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History of U.S. Table Tennis Volume 14: 1985-86

CHAPTER FIFTEEN 

1985: USTTA Concerns. 

            On Aug. 26, Stan Robens wrote a letter to me and my E.C. in which he opens by saying that many USTTA members have an “ever-growing concern that our Association is not being operated properly as a ‘business,’ that our elected officials show a lack of fiscal responsibility in the use of the USOC windfall money for USTTA business matters. The present and future growth of Table Tennis in this country depends upon common sense business practices in every aspect of the numerous activities of our Association.” Robens, whom readers have heard from for a number of years, I feel has done little, in or out of E.C. office, to further the Association’s progress, and now to hear him as self-appointed spokesperson for the many saying on the one hand what many have said before him and on the other saying what, as you’ll see, is suspect or just plain wrong is irritating to me. What, right off, does Stan mean that my E.C. has not been responsible in the use of the windfall money for USTTA business matters”? What “business” are we in? And if we are running a business, we’re expected to make a profit, are we? And what does common sense say we do to move our sport? Does common sense say, “We’re not to take chances in life”?

            It’s true, as Stan says, that “it’s the duty of the powers that be to inform the membership of the financial status of the USTTA.” But given the mistakes of the last administration, and then our own slow and clumsy adjustment attempts, much has been in flux, especially as we try to ACT in every conceivable way to move the sport.

In my mid-October Updates to the E.C. I wrote: “I repeat the point we’ve all acknowledged: that we don’t have enough financial control. We need a qualified money manager—one who’s week-to-week on top of our accounts, who’ll monthly study such accounts, analyze them, make up-to-the-minute recommendations as to how we might save and spend. As I say, we need such a trained person (as we need a lot of other trained people). In the absence of one, Lyle, Sheila, and Emily know we’ve got to do the best we can, must zero in on responsible ’85-86, ’86-87 budgets. We’ve been allotted $62,900 in USOC Development Funds for each of the years 1986, ’87, and ’88, and Tom McLean, Assistant Director of Operations has asked for a “general” Cash Flow projection.

Lyle assures Emily and me that by the end of October at the latest, the compilation of our cash accounts at Headquarters, and the change in our check-authorization process, will be complete, and our Colorado Springs computer will be able to give us an instantaneous reading. In the meantime, I’ve asked Emily, working in concert with Lyle, to prepare a list of bills that we owe as of this moment and the money we have on hand to pay at least some of them. Turns out we still owe $19,806.50 to the USOC, and $14,461.05 to others; a total of $34,267.55. It’s still not clear when we might expect the third installment of the L.A. Games windfall money—but I certainly want the E.C. to reconsider whether we want to put ALL that money into our Foundation.

As everyone knows, I haven’t, say, Jimmy McClure’s conservative, cautious nature; I want to do new things. But finding USTTA support not only for taking risks, being financially adventurous, but for hiring everyday paid employees so as to at least TRY for progress, continually meets resistance. The idea of our now being able to USE money, which our poor, volunteer-centered sport has never had, spawns uncertainty, prompts a fear of unexplored new territory where we won’t necessarily know what we’re doing. What action or inaction do I take regarding the myriad number of day-to-day decisions I face that will show I and my E.C. are acting responsibly? That’s a perpetual question to which I often don’t find a simple answer.

            “Financially speaking,” Stan says, “the 1985 U.S. Open was a failure. Bringing the Chinese to the ’85 U.S. Open did not produce national advantage to our sport.” What does “national advantage” mean? The coming of the Chinese didn’t bring nation-wide attention to our sport? Did we all expect it to, and it didn’t, so we failed—is that a fair assessment? Stan says, “The limited newspaper and TV coverage was not worth the expenditure.” Is that why we spent the money to bring the Chinese—to get such coverage? And “limited coverage”? Reports say we got more coverage at this U.S. Open than any other.

            Now he says, clearly not knowing anything about the matter, “There is great concern that the 1986 U.S. Open will again be held in Miami. Many feel this will result again in a financial loss to our Association.” As my Nov. 8th Update to the E.C. explains, “So far, in sponsorship for the U.S. Open, which will be held June 11-15, in the same Miami Beach Convention Center as last year, we have $20,000 from Abel Holtz’s Capital Bank, $12,000 from Nittaku, $8, 000 from the Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority (VCA), and $7,500 from the Council of Arts and Sciences of Metropolitan Dade County. When else have we had such sponsorship? Doesn’t it seem reasonable to accept such an offer?

