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

CHAPTER TWENTY 

1985: USTTA End-of-the-Year Decisions. 

The final E.C. Meeting of the year took place Dec. 15-17 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Excellent Minutes were taken by Secretary Rufford Harrison. All E.C. members were present, along with others who attended either at the opening of the Meeting or in large part throughout, including Dan and Patti Simon, Dennis Masters, Jeff Mason, Jay Harris, Bob Tretheway, and Bill Hodge. Dan Seemiller, whose tenure as Vice-President had been in abeyance while he was being paid for running the Lake Placid Resident Training Program (the trial period for that having now ended), resigned his office, effective at the conclusion of the Dec. 17-22 U.S. Closed.  Since the Lake Placid RTP would be continued until the end of March, Seemiller wanted to take advantage of his job there as Director (E.C. members had $1,000 limitation on what they could earn as a paid employee of the Association). I, Tim, would have liked Roger Sverdlik to have been appointed in Dan’s stead, but since he was now not ready to accept, it was agreed that Bill Hodge, supported by Neil Smyth, be appointed for the remainder of Seemiller’s term.

Were the USTTA able to match Roger’s salary at ABC, he might be persuaded to take on the role of Executive Director. He thinks with our good China connections we ought to work on sending a U.S. Team to China, sponsored by a company interested in getting into China—so interested that we might be able to work out not just travel/hospitality but a “package” with them. Someone ought to be at least TRYING this angle, he says.

However, though some of our E.C. members don’t want to tackle any project without sponsorship, Roger tells me that the sports marketplace is very soft now. ESPN just can’t sell time because there are so many sports on the air. ESPN (and Jay Harris told me this too) wants advertisers who’ll both sponsor a show and buy time. Roger suggests that we consider making cassettes of the sport (video rental places are everywhere): concentrate on instructional, promotional (with world-class players bringing glamour to the game), and entertainment shows (a la Secretin-Purkhart). Certainly we ought to have at the sponsor-ready that 19-in-the-4th 1978 U.S. Open final Dan Seemiller played against Japan’s defensive star Norio Takashima.

And speaking of fund-raising, I note that, at the Manufacturers’ Meeting Dec. 19 at Caesars, Bob Cruikshank thought the USTTA ought to produce a Fund-Raising Manual, then follow-up by offering Fund-Raising seminars. He didn’t say, though, who’d do the Manual, conduct the seminars.

But, ah, everything, especially progress, costs money.

In preparing a USTTA Financial Report, Sheila, working in concert with Lyle and Emily, says they’ve had problems with our fiscal-year Beginning Balance, says they’ve gradually been discovering Accounts Payable items they didn’t know we owed, and that apparently were not detected by the Colorado Springs auditors. She’s convinced, though, that by working on centralizing our accounts at Headquarters we can quickly get our new system together. (No longer does something become an expense only when we finally pay for it…ohh, that was real bad.) At any event, after more discussion and analysis with Lyle and Emily during our Vegas Meeting, Sheila was able to present (TTT, Mar.-Apr., 1986, 23) the up-to-date Financial Report, including the Budget-Income Statement from 6/01/85 to 1/31/86, I reproduce here. 

A major change for the USTTA occurred in the Editorship of our National Publication. It had become increasingly obvious to me that Tom Wintrich’s head was not into doing the magazine. When he resigned, we of course had to find a successor. Jay Harris, who replaces Tom as Advertising Chair (Jay is also our Public Relations and Fund-Raising Chair), and who I’d authorized, at an honorarium of $50 a month plus telephone expenses, to supply relevant information to local media in areas where major events were being held, wanted to be the Editor (at $1,000 a month, which would allow him to have help). But I successfully pushed for Scott Bakke, a 19-year-old Minnesota player and college student looking to pursue a degree in Journalism and Publication Design.

I sent all E.C. members copies of Scott’s three issues of “Wiggy’s,” the publication he’d started with a vitality and variety of content as a labor of love back in September, and also a copy of his impressive presentation for the Editor’s job. He’ll operate out of Minneapolis, where, in doing “Wiggy’s,” he and his backers had established an “in” with a well-known printer who’d given them, and I believe will continue to give them, a break on the printing costs. Of course since Scott is untried with us, his initial contract for editing, at his insistence not a tabloid like SPIN but a slick-cover magazine to be published six times a year, the name reverting to Table Tennis Topics, was for six months at a salary of $500 a month.

