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History of U.S. Table Tennis Volume 13: 1984

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE 

1984: U.S. Closed/U.S. World Team Trials. 

            Tom Wintrich (SPIN, Jan. 85, cover +) reports on the U.S. Closed for us—and I’m going to arrange his coverage as follows: Men’s Singles (with a couple of pertinent asides by others), followed by Age/Rating results, and then Women’s Singles (with an explanation on my part as to why the composition of the U.S. Women’s Team to the ’85 World’s was delayed). Here’s Tom: 

Men’s Singles

            After a five-year hiatus, 21-year-old Eric Boggan is again the U.S. National Men’s Singles Champion. He also secured the #1 spot on the U.S. Men’s World Team.

            Competition for both the U.S. Singles Championship and a position on next year’s U.S. World Team to Gothenberg, Sweden took place in a single combined event via preliminary play and then a final round-robin format between 12 finalists. This format (also used by the women) made its debut last year, the brainchild of tournament directors Dennis Masters and Dan Simon, and under their careful guidance it’s proving to be a reliable method of determining national champions and especially world team members.

            The format guarantees the most intense competition in America—one that emphasizes the mental aspects of the game as much as the physical and technical. From a spectator point of view the matches are fascinating to behold because each successive round of play increases the existing pressures on the players, which heightens the overall tension of the competitive drama in progress. For Masters and Simon, it’s an ongoing scheduling challenge as they must determine the best paring of opponents for each round based on the results of previous rounds. For the cognoscenti, it’s two days of table tennis at its best.

Eric Boggan, this year’s champion, has matured. He exhibits the attitude of a seasoned competitor who has accepted responsibility for his own talent while respecting that of his opponent. Such words could not always have been written about Eric, but the man has changed appreciably since his competitive migrations to Europe the past three seasons where he regularly meets many of the best players in the world. It’s obvious his talents as a player have improved because of that exposure, and to his credit he also personifies the sportsmanship and demeanor of a world-class athlete.

Eric Boggan Photo by Mal Anderson

Finalist Danny Seemiller—five times men’s champ, eight times men’s doubles champ, five times mixed doubles winner, and seven-time world team member. A remarkable record of performance that has spanned 12 years, beginning with Danny’s rise to prominence at the 1972 trials in Wheeling, Illinois when he bested the field of 25 from the lowly position of next to last seed. At age 30, he’s still toppling the field, having entered his 1984 final match with a 10/0 record, providing him with the opportunity of winning the team trials for the seventh consecutive time. [Nope, not true. Danny’s good, but not that good: Danny came first in ‘78, ‘80, ‘82, and ‘83; Eric came first in ‘79, ‘81, and ‘84.] Seemiller didn’t win this year and so lost his bid for a sixth national crown, but he maintained his status as America’s most consistent winner in recent history.

Danny Seemiller.  Image courtesy of Mal Anderson for USATT.

Sean O’Neill, 17, came out of the final round robin with a 7-4 record to convincingly finish third. O’Neill’s success was due in great part to his determined attitude. He exhibited a will not just to win but to sustain an unwavering level of concentration through each round of play. Such focusing of intent produced a state of intensity that did not dissolve until the last point of the final match, a straight-game victory over Brandon Olson. Relief replaced tension and Sean smilingly walked off court to embrace a misty-eyed, proud mother.

Sean O'Neill

Ricky Seemiller did exactly what he intended to do from the outset—make the world team. Not everyone believes in him as much as he does himself, but through five straight trials he’s always been a part of the team. No one else can match his energy on the court, and his sheer athletic ability enhances a game-style based on spin, not speed or power. Ricky matched Sean O’Neill’s 7-4 record but placed fourth because Sean had the head-to-head win between the two. Ever optimistic Ricky overlooks the official standings—prefers to think of himself as having tied for third.

Ricky Seemiller

Brian Masters, fifth-place finisher (6-5), started the spectators buzzing with his straight-game win over Eric Boggan. Brian could hardly miss landing his fast sidespin loops for winners. He executed masterfully and took advantage of what he thought was Eric’s overuse of his anti-spin. Brian’s viewpoint is that if you know it’s an anti ball you simply rip it. He may have caught Eric off guard early in the competition, but there’s no denying that he performed flawlessly at the right time and it makes you wonder just how far he can eventually go with his unique style. In beating Eric, Brian posted a big plus in his win column that no one else could either match or negate.” [Brian’s win over Eric, indicating that he might be able to beat other world-class players, will be a factor in his being picked for the USA World Team.] 

Brian Masters

[I interrupt Tom’s report here to allow George Majors of Salt Lake City to (SPIN, Jan., 1985, 4) express his comments on observing Masters: 

“I enjoyed watching the men’s matches at the Tropicana. It’s a treat to watch table tennis played at such a high level. However, I was appalled by the behavior of Brian Masters during his match with Ricky Seemiller. I know that this match was important to Brian and that it was crucial to his making the U.S. team. But its importance does not justify his behavior at the table.

The match was a close one with only a point or two ever separating them. At the end of four different points lost by Brian he kicked the table. The referee finally warned him about kicking the table and he responded with an obscene gesture using his middle finger. Later in the match as Brian was retrieving a lost point at the barriers, he kicked one of the barriers so that it flew into the air. It was kicked with enough force to bend the frame and it looked like one of McDonald’s arches when it was set back in place. The match finally ended with a Seemiller victory. Brian again kicked a barrier over as he left the playing area.

I remember an incident involving Ray Guillen at a U.S. Nationals several years ago. He was disqualified from his match for picking up the corner of the table. Compared to Ray’s behavior, Brian should have been at least disqualified from the tournament and suspended for a year. But as far as I know, no action has been taken.

The USTTA needs to be consistent in enforcing good conduct rules. Brian is a fine athlete and a great table tennis player. But until he cleans up his act, he does not deserve to represent the USTTA.” 