            We shouldn’t be hiring coaches, says Stan.  No need for this “hiring race”—there won’t be enough juniors for them to coach (‘cause nobody’s gonna get more of them, right?). What coaches does he have in mind we shouldn’t be hiring?  Liguo and Henan Li Ai? Jeff Mason who’s given us a 377-page Coaching Manual based on his experience in bringing table tennis into 50 Sacramento schools? Christian Lillieroos who’s not only a coach but an administrator?  Stan also says, “The USTTA officers hire individuals to perform specific duties and continue to keep them on the payroll even when they fail to perform.” Such insidious talk—the more so because I for one don’t know (does anyone?) who he’s referring to.

            I’ll interrupt Robens here to give readers reason to see why I continue to want to hire Lillieroos who as we’ve seen has a table tennis background out of Sweden. Here’s a run-down on his U.S. activities from June to November:

            “JUNE—in New Jersey. I practiced table tennis, lived with John Shareshian, and learned to know other members of the Westfield Club. I also, at my own expense, went to the U.S. Open in Miami.

            JULY—I was in Sweden for the whole month. There I worked out agreements with Stiga that would connect with the base I intended to build at Westfield. There would be a table tennis school for juniors; an Elite League for the best players; sponsorship in the way of clothes and rackets for the four coaches I’m educating; and sponsorship for the Club itself in the form of Stiga Expert VM tables available below wholesale price and barriers and scorecards.

            AUGUST—On Aug. 8 I arrived in Iowa direct from Sweden (my return flight paid for by the USTTA). I watched the Junior Olympics and lived with the Butlers. A lot of parents were interested in my work and I met a lot of interesting people.

            After the Junior Olympics, I went to Oklahoma and had one of the hardest weeks I’ve ever had. I worked with two different groups of juniors, 8 in each group—one in a three-hour morning session, another in a three-hour evening session. After the evening session, I explained for the 4-6 parents who remained why I’d done what I did and answered questions. Every afternoon I went to Ron Shirley’s place of business and worked on my specific plans for what I’d be doing at Westfield. On the Saturday/Sunday weekend, I held daily four-hour Coaching/Education sessions, at least one of which was videotaped, for players, parents, and other interested individuals. On Saturday night, I arranged a party for my table tennis groups at a volunteer’s home. A number of parents and kids exchanged phone numbers and got to know each other better. I lived with a family who had a child in my clinic, and they were very friendly, even allowed me to borrow a car, but as I left at 8:00 in the morning and didn’t come back until 11:00 at night they didn’t see much of me.

            I returned to Westfield on Wed., Aug. 21, the one-way plane ticket from Oklahoma City authorized by President Boggan was much appreciated. [Ron Shirley, who says he’ll have 500 boys and girls playing this winter in local league and tournament play, had asked the USTTA for some help, so Lillieroos’s plane ticket was as much for Ron as for Christian. Nancy Persaud also needs help, says there are 1,200 Bartlesville, OK Baptist school kids that ought to be organized.] On the weekend, I had Coaching/Education sessions (from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) on both Saturday and Sunday with my four coaches—Shareshian, Barry Dattel, Chris Lehman, and Joan Fu.

            On Friday, I came to Columbus, Indiana and gave Friday night clinics for two groups of 12, an early one for juniors, a later one for adults. Over the weekend I gave lectures on How to Recruit Beginners and How to Train Them. On Monday I played in the Hoosier Open. The organizer, Dave Elwood, made sure everything went well for me, and paid all my expenses (helped by $100 authorized by President Boggan).

            SEPTEMBER—Back in Westfield I was holding clinics every Wednesday and Friday evening. The participants pay a very small attendance fee—$25 every two months (40 hours of training for roughly 60 cents an hour). The Sept. 6-8 weekend I went to the Lake Placid E.C. Meeting with Tim.