Can’t wait to hear this 19-year-old Editor’s sophisticated individual voice in TTT? I’ll give you a few lines from my advance copy. Here he is, in his first (Jan.-Feb., 1986) issue, with his youthful exuberance—his humor and irony—in saying an imaginative “Hello” to the reader:

“When Wiggy and I were approached by Tim Boggan and the ever affable E.C. concerning this Editor position, frankly we were skeptical. But as the project unfolded, that feeling was quickly replaced by uncertainty. How would we handle the hate mail? Who would do the prufereeding? Most importantly, how was Wiggy to grab the spotlight over that pesky eagle in the USTTA logo?” 

After some discussion, it was agreed to continue the publication of the ratings every month. On Dec. 11, Rating Chair Dan Simon had presented a position paper to the E.C. He had a number of arguments for preserving the rating pages per issue, not the least of which was that “the rating pages are the ones most frequently looked at first for personal and friends’ ratings.” Indeed, proof that “the average player is very interested in his (her) rating” can be seen when Dan “averages 23 phone calls per week from players who want to know their rating.” Really, as many as that. As if suddenly realizing that such an interest amounts to over 1000 calls a year, Dan announced he’ll no longer give out ratings over the phone. So, o.k., ratings in every issue—but how about a separate insert for them? [This would be tried, but wouldn’t prove satisfactory.] 

A proposal that Bob Tretheway be retained for one year with a salary increase of $1,000 with frequent reports to the E.C. was defeated 3-5-1. But a similar proposal carrying no increase in salary was accepted 5-4. Since we needed a very professional-looking Grant Proposal to submit to the USOC by Dec. 20, our USTTA Player Rep, Sheila O’Dougherty, suggested our Project should be the Resident Training Camp Program (for which we also needed a Resident Manager). The E.C. agreed to this; but to give us a better chance of getting funded, only with regard to Colorado Springs not Lake Placid too—though we need help with the latter since Butterfly’s decided not to support the Program there. Bob again showed his value to the Association by writing this Grant. If he didn’t do it, who would?

One suggestion (not adopted) to get RTP funding: let Yim Gee invest $100,000 of our money at what he says would be a 30% return.

Some questions were raised concerning the quality of those attending the two RTPs. It was felt by some that certain members of the squads were mediocre, and it was suggested to Bob that a qualification procedure should be established. 

It was agreed that the position of Coaching Committee Chair not be filled, and that instead Ai Liguo should be appointed Coaching Director. Liquo wants to be the U.S. Distributor for Friendship rubber. Whether in his position as Coaching Director he can be the distributor is something the E.C. needs to decide. Gus Kennedy’s gone on record as saying: “It should be required that in order to receive pay from the USTTA for services, one cannot receive pay from manufacturers for selling their equipment or acting as their agent.” 

Larry Hodges, who’ll be representing the Association for years in various important ways while making a living in table tennis, continues with his coaching articles. Here’s his latest, “Stepping Around the Backhand Corner” (SPIN, Oct., 1985, 16):

“Since the forehand is almost always stronger than the backhand, it is very important to be able to use the forehand out of the backhand corner.

Stepping around the backhand involves four parts: (1) setting up the shot; (2) assessing whether to step around or not; (3) the footwork itself; and (4) the shot itself.

Getting a shot to step around on involves good shot selection on your part, ball placement, and quick judgment.” You want to look for and take advantage of your opponent’s pushes, blocks, and pop-ups, especially pop-ups, for with them you have more time to move into position. “If you anticipate a shot to the backhand, don’t move until your opponent is committed”—and then move very quickly to try to score or force a weak return with your forehand, the more quickly if you’ve “had difficulty anticipating where your opponent’s block or drive is going.” If your footwork is sound [Larry’s very specific on this, illustrating with several diagrams the proper positions of the attacker’s feet], and you learn “to pull your arm back quickly as you step around…you’ll be taking full advantage of your natural strength and the power of your forehand.”

Larry’s article drew something of an amendment-commentary from Rufford Harrison (TTT, Jan.-Feb., 1986), excerpts of which (originally seen in a recent Butterfly Table Tennis Report) I note here:

“…First, I’m not sure that, in general, there is enough time for those two steps-around-the backhand so as to forehand attack that Larry recommends: the short one to the side with the left foot, followed by the longer one to the back and left side with the right foot….Perhaps an intermediate player can do it on what Larry calls a pop-up, possibly even on a push. But on a block? I doubt it….