On June 2, I, Tim, received a letter from Selection Committee Chair Bill Walk that indicated the Committee (who had the option of replacing the 5th Men’s finisher with another) voted 6-0 to put Brian on the Team. “Of  those who didn’t qualify,” said the Committee, “Brian was the player with the best chance to do well at the World’s.”

Readers can check out Guillen’s and Referee Andy Gad’s behavior in that controversial 19-in-the-fifth disqualification by going to Vol. XI, Chapter 18, 232-235. I return you now to Tom’s article.] 

“Sixth-place finisher (6-5), 1979 Men’s Singles Champion Attila Malek, should probably have more wins against Danny Seemiller than anyone else in the field. In their match, Malek got off to an eight-zip lead before taking the first at 18. In the second, Attila was up 17-14, then put Danny’s next three serves into the net by pushing, flipping, and looping unsuccessfully. Dan had broken Attila’s “mo” and took this game. Dispirited, Malek was quickly down 10-1 in the third and couldn’t win the fourth either. It was an ending similar to what Malek had experienced before, ever since defeating Dan in ’79 for the title and then in ’81 during the trials. Such momentum-changing losses are especially critical when they happen early in the competition, since reverse result, especially against Dan or Eric, will gain you a big advantage over the other players. But then, team trial competition is nothing but ifs when considering final results.

Attila Malek

The man with all the shots, especially a forehand kill off any spin. The one man whose play you can frequently describe with that trite adjective “awesome.” But, oh, Scott Boggan, where is that head of yours?

Against Quang Bui in the first game Scotty was working his magic, pounding back Quang’s bullet loops, which some people might consider awesome too. Lefty Quang goes down the line with a zipper/winner that comes back faster. No chance to return it, and it has to be quite discouraging when it happens again…and again. Realize the talent Bui possesses to generate those fast loops, but playing Scott Boggan with all-out speed is not the best tactic. Brother Eric may have the best results against Scott’s attack because of his superb blocking, but even he gets burned by his elder’s consistent recklessness.

Amazingly, after losing in the very next round to Brandon Olson in three (-20, 10, -12) there was an immediate change in Scott’s attitude, an observation his own brother confirmed. Following Olson, brother faced brother to Scott’s detriment (serving off at deuce in the first didn’t help). Then against O’Neill, he seemed to fold from 17-all in the third, whereas Sean intensified his concentration. From 3-0, Scott quickly slipped to 3-3 and you knew he was a goner, despite his still reasonable shot at third. Scott, 5-6, finishing seventh, didn’t play as if he wanted to win—not like in 1981 when he did. It’s his responsibility to explain to himself why.

Quang Bui had the slowest start of anyone in the final 12 going into his match with Sean O’Neill. He’d advanced out of his preliminary round robin, but had two carry-over losses to Dan and Attila. He then lost three matches in a row—to Scott, Ricky, and Eric—and so had an 0-5 record. This made him extra dangerous as he was tired of losing and determined now to get someone—anyone. Sean was the first victim, going down 19 in the third. Bui had finally broken the ice and even though he lost his next round to Masters, he won his last four to finish 5-6 for eighth place. Quang did draw consolation from winning the Men’s Amateur over Brian Masters in the semi’s, -17, 18, 12, and Mike Bush in the final, 12, 20, after Mike had gotten by Hawaii’s Allen Kaichi, 18 in the third.

Quang Bui

Brandon Olson moved up from his last-place finish in the 1983 Nationals to ninth place this year. Brandon’s the guy with the power game and a backhand kill that causes envy and consternation among the other top players. Eric Boggan’s so good that he forces his opponents to challenge him with strong shots. That’s Brandon’s game and the main reason he’s so competitive against the champ. Olson would seem to benefit most from a single-elimination draw where each victory is a momentum-builder that takes you one step closer to the final with no concern for the other half of the draw. In round robin competition, however, Brandon is not as formidable, probably because he’s negligent about physical conditioning.

Khoa Nguyen finished tenth for the second year in a row, improving upon his record with an additional victory over his ’83 2/9 tally. Khoa came into the final round robin with two carry-over losses (to Perry Schwartzberg and Scott Boggan) and was down 0-3 after Danny beat him 16, 16. However, he then zapped Masters two straight as convincingly as Brian had Eric. Khoa played smart, mixing up soft and hard blocks and repeatedly going to lefty Brian’s wide forehand with either aggressive blocks or fast forehand topspins. Khoa was simply in control of the rallies both games and Brian seemed to have no chance despite scoring 17 and 18. Four rounds later, Khoa stuck it to Attila Malek as well, thereby posting two good wins that indeed affected the final results. Attila was quoted as saying that everyone’s afraid of him because they never know whether, with his European training now years behind him, he’s going to play good or bad. Khoa, though, seems to fear no one; he just goes to the table to do battle, and you suspect with that attitude he’s going to continue to move up in the standings.

Eleventh-place finisher Perry Schwartzberg snuck into the final round robin through the back door. He tied for third in the preliminaries with Scott Butler and Quang Do, having lost to Butler and Kaichi deuce in the third, while defeating Khoa and Do two straight and benefitting from Nguyen’s win over Butler. Perry proved that you can lose in round robin competition and still move on, provided the loss is against the right person.

Schwartzberg advanced over Butler and Do with a better games-won/lost result, but that was just about the end of his winning ways. His sole victory against the rest of the field was over George Brathwaite, the last-place finisher. Perry simply exhibited no competitive drive, appearing lethargic at times. Nevertheless, he sort of took Danny to three. The qualification is a result of the controversy that erupted during their match. A dispute arose when Dan questioned the score in the second game. Was it 16-17 [Schwartzberg serving?] as the scorecard read, or 15-18 as Danny contended? Danny thought he was right, the umpire thought he was right, and Perry was simply unsure. The truth was never ascertained and now it doesn’t even matter….” 