            Returning to Westfield, I wanted to start arranging exhibitions in the local schools.  John Shareshian’s girlfriend’s mother helped me start at her school. The Assistant Principal scheduled six exhibitions for all 1100 students in the school. Unfortunately this turned out to be Hurricane Gloria day and the exhibitions were canceled, but then rescheduled. I continued with my Coaching/Education sessions at Westfield, and arranged a Saturday night party for all the players, their spouses and friends so as to further more social contacts. I continued to make school connections. I also arranged a Sept. 28-29 clinic in Maryland for my coaches but that too had to be canceled because of Hurricane Gloria.”

            [We’ll see much more of Christian, soon, as I continue to give him a push-off start…and for the next 25 years as he goes about making a varied life for himself in the table tennis world.] 

Meanwhile, Robens goes on with his negativism. “Junior Development is the number one area where the greatest emphasis should be placed.” But he’s just said, No need to hire coaches, there won’t be enough juniors for them to coach. That’s hardly forward-looking.

Then he says there’s too much emphasis on “professionalism” in our sport. Tell that to the ITTF—or in a quarter-century to the $100,000 first-prize winner of a major table tennis tournament.  On June 5, 2013 the ITTF sent out a press release in which ITTF President Adham Sharara said, “The ITTF is very proud to be able to raise the prize money to the level where we are able to see the money go to the people who deserve it, the stars of our sport, the athletes. We will continue to work hard to bring new partners and new sponsors to invest in our sport, so as to keep raising the level of prize money.”

“Too much professionalism”? What is Stan talking about?

William Simon, President of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said (Newsday, Aug. 13, 1984) the 1988 Games in Seoul will not hide behind the hypocrisy of amateurism. “In my judgment we will have open Olympics. I think, by Korea,” Simon said. “And, if not, shortly thereafter. You know why? Because we have them now. We have 17 professional soccer players. We have half the Cosmos team here….You analyze it sport by sport and we’re there already….The USOC’s position is exactly what mine is.” And in basketball, players in the L.A. Games were permitted before the Games to sign a pro contract, receive money upon signing, and be insured—but the players could not suit up for a pro team until after the Olympics. Other examples of “pro” players receiving great sums of money abound.

            Then Stan complains about SPIN magazine photos. He says in the U.S. Open issue there were “few action pictures.” True—a noticeable defect. But what about the previous issue that covered the World’s? I counted 65 action shots there.

            Then he thinks we ought to seriously consider an Executive Director. Fair enough—but I have to remind him he championed Bill Haid and there was nothing magical about him.

            “Too much money is being spent without total planning.” I agree. But if action after action demands total planning, how much gets done, how many options are rejected. “No USTTA tournament should be held where a financial loss occurs.” Such certainty can be guaranteed?

            Now he says something that really bothers me. “Secrecy has been the by-word in the USTTA for too many years and members think, “This madness must come to a halt.” I can’t imagine anyone in USTTA office more committed to openness, transparency, than I am, than I’ve been both as Editor and President.

            One last comment—and thankfully it is the last: “Self-interest must be eliminated.” More to the point: Self-interest, which everyone has, including spokesman Stan here, must be monitored by checks and balances. I therefore take to heart Stan’s ending line: I expect our President (and all the members of the E.C.) to “review this letter and act accordingly.” Which of course is what I’ve done. 

            Back in Chapter One of this volume I’d announced an “Oh Do I Want to Spend the USTTA’s Money” contest with cash awards to those who gave me the best eight detailed suggestions I’d asked for. Gary Gotchel of Rockford, IL was the $200 winner—with other prize-winning contestants following in this order: (2) Kenny Owens, Houston, TX ($80); (3) Perry Schwartzberg, Houston, TX ($60); (4) Bob Bowlander, Millbury, OH ($30); Joan Zishka, Littleton, CO ($20); and Allen Cornelius, Oklahoma City, OK ($10). As a contrast to Robens’ critical negativism, I go now to Gotchels’ progressive positivism, and will also bring in other members’ viewpoints, including mine, where applicable.           

Gotchel’s in-depth suggestions I have to condense here, but I try to do him justice. Here’s #1: “First of all, I would spend the money necessary to seek out and to hire the best marketing firm for the sport. I would look for a firm that has been involved with the success of other sports, a firm that has a successful track record in knowing how to attract and sell a sport to the American public.” 