The Chinese penholders can do it, even against drives and loops—but even world champions seldom have the luxury of enough time for two steps. No, they take just one. They leave the right foot planted and simply take Larry’s left-foot step. The resulting stance is parallel to the end-line and extremely broad. [Rufford elaborates a bit more (‘a sharp turn of the waist, shoulders almost perpendicular, ball struck almost vertically above the right hip’) but see the adjacent photo of China’s Chen Longcan in action.]

…Want an alternative? Improve your backhand.” 

Although Christian Lillieroos could not be hired yet—his alien residency papers were still being processed—I continue to think he’d be a very valuable asset to us. Here, however, is what he reminded me of before he left for Sweden:

“This first half-year has been a very good experience for me. When I first thought about table tennis in this country I was very optimistic. Now I am even more optimistic. It is hard to fail here—everyone loves the sport.

However, my experience in the U.S. has also been expensive for me. Just going to tournaments, making contacts, seeing for myself what T.T. is like in various parts of the country has cost me $1,000. I travel back and forth to the Westfield Club at least once a day—that’s $120 just for gas. The USTTA gave me $400 towards a car, but I wasn’t sure what a car for $400 would look like or run like, and I didn’t have time to shop around, so I put in some more money myself that would at least give me a presentable-looking car as I went from school to school. Of course I can’t afford my own apartment. Right now I’m living with Barry Dattel—renting a room from him. This means I have no home in the ordinary sense.

All this compared to the good-paying job I had in Sweden and could have again.

So, while I think this half-year in the U.S. has been a valuable education for me, I also think I’ve more than served an apprenticeship and now need to make a dignified living.”

I want to help him do that. 

Regarding Canadian TTA Adham Sharara’s Quadrennial Planning Program for the USTTA:

In order to improve the state of table tennis in the U.S. as much as I can, I enlisted the help of the very experienced CTTA Secretary-General (formerly CTTA Technical Director) Adham Sharara who will one day be the longtime President of the ITTF. Questionnaires seeking to find flexible and opportunistic approaches to further our sport were sent out from Ottawa on Dec. 3 to 130 of our Association members. These people, encompassing in toto every conceivable point of view, I myself had selected as being very involved in U.S. Table Tennis. Although the results of these Questionnaires weren’t available for our E.C. Meeting, Adham, on joining us in Las Vegas, urged that we adopt the classifications used in the Questionnaire and order our priorities around them. Here they are (in no particular order):

  1. Organization and Analysis
  2. National Team
  3. Coaching
  4. Officials
  5. Facilities and Clubs
  6. Tournaments and Competition
  7. National Championships
  8. Junior Development/Talent Identification
  9. Medical and Scientific

10.  Public Relations/Fund-Raising/Advertising/Sponsorship

On discussing this Questionnair with Adham, there was an obvious consensus that the Association suffered from lack of planning and good management, and also from lack of sufficient places to play. The group was almost unanimous, however, that marketing or public relations should be the top priority for the next couple of years. But if there’s going to be any follow-up to that conclusion, we need to have a product (a U.S. Team? a Showcase Circuit?) we can show to PR and marketing professionals who can do something about creating an all-important IMAGE for us.

            I plan to meet with Sharara in April. He’ll want to address our E.C.—spend a whole day making an objective presentation. He’ll want everyone to understand that the Questionnaires show how the most interested parties view the Association as it is now [often, from my point of view, in an unduly (what can we do?) negative way]. Adham wants these parties to concentrate on how they want the Association to be in the future. It’ll be the immediate responsibility of the E.C. to begin to move us towards a rational step-by-step implementation of an ACTION PROGRAM.

            Together, Adham and the E.C. will construct a skeleton model of this PROGRAM that we’ll be expected to hold to. (Work sheets will be sent to E.C. members prior to their Summer Meeting showing priorities established by the Questionnaires. Suggestions will be solicited on what specifically should be done to accomplish what we want to accomplish.) Subjects of most importance (and it’s vital that we get a consensus of opinions on this from the E.C.) will be taken up in a priority order…with appropriate allocations and time guidelines.

            Adham feels that we MUST spend (despite the present constrictive mindset of some E.C. members) a sufficient amount of seed money—perhaps as much as $300,000-$350,000 the first year, $200,00 the second year, $100,000 the third year. Our PROGRAM understanding will be that we have every rational reason to believe that we’ll get, that we MUST get, an acceptable return for our money.