[Again I must interrupt Tom because I, among others, thought it did matter, the more so now because I know what’s going to happen when Perry makes a similar move at next year’s Closed and causes an uproar. Here’s a position-paper—“On Donn Olsen’s Letter on the Schwartzberg-Seemiller Match”—I wrote and sent out (just to the E.C.?) on Feb. 16, 1985: 

“In regard to Donn Olsen’s letter [sent only to me?...to the E.C.?...to the USTTA’s SPIN magazine? (if so, it never appeared there)] commenting on the Perry Schwartzberg-Danny Seemiller Team Tryouts match at the Closed [--unfortunately I don’t have a copy of this letter, but I presume it dovetails with my own article that follows].

I got involved in this match. The score was 17-16 in the second [Perry had won the first

but was behind in this game] when a controversy occurred. Danny thought the score was wrong, but both Perry and umpire Leroy Petersen did not. Play stopped while Danny and Perry tried to recreate the last several points. But as there was no meeting of minds, Bob Partridge, so far as I know, of his own volition on his authority as Referee, finally came over, removed umpire Petersen who told me later he had not wavered in his ruling against Danny, and took his place. Partridge adjusted the score to 17-15…while Perry unhappily acquiesced.

            At this point, in my opinion, Perry, for reasons best known only to himself, psychically gave up not just the next point, but the game and the match, for as he was soon to tell me, ‘Danny wanted it [this controversial point and the Singles Championship] more than I did.’

            Indeed, in my opinion, Perry now began to play so spiritlessly that, as this was a very crucial match to all players concerned, I got angry. True, being the father of Scott and Eric, I had a personal interest in the match, but I was angry because, abstractly speaking, I thought it was just disgraceful for Perry to play, or rather not play, like this—with every point to more and more give up from this position. As play progressed without of course Perry winning a point, I yelled, ‘Dammit, Perry, play or get off the table!’

            At which point Perry stopped playing and went round the table to shake hands. Unquestionably this was a total give up, for clearly he was choosing to get off the table.

Suddenly someone whispered in my ear that if Perry defaulted this match he might have to default all of them. I didn’t know the rule, but I knew there’d be some kind of mess if he defaulted and so I had to act quickly. I said, ‘Perry, don’t you want to play anymore?’ He answered, ‘I do, but not against him’ (his good friend Danny). I said, ‘Then you have to finish this match.’ And he said, ‘O.K., I didn’t know that, I’ll play.’

Danny was upset I’d butted in, and told me so—but he agreed to finish, even as his sometime roommate Perry was assuring him sotto voce that he wasn’t going to try to win. And, indeed, Perry made no attempt whatsoever to win the third game.

All this left a really bad impression not just on me but on many observers. One guy said that I, as President, was too ‘visible,’ but another guy praised me for taking action to at least prevent the complications of a default—for taking some action when it certainly seemed some action had to be taken by somebody.

What exactly I should have done, I still don’t know. But I do know that Perry had better start attending some of Schwartzberg’s “Attitude” classes. His give up after he’d acquiesced in the change of score was just very, very bad for the image of our sport, and I, as President, considered it my business to complain [—though I think now that losing my temper and shouting out disruptively could not have been seemly, I still believe my passionate reaction was o.k.].

However, I don’t know even now how to prevent something like this from happening again. For clearly you can’t force players (my sons or anyone else’s) to play when they have no heart for it. In such a situation, would you have them pretend to play?...”] 

“…Schwartzberg,” Wintrich writes, “offered an interesting insight—not to the dilemma itself, but to the conditions that set it up. He thinks the lack of separately barriered-off, full-size courts allow adjacent matches on any one table to interfere with the players’ and the umpire’s concentration.  Also, a separate scorekeeper for each court, cramped or not, would be helpful. In other words, Schwartzberg is saying that each match needs its own ‘space’ as well as its own crew to officiate. Perhaps the problem would still have arisen, but it’s an interesting [if impractical] view to consider for the future in order to minimize the possibility of disagreements.

Schwartzberg did become half of the winning Men’s Doubles team with partner Scott Boggan. This was the first time since the Nationals debuted in 1976 at Caesars Palace that the Seemiller brothers did not win the title. The combination of Schwartzberg and Boggan seemed perfect, based on Perry’s excellent ability to keep the ball in play with exacting placements and Scott’s talent to hit in the winners. They defeated Doyle and Do, 19 in the third in the semi’s, then Masters and Bui in the final, 16 in the third, after Brian and Quang in their semi’s became the first team to 21, -9, 17 knock the Seemiller brothers out of a National doubles draw.

George Brathwaite finished last in the final round robin—against a group that contained players 31 years his junior. “The Chief” was proud of that finish, for at least he got to the final 12, whereas Dean Doyle, Mike Bush, Ray Guillen, Charles Butler and Jim Lane (thanks to George) didn’t make it. Brathwaite’s single win was against Sean O’Neill, something to feel good about given Sean’s outstanding performance. Even though George continued to lose, he never slacked off, never played but his best, extending youngsters like Brandon Olson and Khoa Nguyen into third-game confrontations. He also hung on to defeat Bohdan Dawidowicz in the Over 40 final in expedite, deuce in the third, after trailing 16-11. George’s loops aren’t that fast, but he lands them consistently, like when he reached his second match point against Bohdan after looping 11 balls in a row and defensive ace Dawidowicz had gotten back 10 of them. 

Black Friday

            Staying in the Tropicana was like living in a 24-hour construction zone. If you were in the sports complex wing, you got to experience power and water outages for long periods of time, plus the pleasant beep-beep sound of heavy machinery backing up all night long. But these were small problems compared to what happened Friday morning.

            No sooner than match play was underway, there was a power outage in the sports complex. The delay was relatively short, matches began again, but only a few points were played before darkness returned. Three hours this time and the problem wasn’t finally resolved until the Tropicana suspended all construction for the remainder of the day and weekend.