            [This suggestion was echoed by the following two voices. Here’s the first: 

            “Tim, nothing’s going on in the sport. All of you on the E.C. are just a bunch of amateurs doing surface thinking, in danger of thinking you’re accomplishing something because you’re doing busy work. You can’t go on like this. There are only so many sports dollars, and you’re not being realistic if you think you can compete with the pros and the established glamour sports. You’ve got to create some activity to make people think about table tennis. You’ve got to zero in on one or two programs, thoroughly research them, and find professionals to carry them out. It’s not merely a question of ideas, or plans, for no idea, followed by any plan, is even valid unless you have a professional to carry it out. You should always remember: ‘What, specifically, does the E.C. need to accomplish? And what kind of professional person do we need to hire to bring about that accomplishment?’” 

            Here’s the second: 

            “…I think you should get together with someone in the motorcycle-promoting business. I raced bikes for about 20 years, and I know that not long ago we had the same lack of image and direction in motorcycling that TT is in right now. They changed their image, did tons of advertising, got some money into the sport so riders had something to shoot for, and now motorcycling is big business. My opinion is that letting our windfall money sit in a bank is not going to help us get this sport accepted as the tough competitive sport it really is. You need to get some good promotion group involved, do lots of advertising, let the locals see good players in action, get lots of exposure on TV and in the papers, and some money for the good players so they can afford to invest all their time working for the sport.” 

As I’d indicated in an earlier chapter, our Auditor says, “very little money is being spent in promoting the sport in general and in fund-raising activities.”

            Readers will remember that we aligned our sport with Joseph Potocki and Associates (JP &A) to see if they could get us some sponsorship, especially to market the U.S. Team and to support a National Junior Championships. But, after some months and a final, unsuccessful attempt on their part to get Baskin-Robbins interested, we had to sever our connection with them.

We then approached, I believe at Pat O’Neill’s urging, Burson-Marsteller, the country’s #1 Public Relations firm with a net income last year of $84,000,000 and over 1500 employees.] 

            Gatchel continues with his #2 suggestion: “I would then spend the money to retain this firm’s services and then allocate money for an improvement plan. I would follow it through to whatever scale the USTTA wants and is willing to spend.” 

            [Pat O’Neill, Mel Eisner. Jay Harris, Roger Sverdlik (he has an advertising background), and I attended a meeting with four B-M Management people (one of whom was Nancy Reagan’s former private secretary) who convinced us that they were high-powered professionals and that we could profit from their services. Later, on Dec. 15th, at our Winter E.C. Meeting, B-M’s Michelle Hartz addressed us. After an explanation of her company’s operations, she proposed a three-phase program:

(1)   Using TV spots and any other suitable means, create in the minds of the public an awareness of the sport (as opposed to the game). This would take approximately six months, at a cost of about $10,000 a month.

(2)   Work on membership increase by means of endorsements, joint ventures, etc. This would last for 18 months, at a somewhat greater cost.

(3)   Center on Olympic endorsements, the 1988 Olympic Games being the key selling feature. There would be a further increase in costs.”

 At this point, as we’ve seen from the meager ITTF participation allotment given to North America, we couldn’t be sure we’d even have a USA team in Seoul in 1988. Although there was general E.C. agreement on the need for improved and extensive public relations, it was felt that the cost of this program was just too much for us.] 

Gatchel suggestion #3: “I believe the foundation of our organization should be made up of strong affiliated clubs…I think those clubs doing the most for the sport should monetarily be rewarded for their efforts. Judgments would be based on: how many sanctioned tournaments the club held; how many entries each tournament drew; the number of exhibitions the club gave in shopping malls, schools, etc.; the increase in club and USTTA membership; and any other efforts the club made to increase the popularity of table tennis in their area. Clubs could do whatever they wanted with the money awarded: make improvements to the club; sponsor players to tournaments; sponsor juniors to training camps; pay members for work done; purchase new tables or barriers for the club. 

[This question of the USTTA helping the clubs is unsettling, particularly when you see the state some of them are in. (As of July 31, we had a total of 226 affiliated clubs.) Here are excerpts from a Club Survey that appeared in my Up Front column (SPIN, Sept., 1985, 11;18). I note here clubs (sometimes it’s a stretch to call them that, and how many out there are like them?) who are struggling but have at least one caring member crying for help. What am I as a President who has to set priorities, who wants progress, to do with these voices that come from a triage of wails and confusion:

One club, reversing the almost overwhelming pattern of other clubs, has 10 “members” and 20 “active players”; another, 7 “members” and 25 “active players.” If an “active player’ isn’t a “member,” what does a “membership” mean? Is it for an “inactive member”?