This means that we have to consider (what many trying to further t.t. in the U.S. haven’t wanted to consider) the validity of the “volcanic” approach, working from the top down. To get TV it’s essential for us to promote our TOP players and CLASS tournaments. But for us to make these players and places available costs money. What are we willing to spend to get our sport visible? Jay Harris told me that a January Saturday afternoon ESPN viewing of our Closed was possible for $42,000 total. To which Jimmy McClure said, “It is utterly ridiculous to even think about this [my italics] unless we have a sponsor to put up the money.” Yes, a sponsor that’s not the USTTA itself. Maybe Jay can come up with one—he’s pursuing Pepsi ‘cause they’ve come out with a new product called “Slice.”

            Jay is trying. He thinks a TV viewing of our 1986 U.S. Open (a one-hour-long Saturday show plus two re-runs) could be put together for $30,000. If the E.C. could get a sponsor to go halves, would we commit $15,000 to it? 

            On Adham’s list is Facilties and Clubs. Emily and Co., facilitators at our Colorado Springs Headquarters, should know that, according to Lou Bochenski, fully 20% of our USTTA Mailing List has errors in it. Lou does not want to turn over  to the USTTA his worked-hard-to-accumulate Paddle Palace mailing list (roughly five times that of the USTTA’s). But he does want to cooperate with the USTTA. He wants to put the most up-to-date tournament schedule and listing of USTTA clubs in his Paddle Palace catalogue—but he says that his requests for updates fall on deaf ears…as do his requests for the names and addresses of new USTTA members. I’d like more cooperation with Lou. 

            Someone suggested to me that somebody at Headquarters ought to make a list of products that go primarily to a Vietnam population, a Korean population, a Chinese population, an Indian population, and so on, and that somebody should then contact these companies and see if we couldn’t get ads not only in tournament programs but in our Table Tennis Topics as well. 

            Headquarters can also help by soliciting photos—encouraging both amateur and experienced photographers to send in any shots they fancy. Robert Compton, Mal Anderson, and Terry Canup can’t be everywhere photos need to be taken. Here’s Compton (SPIN, Oct., 1985, 21) giving an introductory lecture on cameras and camera technique:

            “Click

            You have just captured an instant on film. Did you get what you wanted—a high-toss serve, a kill, an off-the-floor chop, an expression?

            You don’t have to be a professional using expensive equipment to get good table tennis photos. At major tournaments you will see a variety of cameras used from disc to 2 and ¼-inch format. However, the camera you’ll see most often is a 35mm single lens reflex (SLR). The 35mm SLR is a very flexible system. You have many lenses and films to choose from and the cameras themselves can be fully automatic, including auto focus. Still, you need to know when to shoot and what film to use.

            Film choices are abundant for 35mm cameras and picking the right one is very important. Table tennis is an indoor sport played under artificial light and the films that are best for these conditions fall in the range of ASA/ISO 400 to 1600 since they don’t require much light.

            A number of different lenses can be used for table tennis. Wide-angle lenses are good for crowd shots. The standard 50mm lens that comes with most cameras is very good as it doesn’t require much light and doesn’t weigh very much. Telephoto lenses from 85mm on up are the most useful lenses for table tennis action since they are best for close-ups. However, there is a trade-off with telephoto lenses because generally the longer the focal length of the lens, the more light you need. There are exceptions to this, but such lenses are very expensive and heavy. Zoom lenses can also be used, but again they require more light.

            When preparing to photograph a player, it’s a good idea to watch a while before shooting. The observation can help you decide on the shot you want to take. Does the player have a great backhand or serve you want to photograph? After watching you can decide what the best angle is to shoot. If you are in the stands and can’t move around, you can see what the best shot would be from your position. The point is to be selective in what you shoot.

When photographing an action shot, you normally want to stop the action. This is accomplished with a fast shutter speed. To keep the players from becoming a blur, it’s best to use a shutter speed of at least 1/250 of a second, but usually the faster the better. You are normally limited to the fastest shutter speed you can use by the speed of the lens. If you have a lens that requires a lot of light (a slow lens), then you will be able to use a fast shutter speed.

Listed below is what I use for particular shots.

Equipment:

Olympus cameras and lenses.