            The flooring at the complex wasn’t exactly exemplary. Prior to the Nationals, the complex was the venue of a horse show and a lot of sand was left in its wake. A diligent effort was made to remove it manually but traction was always a problem. Eric Boggan certainly would have preferred more reliable footing, but he sloughed off the numerous complaints, essentially saying that you had to play despite the conditions. He was there to play—and win. 

Men’s Final

            As was the case last year with the new format of play, there was a true final in Men’s Singles emerging out of the round robin competition. Danny was undefeated, Eric had one loss, but that didn’t matter since whoever won between the two would win the title (Danny, 11-0 or Eric, 10-1 with a tiebreaker win over Danny). Different from last year was the players’ agreement this year to test each other in a five-game match, even though best two out of three had been the norm throughout the competition.

            Eric led almost the entire first game, once by as much as five points. But from 13-8 Boggan’s favor, Seemiller eliminated his deficit point by point until tying it up at 17. Then, with Eric serving, Danny led 20-18…20-19…before Boggan’s loop off a short push to his backhand failed to clear the net. Characteristically, Danny let out a scream of triumph.

            In game two, Danny was up 17-13 and appeared to be on his way to a crucial two-game lead and very likely another singles championship. But Eric didn’t quit and attacking Dan’s wide forehand aggressively pulled to 19-all. Dan then missed a loop kill to give Eric game-point. A short-lived advantage, though, as Danny got an edge ball to make it deuce. Then a short-lived tie before Eric scored, looping in a winner. Then Eric followed with another loop winner off a low chop by Danny—and it was his turn to scream in self-approval.

            Boggan controlled both of the last two games, establishing a late-game 18-13 lead in each. Seemiller made a run for victory both times but fell short, 21-17, in both. Eric was champ again!

            Later, Eric commented on the long-term competitive rivalry between the two, summarizing the unpredictable outcome of their matches by saying that the victory seems to go to the one who feels like the ‘more aggressive gladiator at the time.’ He also said that ‘Danny had a good shot at putting me away, indeed had me.’ But Eric felt that he had played very aggressively, like he knew he had to do in order to win, especially in the fourth game which he said was his best.

            This year’s #1 gladiator was Eric, and the teen-aged champ of ’78 likes being back on top.”

            Bill Steinle filmed this match—as he did the one between Brian Masters and Sean O’Neill, and also Sean’s Junior final against Scott Butler. This video tape, like others I’ve mentioned earlier in this volume, may at the moment be rented or purchased from Dave Strang’s USTTA Film Committee. (Dave, having taken over the Chair from Don Story, recently received $327 from the E.C. for a special on-sale video recorder.) 

Age Results

            U-11’s: Eddie Weiss over Eric Owens, 13, 10. U-13 Boys: Dhiren Narotam over Jeff Feri, 17, 8. U-13 Doubles: Narotam/Weiss over Karl Schulz/Owens, 12, 19. U-15 Boys: Jim Butler over Narotam, 9, 19. U-15 Girls: Michelle Mantel over Stephanie Fox. U-15 Doubles: Butler/Narotam over Fox/Janine Schroeder, 13, 17. U-17 Boys: Sean O’Neill over Scott Butler, -17, 20, 21, 13, after Scott had gotten by Gene Lonnon, 20, 13, -18, 19. U-17 Boys Doubles: Scott/Jim Butler over O’Neill/Lonnon, 16, -14, 10. U-17 Girls: Lan Vuong over Diana Gee, 15, 17, -14, 22. U-17 Girls Doubles: Diana/Lisa Gee over Mantel/Liana Panesko, 11, 13. U-21’s: O’Neill over Brian Masters, def.

            Over 30’s: Dave Sakai, 11, 12, over Bob Fields who’d escaped Frank Suran, 16, -18, 19. Over 40’s: George Brathwaite over Bohdan Dawidowicz, -19, 15, 21. Over 40 Doubles: Marty Doss/Fields, 10, 15, over Dawidowicz/Tim Boggan who’d advanced over Houshang Bozorgzadeh/Horace Roberts, -14, 16, 19. Women’s Senior A: Yvonne Kronlage over Patti Hodgins. Over 1600 Senior’s: Walt Gomes over Jack Loth, 15, -5, 11. Over 1900 Senior’s: Dennis Gresham over Mike Kuklakis, 12, 16, after Mike had downed Leon Ruderman, 21, 19. Over 50’s: Boggan over Suran, 17, -19, 13. Over 50 Doubles: Boggan/Chuck Burns over Norman Schuman/Ed Gutman, 18, 11. Over 60’s: Burns over Loth, 11, 9. Over 70’s: Wing Lock Koon over Bob Green, 17, 17. 

Ratings Results

            U-2250’s: Duc Luu over Bozorgzadeh, -15, 10, 19, then over Roberto Byles, 14, -10, 16. U-2150’s: Erwin Hom over Todd Petersen, 22, 21. U-1950’s: Narotam over Mark Wedret, -14, 17, 21. U-1850’s: John Schneider over Chris Fullbright, 9, 15. Semi’s: Schneider over Tom Miller, 16, -17, 18; Fullbright over Ardith Lonnon, -14, 15, 21. U-1850 Women’s Singles: A. Lonnon over Panesko, 9, 19. U-1800 Doubles: Woodret/Ed Jaffe over Steve Ma/Jeff DiSanzo, 15, 19. U-1750’s: Ed Hogshead over Bob Cornett, 17, 19. U-1650’s: John Lam over Gerald Evans, 13, 14. U-1550’s: Lam over Ronald Thomas, 14, -18, 19, then over Thor Truelson, 14, 19. U-1450’s: William Freeman over Carol Plato, 18, 21, after Carol had stopped Tai Nguyen, -17, 18, 17. U-1250’s: Nguyen over John Kane, -16, 11, 19. U-1100’s: Anthony Streutker, 10, 17, over Robert Sorenson who’d outlasted Feri, 15, -19, 19. Hard Rubber: Byles over T. Boggan, -19, 18, 18, then over Bozorgzadeh, 19, 19, after Houshang had advanced over Barry Dattel, 12, 22. 