Another club says it has 75 “active players”—but only two women and one junior. No, it’s not an old folks home—or is it? [Many clubs don’t want to encourage juniors.]

One club with 12 active players has a problem. They play in squash courts, surrounded by white. [And of course how many players play on any kind of club floor or table imaginable?]

One club has only one table for 30 members, 15 active players.

[With regard to our club] many times we’ve been down to three players. We are doing better now with 10 active players. We don’t have many to coach—but I try to teach good basic strokes and an athletic game. This is hard to do because some of our better players (rating wise) are junk players and confuse the beginners who then become junky too and practice bad grips and bad strokes.

Our membership numbered 80 for a while. But the club was forced to move at the end of 1981 and the membership dwindled down to a dozen or so active members. The new facility was unsuitable for table tennis.

We had a much larger club through the 70’s because we had a place to play which could hold eight tables. Our club would grow if we could find and afford a larger place, but we cannot.

We do not have enough juniors (6) but really cannot handle many more players on a regular basis with only one night of play. [Another club (2-12 players) meets once a week because twice a week is too much for two officers to monitor.]

We experience apathy among players concerning administrative responsibilities. Our faculty sponsor is somewhat apathetic and is ignorant concerning t.t. in general.

The most serious drawback to our operation is the city shutdown of our high school club each summer. We lose many members then and therefore must recruit intensively in the fall to meet minimum attendance requirements.

We started a Boy Scout Exploring post for youth. Coached 7 juniors for six months but other sports competed for their time, and they dropped out of table tennis.

A university gave our club time in the old Student Union. They put a three foot by three foot ply-board sheet at each end of the three tables and told us we would have to stay on those boards while playing. It was their way of telling us they did not want the floors messed up.

This will be the third or fourth time I have described our club in detail, but I have received nothing in the way of help or assistance from the USTTA. I am currently a 1414 player, have raised my rating from 1158, and have been the top player in our club since it has started.

My wife and I in running our club thought initially we might make a small profit. We rent a second floor room. The rent and utilities are reasonable so I can hang on for a while until the clientele increases. Our location is not the best as there is a disreputable bar located next door.

Our club champ was not our best player by far, but he was there every week—which is the purpose of the ladder system. Our best player is rated 1800; our club champ is 1078.

Publicity is a constant problem. We cannot get tourney results or notices in the papers at all. [Danny Robbins thinks that Publicity Guidelines ought to go out to every USTTA club. He says we have to educate club players and officials how to work with the media people. Such players and officials are often so amateurish they just don’t know how to take advantage of all the exposure they could easily get.]

We need more space and are in danger any day of losing what we have—two tables for eight regular members. The USTTA has been more hindrance than help over the years. It demands much and provides little. The USTTA should do away with the requirement that tournament participants be members or buy permits. We pay tournament fees and we have attracted many members to the USTTA [including the eight who play regularly at your club?].We would have attracted far more [than the “many” you’ve already attracted] if the USTTA were not such a petty, protectionist organization. There is little doubt though that little minds and little programs will continue.

In response to the USTTA question (“What can our Association do for your club?’) I believe that clubs have to solve their problems on their own. [Of course club after club could use financial help.]

We are a small club with seven regular members in a remote area for T.T. Our club held three tournaments this year, two open and one state championships. All three were very successful for us, drawing about 40 players each.” 

If this small club has no trouble running a tournament, is it so difficult for others? I can see from the excerpts above that in a number of cases the answer is “Yes.” But, important though a good many of our clubs are to the Association, as Jimmy McClure points out, “We can’t finance club after club that needs our help. To which I’d add (cruelly?) that Clubs that don’t shape up I’m not anxious to have in the Association. As it is, we have a terrible image. We’ve got to get some Class into the Sport. Another point of view is that I shouldn’t try in any way to penalize clubs, just reward them when of course they show they’ve been quite successful or have demonstrated significant improvement (in, say, club location, appearance, membership)—and reward them not with a year’s re-affiliation but with, say, a robot. But what about those “official” clubs that can’t be rewarded, are just embarrassing? Perhaps we ought to have a Directory of Clubs but only those that meet a USTTA standard.] 