24mm f/2 or 35mm f/2 for crowd shots

85mm f/2 or 135mm f/2 for doubles

135mm f/2 or 180mm f/2 or f/2.8 for singles

250mm f/2 for close-ups from a distance

Film:

B&W Tri-X rated at E.I. 1600

Color: Ektachrome EES rated at E.I. 800 or 1600

Kodacolor VR 400 or 1000 pushed a stop 

Regarding USTTA clubs, I’m interested in how new-image ones can be formed and what can be done for our existing ones. A New York City Club is a high priority for me, but so far, though I’ve tried, I can’t make it happen.

Dell Sweeris has requested $10,000 for three years in order to establish the Grand Rapids, MI club on a professional level. There was a consensus among E.C. members that, while it was admirable to increase the number of clubs and their quality, it was not desirable to single out any specific one.

After a different approach was suggested by Sharara, a sub-committee of Boggan, Eisner, McClure, and Sweeris agreed to modify Dell’s proposal so that it could be offered to all clubs, with criteria established so that one club could be selected during the first year, four more in the second year, and five more in the third. The revised procedure was to be sent by mid-February to all clubs, with a deadline for preliminary reply by the end of March, and a final reply by the end of April with complete details. The proposal would be offered to non-profit clubs only, with the objective of establishing a nation-wide series of “centers of excellence.” The above named sub-committee would recommend to the E.C. before its Summer Meeting the five best prospects. It was planned that the program would be in place on Jan. 1, 1987. Since in a letter to me Ohio’s Rick Hardy* requested “$200 or so a month” to put his well-established Cleveland club “in the market for a better facility,” I’m sure he’ll be one of the first to respond. 

Like Clubs, Junior Development is also on Adham’s list. On Jan. 5, I sent round to the E.C. notice that Bowie Martin offered to help the USTTA in a grass-roots Junior Program. Specifically that would be in an area of the country where he knows from past experience such a Program would be successful—namely, in the Wilson, N.C. School System.

The cost to the USTTA for a four-month Pilot Program, supported by the now operative Wilson Table Tennis Club and directed, with Bowie’s approval, by the experienced North Carolinian Al Herr (assisted by the equally experienced Ty Hoff and Bowie Martin, Jr.) would be $3,200.

…It turned out that the E.C. resisted this Program, but, after talking with Jimmy McClure, I’ve allotted Bowie and Co. $800 for a one-month trial run. Bowie’s offer was the only gesture of progress that came to us out of that three-hour Manufacturers’ Meeting at Caesars, Dec. 19th, Jimmy and I attended. Bowie’s got all the 6th-8th-graders in Wilson County at least aware of this upcoming Project. Youth programs are already going from 4-6 every afternoon at both the USTTA Wilson Club and the town’s Recreation Department. Just like at Colorado Springs and Lake Placid a van comes around and transports the kids—that in itself is very encouraging to participants and parents, for it suggests sustained play is probable.

McClure, I might add, is particularly alert as to what’s happening (or not happening) in his home state of Indiana. He speaks of an Indianapolis Sports Youth Development Program (five sports including table tennis) that the city, the Eli Lilly Co., and the Pan Am people are behind (the Pan Am Games are set for Indianapolis in 1987 with McClure as T.T. Commissioner). The program started Nov. 2, is for kids 5-14, and will last for six weeks. Table tennis is played on only one day (Sat. or Sun.) during Nov.-Dec. but every day in an eight-week program this summer.

Bill Hall, President of the Pershing, IN club, suggests that every month the USTTA should give a free Junior Membership to an Outstanding Junior. However, since details are lacking, one’s left to speculate. Is the recipient expected to be a non-USTTA member? Is there to be ONE such recipient in the whole country? Or is every USTTA club supposed to pick one of their own, and every month! That last suggestion would have to draw a sardonic reply. Rufford, however, offered a serious response: said the USTTA would need to set standards and requirements that would have to be met. I don’t think it’ll happen.

Rick Hardy was one of those 130 who received Adham’s “most excellent” Questionnaire. He noted (TTT, Mar.-Apr., 1986, 28) that in the Junior Development/Talent Identification section, 14 of the 16 questions “referred to the identification and development of elite juniors.” Where will these juniors come from? [Answer: from the future: from coaches, especially Chinese and other experienced foreign-born coaches, who—because they have the respect of parents who want their children to excel; have the support of the community in which they live, and have access to a thriving training facility—CAN MAKE A RESPECTABLE AND PERHAPS EVEN A VERY GOOD LIVING.]