Women’s Singles

Tom now continues with his coverage: 

“The new National Women’s Champion is 21-year-old Julie Ou (whom some were calling Julie Wow). She’s originally from Canton, China, and has been in the U.S. less than a year. Her #1 finish in the final 10-player round robin would normally have assured her the top place on the U.S. Women’s Team, but she’s presently ineligible to represent us at the ’85 Gothenberg World’s.

            Julie, a lefty penholder, brings with her the Chinese penchant for unemotional but superb play. Her high-toss service with its severe sidespin-hop frustrated her opponents while exciting appreciative onlookers. A following loop or hit for a winner demonstrated the efficiency of modern third-ball attack strategy. The emphasis of the woman’s game in America is already shifting more to offense and it seems obvious that Ou will have a considerable influence in the continuation of that style of play. Good sportsmanship has never been a problem with the women but it won’t hurt players of either sex to observe yet another competitive role model.

            The USTTA’s 1984 Female Athlete of the Year, 15-year-old Lan Vuong, turned in her best performance to date, advancing to the women’s final undefeated before losing two straight.

Along the way, she too proved the power of strong service and aggressive attack, relying on her looping game and quick footwork to defeat her opponents. She also showed her composure under pressure when, tied at 15-all in the third against Jin Na, she unfailingly executed the offensive shots needed to score against Na’s consistent chop defense. No late-match pushing or choking for this rising star headed to her first World Championships.

            Jin, 31, of Los Angeles, was the preeminent chopper in the women’s field. Although she can accurately hit in the high balls for winners, it was her ability to keep the ball in play with steady chopping that spearheaded the right-handed, shake-hands player’s third place (6-3) finish. Na will supply the defensive expertise that has long been a strong point of the American women’s team, thanks to another former Korean resident, Insook Bhushan, who is pregnant with her second child.

            Minnesota’s Takako Trenholme is improving with age. The pips-out penholder, who relies on steady counter-hitting and blocking, finished with a 5-4 match record. With her victory over Kasia Dawidowicz she secured fourth-place. Trenholme’s predilection to resist expressing emotion during match play presents an unflappable image to her opponents, who are often consternated by having to deal mostly with dead balls. Stoically, Takako plays the games point by point and more often than not at the trials won the majority of them.

            Kasia is a new international competitor as a result of her participation in Swedish league play. She and the two women finalists gave Jin Na the only losses the chopper suffered. Kasia, too, demonstrates the benefits of offensive play in the women’s game, possessing perhaps the hardest hit of all of them. Kasia is strong physically and that strength helped her to a 5-4 result and, on losing head-to-head against Takako, the fifth best record.

            Lisa Gee, 16, made the women’s final round robin for the second year in a row, posting a 4-5 record for sixth place. Last Nationals she finished fourth in a final field of eight. Since her brilliant performance at the Cuban Invitational last April when she saved four game/match/Gold medal points in women’s team competition, Lisa has continued to exhibit the talent and composure of a more experienced competitor. Like her sister Diana, she now plays more offense, having switched to regular pips-out rubber in place of the long pips she used to use. Lisa also shared in two doubles titles: Women’s Doubles with Diana (over Cheryl Dadian/Kasia Dawidowicz, 15, 16), and Mixed Doubles with Quang Do (over Diana and Brian Masters, 16, 16).

              Alice Green Kimble, 33, slipped to seventh this year after having finished second in the ‘83 Nationals with only two losses. Her 3/6 performance can be taken as supportive evidence of the already mentioned impact of offensive play on the women’s game. Alice is a steady pips-out defensive player whose composure and tenacity has contributed to her outstanding career during which she’s been a four-time USA World Team member. But the younger women, and not because of their age, are now challenging and winning against her consistent defense with their increasing ability to always play aggressive topspin. In spite of her difficulties, Alice always plays to win, challenging her opponents’ offensive talent, and when they’re successful, she’s the ever-gracious loser, acting no differently than when she wins.

            Sheila O’Dougherty, eighth-place finisher (2-7), has been playing much better since moving to Denver where she practices regularly with 1900-plus players, including 2246-rated Bohdan Dawidowicz whom she’d extended to five games at the recent Colorado Springs Open. But at the trials she won only one match after advancing out of her round-robin preliminaries with a win over Jasmine Wang. It just wasn’t her tournament and, deep down, perhaps she was frustrated by the fact she couldn’t attend the World’s anyhow because of her job commitment. She did have a good win over Cheryl Dadian; lost a tough one to Alice, deuce in the third; and extended Lan to three games.

Cheryl, 21, has been playing in the Swedish leagues with Kasia, following a long period of inactivity in the U.S., particularly on the national level. She got off to a perfect start in the preliminaries, beating Lisa Gee in three games. But in the final round robin her carry-over win ended up being half of her victories, so she finished ninth (2-7) after losing that head-to-head match with Sheila. Cheryl simply isn’t used to playing the field here and it appears that her competitive absence took its toll.

            Jasmine Wang, a demure 16-year-old out of New Jersey, had a big two-straight win over Diana Gee in her round-robin preliminaries. Although Wang lost to O’Dougherty in that round robin, Sheila lost to Diana, creating a three-way tie that was resolved by games won and lost. Sheila’s 3-2 and Jasmine’s 2-2 record bested Diana’s 2-3, so Sheila and Jasmine advanced, and Jasmine’s win over Diana didn’t carry over. Thus her sole victory over new U.S. World Team member Takako left her finishing last with a 1-8 record. However, it was the first time Jasmine qualified for the final round robin, an accomplishment in itself, and she will no doubt benefit from the experience. 