Gatchel’s #4: “I would allocate money for the penetration of Table Tennis into the educational systems. I would target the middle and high schools to make sure the students are correctly taught that Table Tennis is more than a game, it’s a sport. Table Tennis Manuals (or Kits) would then be distributed to the teachers.”

[Some with experience say that school athletic directors aren’t looking for any new sport like Table Tennis to be introduced into schools because then union rules would require that the teacher/coach be paid, and the average athletic director’s having enough trouble as it is living within his budget. But of course others, continuing to come up with what school connections they can, are hopeful. Coach Jeff Mason, for one, with the advantage of having his own Table Tennis World commercial club, has apparently made great inroads in Sacramento schools, particularly with elementary school children.] 

Gatchel’s #5: “I believe the best format of play for all clubs are leagues based on European models. Representing a team (sponsored or otherwise) gives the player a reason for coming to the club and a sense of belonging. Teammates are very supportive and their encouragement gives players the incentive to play well.” 

[On Sept. 27, a number of us—Dan Simon, his wife Patti, Stiga’s John Laring, Tim Boggan, Mel Eisner (former longtime President of the Greater New York Table Tennis League), Dennis Masters, Jay Harris, Christian Lillieroos, Westfield, NJ Club President Ron Luth, and Club stalwarts John Andrade, Barry Dattel, Joan Fu, Chris Lehman, and John Shareshian—all met at the Westfield Club to discuss the possibilities of forming at least the beginnings of an Elite-Player North American League. The participating players, at least to begin with, would come from the Eastern part of both the U.S. and Canada.

The primary purpose of such a League would be to get Table Tennis repeatedly on Television. We all agreed we’d have to change our Ping-Pong game image, have to showcase our sport. Without TV we’re hurtin.’ To get sponsors we must have titled players playing in this League—U.S. Champions and foreign stars. The sport must be shown to millions of people, shown at its best. The League must be prestigious. (Other kinds of leagues of course are possible and valuable, but we’re not talking about those here.)

Naturally everyone at the Westfield meeting recognized that it would take some considerable fund-raising work to make the League happen. All 8 teams would play one another both at home and away—each of the 14 ties to consist of 7 European League-like matches: 4 men’s singles, 1 women’s singles, 1 men’s doubles; and 1 mixed doubles. A roster would consist of: 3 regular players (2 men, 1 woman), with 1 alternate man and 1 alternate woman on call; a combination coach/manager; and a promotion-minded tournament organizer.

Each team would have to raise thousands of dollars. To play just one weekend in Ottawa, say, would cost a New York City team maybe $3,000. Of course if two separate ties in regions close together could be combined on one weekend, costs could be cut. To buy TV time a sponsor would have to have an answer to his question, “What’s in it for me?” (This is obviously the same question the best players in the U.S. and Canada would ask.) Moreover, since any sponsor would want to see these League matches played before spectators, the team organizers would have to have some expertise in getting local fans out for the ties. (Someone suggested college campuses might be good venues, for internationally-minded students in residence might have some interest in watching table tennis players with different styles, from different cultures.)

Would the manufacturers help? Stiga, in addition to offering their support in the way of tables, barriers, and scorecards, said they might be willing to sponsor one team.

But no full sponsorship support was in the offing.] 

Gatchel’s #6: I would allocate money for the formation of University Grants ($10,000 and $20,000). These grants would be awarded to Communication Departments for their production of Table Tennis films. The students would actually study the best ways to film a match. Using different camera angles, slow motion and stop action, they could better capture the action and the skills this sport requires. With voice-over analysis, play by play dialogue, and interviews prior to and after the match they’d be better able to inform the viewer on the tactics used in the game. We would need both a 3-5-minute intro film and a 30-minute film showing highlights of exciting play that we’d hope would be good not only for schools but for cable TV networks.” 

[Perhaps Gary Ruderman and Dave Strang could be available as consultants. Gary’s going to do a 1-minute promo film for us.] 

Gatchel’s #7: “I would create a table tennis Promotional newsletter to go out to each of the clubs every Quarter. It would provide ideas and programs to help the local clubs raise the interest level in their areas.” 

[Headquarters as a Publicity Center is a good idea. Still, the clubs would have to provide the manpower for the personal communication needed for progress.] 