Rick was also very interested in the section on “officials (referees and umpires).” Their duties for years now have been fraught with controversies, problems, because of the ever-changing development of the sport. Here’s a pertinent article from California’s Bob Green (SPIN, Sept., 1985, 24):

“This article is being written to attempt to correct an important error in the USTTA service rule. As an umpire, I have observed several American players using the Swedish-type high-toss service and then covering the descent of the ball to the bat with the open palm of their freehand. This effectively blocks their opponent’s view at the moment of contact. I have challenged the legality of this service and each time I have been reminded that it is perfectly legal—the service rule states that the service only has to be fully visible to the umpire.

This is absolutely true, but pity the poor opponent trying to make a good service return and probably can’t because his view of the ball during its descent and contact is blocked out by the hand in front of the ball. The players using this type of service admit that they do it on purpose and point out that it is legal. Many young players are starting to copy this service, knowing that they can get away with it.

The rule should be amended as soon as possible. It should read that the service must be fully visible to both the umpire and the opponent at all times,”

USTTA Rules Chair Mal Anderson responds in an adjacent article:

“The problem Bob Green wrote about, that the rules require the ball in service to be visible at all times to the umpire but not to the player is rooted in the ITTF Rules; the USTTA Rules are normally identical with the ITTF Rules. The ITTF Rules Committee had discussed this problem. We reluctantly concluded that requiring the umpire to decide if a serve is visible to the receiver is unreasonable. The service rule is already a very tough rule to enforce, a split-second decision regarding what the opponent could or could not see is simply asking too much.

Since the ITTF has rejected this proposal, it is very unlikely that the USTTA will consider it. Like so much else, this serving method is part of the continuing evolution of the sport, which we have to accept.” 

Virginia’s Jack Carr, for one, does not accept this method of serving. He writes (SPIN, Nov, 1985, 4): “In the Sept. SPIN, Bob Green complained that the server’s free hand is being used to block the receiver’s view of the serve at the moment of contact. There should be a rule which prevents any part of the body or free hand (arm) between the ball and table during the serve. The umpire can easily see this, whereas he might not be able to tell if the receiver can see the entire serve.”

 [Twenty years later, it’s as if the ITTF suddenly heard Jack and paid attention to what he said. In 2005, the Federation passed 2.6.5: “As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net.”] 

 Looking for something new? How about “Franchised Table Tennis”? (SPIN, July-Aug, 1985, 12). A writer named J. Henry explains how an article in the Wall Street Journal excited not a table tennis player but 32-year-old Rip Kirby into becoming a table tennis advocate.

“The article was about Gus Berliner’s table tennis robot, the Sitco R III Loop. Mr. Kirby became so excited when he read the article that he called Mr. Berliner at home outlining his idea for a table tennis arcade using robots as the attraction. [Huh? An arcade? How would that work?]

The arcade, or club, is a 13,500-square-foot facility complete with locker room, pro shop, and restaurant. The playing area is a 9,500-square-foot geodesic dome. The dome is 110 feet in diameter and 41 feet high. It houses 15 robot tables and six one-on-one tables. Balls are cleared off the floor by a gravity-assisted, pneumatically-driven suction system. The club rents shoes and paddles much like a bowling alley and the machines are rented in 15-minute segments. All the proportions of the club comply with USTTA rules (800 square feet per table) and all equipment used, rented, and sold will be official USTTA-approved equipment.

AHA! You exclaim. Twenty-one tables require 16,800 square feet to comply with USTTA rules. Quite true, Mr. Kirby allows, but robots don’t need any playing room, they don’t move. Thus, the floor plan doesn’t allow them any room and presto! A very efficient building-design concept is born. Using the circular nature of the geodesic dome to his advantage, Mr. Kirby designed a playing area for the robot table in the center of the dome, each table spoking outward providing a pie-shaped playing area for the human opponents. The one-on-one table-playing areas form a concentric band 20 feet wide and 40 feet long around the perimeter of the dome. The ceiling is rounded, 41 feet high at the apex and allows the required 14 feet of clearance over every table. The lighting is all indirect and all the windows are frosted to provide diffuse lighting. All the air-conditioning is floor-mounted to keep the air from being disturbed.

            AHA! You exclaim again, who will play the robot? The table tennis population is too small! True again, allows Mr. Kirby, but that is exactly the point, the population is too small because table tennis has always required two players. Now, we have a smaller facility and no requirement for a partner. Thus the building is economical to build and the customer only needs free time to play. Besides, Mr. Kirby points out, his company did a marketing study that proves the customer base is in place, waiting for this challenge and willing to pay.