Women’s Final

            Both Julie Ou and Lan Vuong were undefeated coming into the final round. The first game started out as a service battle in which they traded points to 11-all. But then Julie won the next six of eight to get the biggest lead of the game, and though Lan scored three times attacking the lefty’s backhand, 17 was the most she could muster.

            In the second game, Julie in the beginning continued to frustrate Lan with those hopping sidespin serves she generally sent wide and deep to Lan’s forehand. But the teenager was improving against them and, combined with her own strong serve-and-follow, drew to 15-all. Lan kept her composure to take the lead at 18-17. But then disaster—Lan served off! And afterwards Julie couldn’t be stopped.” 

Tim Writes: Who Goes to Gothenberg—Kasia or Lisa?

            According to USTTA rules, the fifth-finishing man and fourth-finishing woman don’t automatically make the USA World Team. First, the Selection Committee makes its recommendations, then the E.C. votes on them. Men’s fifth-place finisher Brian Masters, the 1983 Pan Am Champion, was quickly confirmed (6-0) by the Selection Committee, with the E.C. following suit. However, one Selection member did have this to say about Brian: “I mentioned to Dan Simon and Bill Walk that [ninth-place but youthful finisher] Brandon Olson should replace Brian Masters because of Brian’s conduct at different tournaments where I have seen him play. Both Dan and Bill thought he’d improved his behavior since he’d been in Sweden and that he was going back there to play before the World’s. So I agreed to vote for Brian.”

But the last-place choice for the women was, as discussion continued, controversially contested. Kasia finished fifth but was moved up to fourth because Julie, though having a Green Card, had not been in this country long enough to play on the U.S. World Team. Challenging Kasia for a place on the Team was Lisa Gee sixth-place finisher (moved up to fifth). 

Selection Committee Responses

            On Dec. 27th, Lisa wrote a Letter to Selection Chair Bill Walk outlining reasons why she should be picked for the World Team. On Jan. 2nd, Walk sent a letter to me, Tim, indicating that the six-member Selection Committee had taken a phone vote and decided 5-1 to pick 6th-place finisher Lisa for the Team over 5th-place finisher Kasia. Meanwhile, on Jan. 1st,  Kasia wrote a letter to the E.C. which, since English wasn’t her native language, I edited and sent off to the E.C. on Jan. 3rd.

            I didn’t think a phone vote was the right way to handle this issue, and so I asked that each Selection Committee member send me in writing his (her) vote and why he’d voted as he did, the better for the E.C. to see the arguable positions, and I agreed to keep these responses anonymous.

             All Selection Committee members eventually responded, most echoing Lisa’s arguments in her Dec. 27th letter:

            Respondent #1: …“One thing I feel Kasia should understand. She is not being taken off the Team. She did not make the Team. Only the top four men and top three women made the Team. It’s our job to pick the fifth man and fourth woman. …[Though] Lisa finished one position behind Kasia she actually defeated her in the competition. In the latest ratings, Lisa is 10 points ahead of Kasia. A top woman player for years, Kasia has made no progress—in fact, she’s gone downhill some. Lisa is younger and on the way up.”

            Respondent #2: “I find that Lisa and Kasia are of approximately equal strength. However, Kasia’s conduct and performance at the 1983 World Championships was found unacceptable by the Team Captain. [See Vol. XII, Chapter Nine, 138-144.] I confirmed the details of this assessment in conversation with the Captain, who was of the opinion that Gaca’s conduct actually detracted from the performance of the Team. Gee’s conduct and performance in international events has been exemplary. The Team will be stronger with [the younger] Gee rather than Gaca, leading potentially to a stronger future Team.”

            Respondent #3: “…Lisa has always represented herself well in competition. Contrary to Kasia’s letter, this unfortunately has not always been the case with her.” [Kasia had written in her Jan. 1st letter: …“I have always tried my best whenever and wherever I’ve represented my country. I have always had respect for and a feeling of responsibility for my country; I have always felt a sense of honor in representing it….If I thought that any of the Selection Committee or E.C. members might have heard negative things about me at the last World Championships, I would certainly want to defend myself—and I’d hope that no one in a position to vote would be so unfair as not to hear my side of the story. I’ve no intention of going into the past unless I have to—I just want to make two points: 1. I feel that I as a player gave a better image of myself than my captain did. 2. Though there may be rumors to the contrary, I want to make it clear to anyone with voting power that there was never a written complaint sent to me, never any disciplinary action taken against me. Indeed, I grieve to think otherwise.”]

            Respondent #4: “…Having seen Kasia play in the last World’s, I really don’t think she was an asset to the Team. Her play was not good. Her conduct as a Team member was deplorable. She was late for practice, she only went through the motions at most practices, she only wanted to play when she wanted to, not when the captain told her to. In general, she was not a Team player….Since the #1 woman finisher cannot play at the World’s, someone else has to be selected. In my opinion, it is about time we started pushing the juniors. From what I’ve seen of Lisa, she will be an asset to the U.S. Team for a long time. Players have to start realizing that they are being financed to the World’s by the USTTA and that they are not individuals on a pleasure trip to do as they please.”    

Respondent #5: “I chose Lisa because she’s a developing player and is more coachable than Kasia…I must say, though, that any talk of Kasia at the last World’s, talk that was never pursued to any official action, should not have had any influence whatsoever on any Selection Committee member.”

            Respondent #6: [Finally, a vote for Kasia.] “…The World Table Tennis Championships is the place for our best veterans to test their skill and ability, not for future performers to acquire experience. I observed that Yvonne Kronlage was a fine captain, doing a good job with our contingent. Meanwhile I observed no behavior of Kasia Dawidowicz justifying punishment of her in the way of depriving her from membership on this year’s Team. I also did not receive any negative evaluations pertaining to her. Such evaluations and any indictments should have been made and given visibility long ago, if, in fact, her performance merited criticism.” 

