S. players? And film after film of the aspiring U.S. player playing the best of the best? All to achieve, or try to, an ideal mastery of the Sport. By the 1960’s such professionalism was beginning to be evident in Europe and Asia. But not in the U.S.—and in our isolation our best young players would suffer in comparison. Why continue to play serious Table Tennis in a country where the Game had no Image, no prestige….No future?
Eventually, under Rufford Harrison’s Presidency, Topics, with photos (the old players older, the new players new for a while), would return. The Association’s net worth would increase; USTTA membership would continue to grow—though, relatively speaking, to nothing much. Affiliates, clubs, tournaments with their players and officials would come and go, remain. My thoughts try to keep up….
These volumes I write scrupulously cover tournament play—for to my mind if there are no tournaments there is no National Association and play is no more than a social divertissement. Not that this is surprising: ping-pong in the parlor/game- room/basement has always been a casual diversion. Indeed, the popularity of nightclub and theater exhibitions of the so-called “Golden” ‘30’s and ‘40’s surely had just such a social and entertainment appeal. One would have to be deluding oneself to think otherwise. The real Sport, the real sweat, has always been for the not so relaxed—the minorities.
Which brings me to a thought I think central to the aficionados I write about who’ve given so much of their lives to the Sport—namely, that, as scientists are beginning to see more and more for such diverse things as bacteria, bug, bird, or baboon, deception is a way of life. Indeed, a way of table tennis life. For certainly you don’t have to appreciate an Ibsen play to know that man, too, is naturally self-deceptive. Which, in an age of ever-increasing, frightening technology, might ever be more of a necessity for his spiritual salvation.
Self-deception a good? That sounds paradoxical. And yet I think it has to be in the little known, little recognized world of U.S. Table Tennis. To religiously keep up the required level of intensity for this Sport, to have the spirit to hear and heed the call, requires a zeal that is prompted by illusion, that is simply not realistic, that must have some largely non-material reward. Else one cannot feel to function, cannot survive in it.
I particularly—as player, tournament organizer, father of players, writer, editor, team captain, fund-raiser, president and official of various other kinds, and of course historian—have repeatedly enjoyed the self-deception of dreams. How necessary they were (and, as I’m writing this, still are) for me to burn (and not burn out). One doesn't have to appreciate Wordsworth to understand:
“Enough, if something from our hands have power,
To live, and act, and serve the future hour;
And if, as toward the silent tomb we go,
Through love, through hope, and faith’s transcendent dower,
We feel that we are greater than we know.”
I think of the many we’ve already seen in the first two volumes of this History—of such enduring players and contributors as Schussheim, Coleman Clark, Schiff, McClure, Bellak, Hazi, Chuck Burns, George Hendry, Pagliaro, Hozrichter, John Varga, George Schein, Bill Gunn, Bill Price, Garrett Nash, Herwald Lawrence, Miles, Somael, Reisman, Cartland, Eddie Pinner and Cy Sussman, of Ruth Aarons, Mildred Shipman, Mayo Rolph, Emily Fuller, Sally Green, Leah Neuberger, Tybie Thall Sommer, Mae Clouther, Bernice Charney Chotras, Reba Monness, Peggy McLean Folke, Mildred Shahian, and Pauline Robinson. I think of the struggling officials we’ve seen in the first two volumes of this History—particularly Zeisberg and Cinnater—and of the ones we’ll see here, Jimmy Shrout, Otto Ek, and Rufford Harrison.
In this relentlessly-competitive Darwinian world of Table Tennis, I have never met a single person running for USTTA office, whether I agreed with his (her) views or not, who didn’t have something more than ever-present self-interest as a motive. Regardless of their effectiveness, they have all had as a value a leader’s self-deception. They have all hoped to make the Sport greater than they know it is or ever will be. They have all momentarily suspended their belief in reality.
I think it’s this quality of self-deception that makes the difference between a local club player and a dues-paying tournament player, that moves the parlor game into a Sport. Players who regularly attend tournaments—who in many instances sacrifice to attend them—think that the Sport matters intensely. It’s their Sport. It gets their priorities. They understand and willingly pay the considerable dues involved to be even a peripheral part of that Ideal they self-deceptively hold to. They’re willing to run the risk of being thought misguided, foolish, even absurd to try to create a world that’s far more serious than recreational to them. A world in which they have an identity, a place.
Practically speaking, these extraordinarily involved, sometimes tormentingly involved players, officials, contributors can’t help themselves any more than, over the years, or even now, I’ve been able to. We’re all victims of a lie…albeit, I like to think, a noble one….Hence, this third U.S. volume—to be followed by more.