            Not only that, the marketing study showed that table tennis is an unknown sport to the general public. Only 30% of the general public know that table tennis is an Olympic sport. There is a large, affluent, untapped market out there and that’s one reason why we’re going to build this facility.” [Another source says the first of Mr. Kirby’s five clubs planned for Florida will be in Ft. Walton Beach, and that he plans to charge $2.00 an hour to practice with what he calls the pongbot—a combination of the words “pong” and “bot” (from robot of course). The franchise fee will be $50,000.]

            The second reason why we’re going to build this facility is to offer the opportunity to play table tennis to the general public in a mass way—through Mr. Kirby’s clubs. His contention is that the more people who play the game the better the chance to produce serious competitive players. It’s a game of numbers and, who knows, future table tennis stars, perhaps even an Olympic gold medalist, will have gotten their start in the sport by playing in the robot facility.”

            And who will Mr. Kirby have working for him as Vice President and the corporation’s competitive director of these Pongbot Family Table Tennis Centers?

AHA! Tom Wintrich, of course.

Which perhaps explains why, during the week of Jan. 13th, “the revolutionary RIII loop was featured on LATE NIGHT with David Letterman as the show’s hottest new “invention.” As of Mon., Jan. 27th, the machine was still displayed behind Letterman’s L-shaped desk, but so far has been used as a mini-cannon to humor viewers. Of course, even more amusing would be to see the show’s host, David Letterman, try to illustrate as a player the robot’s real purpose.

SELECTED NOTES.

            *Here’s Rick Hardy (TTT, Jan.-Feb., 1986, 25) introducing us to his new Topics column “Table Talk”:

            “Since this is the inaugural installment of what will become a regular feature in the new Topics, I’ll start with some background about myself.

            But first I must congratulate Scott Bakke on his selection as editor, and his revival of Topics. I have no doubt that he will be a great editor, and so, like a polite guest, I’ll try to keep this writing to a similar high standard.

            My name is Rick Hardy. Nine years ago, I was emancipated from the basement and joined the sometimes real, sometimes unreal world of table tennis. Since then, I’ve graduated to be President and Co-Tournament Director of the Cleveland Table Tennis Club and also Secretary-Treasurer of the Ohio Table Tennis Association. For the last two years I’ve been a member of Sheila O’Dougherty’s Athlete’s Advisory Committee. Some of my writing, including this column, will come from my communication with that committee.

            There has been little concrete activity since the Athlete’s Advisory Committee was formed with some fanfare and an impressive list of names in June, 1984. Some of this has been due to Sheila’s relocation back to Minneapolis. Mostly, however, we ran into a logistical problem. How can 15 people, scattered around the country, make the commitment of time and money to attend biennial meetings at such widely separated locations as Miami and Las Vegas? Since we cannot, continuity of purpose has been non-existent.

            Another problem is focus. Where does one start to reverse the sorry record of U.S. table tennis? We have lacked a clear sense of focus. In an attempt to fill that void, I’m going to share some of the ideas I’ve shared with Sheila.

            Stellan Bengtsson has pointed out that, in a country the size of ours, strong state or regional associations are essential to the promotion of the sport. We have had a strong state association in Ohio for many years. We hold a meeting each summer at which we conduct general business and set the tournament schedule for the coming season. Each year we select and pay entry fees for teams to represent Ohio at the USOTC’s. We also have a state ranking system about which I would like to elaborate….

            Rankings are kept in all open and age-limited events. Points are awarded for each place achieved in the event, provided at least one match was won. Unlike the USTTA rating system, points cannot be lost, and so the ranking system always encourages participation in tournaments. Certificates of ranking are awarded in all categories at the end of the season.

            Three years ago, I initiated an Awards Ceremony at which players received their ranking certificates. The Ceremony was held at the first tournament of the new season. This sparked renewed interest in the ranking system. One player who had elected not to play in the tournament drove 75 miles just to hear his name called and receive his award.

            Clearly, we had touched the lives, the hearts, of not only this player, but of many others, and at the cost of only a little effort, a little thought, and a few pieces of paper. With all the talk of the large expenditures needed for promotion, here’s an inexpensive program anyone can implement.

            Even if you have only one club in your state, why not try running three or four tournaments a year, see what happens.”