Gatchel’s #8: “I would create another full-time position of prominence. Volunteer help is great, but we will never get anywhere unless more full-time help is devoted to seeing ideas through.” 

[Well, I (1) certainly want the USTTA to help those who look to contribute and (2) am willing to take on more employees…as long as they can prove their worth.] 

            Some attention was given by SPIN (Nov., 1985, 20) to Fred Tepper’s write-up of a table tennis

awareness clinic given to 1000 or more attendees at summer youth camps in Hendersonville, NC. Especially singled out was the prestigious Blue Star Camp where Fred’s daughter Cindy, well-schooled in the basics of the sport, and a good communicator, was a Counselor for four weeks in Table Tennis. Assisting her in staging a couple of exhibitions for the children (on a Butterfly table loaned by the Martin-Kilpatrick Co.) were Fred and two players, Mike Heisler and Greg Chamish, who made the long drive over from the Baltimore area. I wanted to help Fred who, as we’ve seen, has been an enthusiastic supporter of Table Tennis, but in hindsight I think it indulgent of me to have authorized $342.28 in car- rental costs for this group. [It was right of the E.C. to insist that these costs, and also some others, including the $200 I’d given the Chui family to go to the Junior Olympics, would have to come out of my Presidential Discretionary Fund. Tim, they said, “You have to be more selective in using such a fund.”]            

Much more attention was given by SPIN (July-Aug., 1985, 18) to “Woodland Park, CO Goes Nuts Over Table Tennis” or what Tom Wintrich calls “the USTTA’s most successful junior table tennis program to date:

“Sixteen classes consisting of 450 elementary school kids in this mountain community, ages 9-13, participated in the three weeks of instruction offered during their regularly-scheduled P.E. classes. The kids also participated in intramural table tennis immediately following the school day, as well as parent/child sessions held four nights a week. Organizational credit for this undertaking must go to USTTA National Program Director Bob Tretheway and Woodland Park Elementary Physical Education Director, Marg Corso, who was invaluable to the program’s resounding success.

Scott Preiss of Tucson, AZ, the USTTA’s National Junior Development Chairman, was selected as the head coach of the program, and he quickly proved the wisdom of that decision. Preiss put in 13-hour days and the students elevated him to near-idol status. By the end of the third week, he could barely leave the gym with all ‘his’ kids crowding around him. It’s not an exaggeration to consider Scott Preiss as the USTTA’s best coach for developing juniors.

After two days of learning how to grip the racket, familiarizing themselves with the ball bouncing on the racket, and the importance of preparatory stretching and jogging, they made rapid improvement and were eager for competitive play at the program’s end.

A special talent of Scott’s is his ability to convey the intensity of the sport to youngsters. With the aid of USTTA video tapes and photos in the World Championship issue of SPIN, the children saw USTTA juniors and world stars in action while Preiss explained what they were seeing. They especially enjoyed watching Scott Butler and Sean O’Neill competing during their elf-sized days. During their own tournament play they exhibited emotions similar to the world’s best, including a few joyous leaps in the air, a la Kim Wan. More importantly, they were just having a lot of fun.

Scott Preiss was ably assisted by Ken Reynolds and Debbie Moya of Colorado Springs. There are now 94 Woodland Park USTTA juniors and the best possible way for the Association to say thank you to the participating kids and parents is to continue supporting their table tennis interest with more USTTA-sponsored programs.”

Not only was Preiss for his exceptional service given an earlier agreed-upon remuneration but a surprise plane ticket to the Miami U.S. Open. When later he asked to do more work for the Association he was offered $5,000 (not budgeted) to work with McClure and manufacturers in order to introduce table tennis to tennis clubs. [Although this appeared to be a done deal, Scott was never hired.] 

Because Wintrich himself enjoys Coaching, I encouraged him to write the following somewhat off-beat article (SPIN, Sept., 1985, 12) that illustrates the hobby that was once a passion with him: 

“…Go!”

The student pushed off, assuming a spread-eagle position. Quickly he reached the end of the static line which automatically deployed his parachute. The backpack ripped open and the spring-loaded pilot chute popped up, immediately grabbing air, creating the resistance to pull out 24 feet of lines connected to a 28-foot diameter canopy. Within three seconds, while I leaned halfway out of the plane, I saw my student dangling beneath his parachute on his peaceful descent to earth. He was in control now and me, the jumpmaster, the coach, sat back down in the plane….