E.C. Responses

            Though all nine E.C. members honored my request to tell me how they voted and why, I’ll now—so as to keep to a minimum the arguments already made—select passages from the E.C. responders that I think are additionally pertinent. [Readers of my books will be aware that the USTTA has a long and controversial history of varied ways of selecting its World Team members.]

E.C. member: “It is imperative that the selection of players to represent the United States at the World Championships be conducted in the most objective manner possible. The tryout system accomplishes this goal, and selects the best possible Team at one point in time. The only drawback to our current system is that it should encompass numerous tryouts throughout a time period to factor in improvement and consistency. The tryout method is best for players because it ensures that players are not subjected to a subjective decision by people far removed from the issue.

I myself see the intent of the current selection procedure as providing an opportunity to select the last spot in extraordinary circumstances such as illness or injury. But the wording of our International Team Selection provision (4.5.1.2) allows the Selection Committee far more latitude than I feel is good. Almost everything that could be considered in setting down guidelines for choosing a player—strengthening the Team, giving experience to a worthy developing junior, participation in tournament play, recent performance, behavior with respect to officials and other players—are all factors to be brought to the fore. Obviously these are important things to consider, but my problem, my disapproval of the ITS’s current elastic provision arises with the subjective determination involved in choosing who embodies these factors….Since the two players, Kasia and Lisa, have very much equal stats, I feel the Selection Committee’s 5-1 vote is based on subjective feelings about the players, which is unfair and leads to confusion.

In voting for Kasia I recommend that in the future the E.C. accept the results of the tryouts except for illness or injury.”

Another E.C. member: “A careful review of the arguments presented shows how subjective the matter can get. Deserving as Lisa may be, and as desirable as it may be for her to go to the World’s, it simply can’t be done, given our current approach to Team selection. My impression from newspaper accounts is that in other Olympic sports a temporary injury, or an unusually poor trial performance, meant that the athlete did not qualify for the Team. We can only do the same….We should abide by the rules that were set up in advance to select the players. Anything else would not be fair.” [This E.C. member apparently doesn’t realize we are abiding by USTTA rules—which allow for the last player on both the Men’s and Women’s Team to be picked.]

Another E.C. member: “…The fact that in the past there have been preferences given to juniors as members of the World Team is not a valid reason to choose Lisa over Kasia. All participants should be treated fairly, and I feel that to favor the younger player over the older could be classified as age discrimination….”

Another E.C. member: “I’m very annoyed about this [need to select a player], since we are in a very difficult position that could have been avoided had the E.C. acted responsibly a year ago. …If we don’t all learn something from this mess we’ll get into more messes. This will run us afoul with the USOC, and we can hardly afford that.…We were derelict. The December 1983 minutes note: ‘The Women’s team captain’s report had been sent to the Disciplinary Committee, who had not acted.’ [Were they asked to act?] That is all that was done. The whole thing was dropped….In Tokyo it seemed that every time I saw Yvonne she was grumbling about the activities of Kasia and Angie. Anything I have to say is of course heresay, so you should get Yvonne’s comments directly if you cannot find her report. I believe that Bill Steinle would also have comments, and I think they support Yvonne’s position.

I even received a comment from a representative of another association, asking whether we had third and fourth women players, since they were never in evidence. That is heresay that none of the E.C. members should use, since I cannot even recall who told me and I cannot substantiate it, but it unfortunately has to color my thinking….We’d all be interested in what Kasia herself has to say—which she should have had the opportunity of saying a year ago. Another factor we should consider is potential….Even without Yvonne’s negative report, I think I’d vote for Lisa over Kasia because of this matter of potential. But how can I, can we, convince Kasia of that? This is a position that no Disciplinary Committee should ever again put us in, a position that no Executive Committee should ever again permit them to put us in.”

One more E.C. member: “…The fact that Lisa plays with long pips and has a loop style and therefore should be a better player for us than Kasia is only an opinion and not a reason to select a player with a lower record….It’s a little late to be bringing up Kasia’s conduct at the World’s…. Since the Disciplinary Committee did not see fit, for whatever reason, to act on the Team Captain’s report [I repeat: were they actually asked to act?], we should not use conduct as a reason why Kasia was not selected. The USOC is insistent and strict on the rights of the athletes. We could be subject to a suspension if a grievance is filed and the USOC rules in favor of the athlete and against the USTTA.

[I interrupt here to show readers the Jan. 3rd letter I received from Disciplinary Chair Wendell Dillon who refers to Kasia’s claim (in my opinion, weak)—see Chapter 1—that she, and not Alice or Sheila, should have been on the Pan-Am Team: 

“Dear Tim,

I am enclosing the report from Yvonne on the 1983 World’s as you requested and the report from Steinle on the same tournament.

I hope that the E.C. will consider both reports and direct the development of definitive guidelines for personal conduct by players and coaches.

No action was taken on Yvonne’s report. I started to prepare a letter to send to the women players involved, deleting the most objectionable references [why do that?], and outlining the specific offenses alleged.

Prior to completing my action the Pan-Am team composition came up and any action taken thereafter would have appeared to have been retribution for Kasia’s appeal.

Sincerely,

Wendell Dillon”]

 

I have never seen the Women’s Captain’s report but I did see the Team Manager’s report which contained negative reports on four players. [Those interested in Manager Bill Steinle’s report and my interpolations, see Vol. XII, Chapter Eighteen, 136-138.] No action was taken on it either, so we cannot single out one player of the four, Kasia, and decide two years after the fact she should not be allowed on the Team and forget the report on the others. In the future the reports of the Team Captains and Manager should be acted upon at once by the Executive Committee and if turned over to the Disciplinary Committee these reports should be made known to the players involved so that they may present their side of the story.