Sky-diving coaches mature much faster than table tennis coaches. At that time I had but 48 jumps to my credit, 21 of those being 30-second delays—the standard time we free-fall crazies utilize to enjoy the most individual of individual sports.

I had started training my good friend, a fraternity brother, after my 33rd jump when I had qualified for my FAA Class B parachute license. That gave me the privilege of supervising student jumps. Although I did not actually become a jumpmaster until I qualified for Class C status, some 60 jumps later after making the mandatory night jump, water jump, 45-second delays, and 60-second delays from 12,500 feet. I retired from skydiving at jump 190 just before advancing to the coveted Class D or expert rating, about equivalent to quitting table tennis at the 2300 level. Yes, I was good.

But back then, at that moment in the plane, while watching the sun set on Albuquerque’s Manzano mountains, I felt the deep satisfaction of coaching someone through a very self-satisfying experience. I had shared my knowledge for another person’s benefit. That’s the real joy of coaching.

Then it was my turn to jump and frolic with my experienced buddies, Bobby and Beetle….

 During my gentle return to earth I pondered my first student’s first jump. He had a lot to learn before he could play in the sky like we just did, but I was excited about personally guiding him through the development. I stuck with him for his next 20 jumps, through the rest of his mandatory static line exits to full-fledged free fall, the first goal of all space parachutists. It was an intense experience in my life and by age 20 I found myself capable of instilling confidence in someone else, while teaching them to enjoy and improve on something they loved to do….

 Coaching table tennis is no less satisfying and just might be more difficult, for I never met anyone who couldn’t fall. Still, I never met a skydiver that taught himself how to jump.

Nor have I ever seen a good table tennis player who hasn’t been coached. We marvel at the Chinese, but they have no secrets or success other than their willingness to adapt to change, and their abundance of coaches. Their coaching system produces the players and there is no reason the USTTA can’t do the same thing.

…The only real thing wrong with table tennis in this country is that too few people play like we in our Association tournaments do. But coaching can affect the situation dramatically. Offer the opportunity for 450 kids to be introduced to the game like in Woodland Park and there’s a good chance 50 of them will stick with it if instruction is ongoing. Even the 400 who drop out can be important to the USTTA’s growth because they become potential spectators in the future, simply as a result of their firsthand experience playing the game under USTTA guidance….” 

SPIN (Oct., 1985, 13) shows photos of the 10 young players (five boys, five girls) accepted at the first Resident Training Program (RTP). “This Program is the best example of the USTTA’s acceptance of the need to help its promising players.” 

Gee Family

As you can see from the following Open Letter by Betty and Yim Gee (SPIN, Oct., 1985, 17), enrolling in the RTP at Colorado Springs is not just a big deal for the players but for their parents: 

“Dear Daughters:

            On the eve of your departure for the Resident Training Program (RTP) at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, there are many fond thoughts flashing through our minds.

            We are so proud that you are our daughters. We are so proud that you are beautiful girls. We are so proud that you are each loving persons full of vitality, dreams, and accomplishments. Even though you are teenagers you are adults in our eyes.

            You have accomplished a great deal in the tender years of your life. You have been loving sisters, daughters and grandchildren, outstanding students, good friends, world travelers, and table tennis champions. Your decision to take part in the RTP indicates that you want more for yourselves, that you have set higher goals to attain. That is great and you have our full support.

            Being away from home will help you each to become the kind of person you want to be: an individual who knows and seeks what she wants; a person who can get along with herself and others, an individual who can think independently and take care of herself, a person who values friendship, love, happiness, competition, education, and career.

            In the next nine months you will be pursuing aspects of the goals you have set in your personal development: spiritual/ethical, mental/educational, financial/career, social/cultural, and health/sport. Please review these goals often and update them if necessary. Don’t be afraid to dream and set higher goals for yourselves. Remember, champions, successful people, are not born that way, they make themselves.

            Take pride in your demonstrated accomplishments. Love the people around you, have confidence in yourself, be cheerful and enthusiastic, and you can accomplish greater things in the future. Be humble before God and remember to give thanks for his blessings. 

Love,

Mom and Dad/Betty and Yim Gee”