…I feel we are obligated to vote for Kasia to be the fourth member of the Women’s Team….If there is any way possible I would certainly be in favor of making Lisa an alternate on the Team and allow her to play in the individual events and to participate in any practice matches that our Team might engage in either before or after the World’s….” 

Tim’s Actions after Receiving a 4-4 Vote

            Having cooperatively received specific comments from the six Selection Committee members and the nine E.C. members, I had to make the final decision whether Kasia or Lisa would represent us at the Gothenburg World’s. When the other E.C. members returned a 4-4 vote, I had to break the tie, and I voted for Lisa. I then contacted both women, and on Jan. 23rd I asked the E.C. to support me in the following request:

            “I want Kasia’s way paid to the World’s, want her to be made a USA-uniformed Assistant Coach of the Women’s Team with the privilege of warming up her teammates…. Looking back, I personally don’t see how the E.C. could have been fairer over this question of choosing between Lisa and Kasia. I myself did not proselytize on either young woman’s behalf, never asked anyone to vote one way or another. However, I do now urge all E.C. members to accept what I’m asking for Kasia. To my mind, this will be the best means of redressing an ugly situation—one that was not handled properly in the past, one that instead of threatening to erupt anew will be put to rest forever by what I’m sure will be Kasia’s cooperative Team spirit….”           

The E.C. did support me in this request, and on Jan. 23rd I wrote Kasia a letter: 

            “…I inherited a very bad situation—an unresolved disciplinary problem involving you that should have been aired two years ago. To a number of people—people of some influence in the USTTA—your behavior at the last World’s was scarcely above reproach (and to that I agree—though I also acknowledge that Yvonne made some mistakes in her Captain’s report). However, for me, behavior does not necessarily equal character—that is, though I agree that you, Scott and Eric Boggan [the other two players mentioned in Team Manager Steinle’s report] have not always been well-behaved, I do believe you all have many admirable character traits. Nevertheless, I, as President, am duty-bound to say that we all have to clean up our act. Team appearances are very, very important.

            …You ask, understandably, why 10 of 15 people picked Lisa over you (actually, the underlying feeling against you might be even more pronounced). I think it’s really a matter of your independent, sometimes anti-authoritarian, party-girl behavior—the exact same image many people have of Scott Boggan (though defenses of this life-style can certainly be raised). Such people don’t know you well enough to see the good character you have. They confuse behavior with character…and really haven’t the patience or flexibility to bring the two into harmony; they erroneously believe the two are soul-mates when in fact they aren’t.

            So when, according to the Rules, they have the opportunity to select another player, and the criteria involves among other things decorum and teamwork with officials, they not unreasonably choose the next player in line, especially when she’s so yes-yes agreeable. Objectively the match-up couldn’t be closer. So I personally think the 15-5 imbalance in the voting was because of the image people have of you.

            Now, Kasia, I want to do something about that. I want to give you the Championship chance to show everyone not just better behavior (though I want that), I want you to show them your character. So I’ve pushed hard for your inclusion at the World’s. Some say it’s a guilt feeling on my part, or a ‘bribe’ so you won’t make a stink. Well, I don’t care what they call it because (1) I’m a person who doesn’t regret making decisions; and you wouldn’t win a grievance anyway, not with the documentation I’ve got; and (2) I don’t think like that (contests, “fights” don’t bother me). My aim is to resolve this situation as fairly and as harmoniously as I can.

            So o.k., on Mar.22nd, you play with your Angby club against the U.S. in a friendly match. Then, if you want to, you can accompany the Team to Gothenburg, or, if you don’t, O.K. But please be there with your input for our first match (and of course all the others), help with the morale. As I say it’s a test of your character.

            You get exactly the same things that any Team member gets—you are an official part of the Team, the Assistant Women’s Coach with warm-up privileges. After the World’s, you’ll go back to Stockholm, I presume, and so be given a one-way open ticket back to Colorado….” 

Developments with Kasia

            After some time had gone by, Kasia called me and asked what she’d get if she went to Germany to play instead of to the World’s. Of course I quickly conveyed this development in writing to the E.C.

In response, to her, I said, “Not a dime.” Well, she said, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, so she’d get back to me.

            Next thing I knew, a week or so later, Ron Rowan of the USOC called me. Apparently (though I can’t be sure) Kasia had made up her mind to go to Germany, and so thinking that she had little to lose was taking at least an on-the-run practice shot at the Selection Committee, the E.C., and me. What exactly she was complaining about apparently neither Rowan or I, or maybe even Kasia, knew, for I’ve no note about it.

            However, I didn’t take kindly to this development and told USTTA Team Manager Dennis Masters to put a hold on her (no check, no uniform) until we discuss what action’s best. At that moment I personally no longer wanted her on the Team, for, given these new circumstances, I didn’t think she was showing (or would show?) the spirit of cooperation I perhaps naively thought she would.

            Rowan is worried about this question of “retaliation”: (1) that Kasia is being punished for having bitched about not being on the Pan Am Team as she thought she should have been, and (2) that if I now deny her the Assistant Coach position she can claim I’m punishing her.

            But if she’s in Germany I can’t give her the position in Sweden, right? And, moreover, in her uncertainty how much does she really want this coaching position in Gothenburg, and if she decided to take it, could we expect her heart to be in it?            

            Positioning oneself: that’s a big part of the game—of Table Tennis, of Life. Out of this 5-1/5-4 confusion will come—must come—definitive Selection understandings for the future. Anytime a responsible Selection Committee votes 5-1 for a player, it can scarcely be imagined that the E.C. would overturn it, and yet that’s what almost happened.

            Now, however, you’ll have to wait until the next volume to read of more controversial events involving U.S. players and officials—this time at the Mar. 28-Apr. 7, 1985 World Championships. In the interim, please wish our Team the best of luck—they’ll probably need it.