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

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT 

1984: Looking to the Future.

President Boggan’s Up Front column (SPIN, Jan., 1985, 12-13) summarized the major happenings at the end-of-the-year’s E.C. meeting at the Tropicana. The first item of business, as everyone expected, was to make sure we’d safely invest a goodly amount of the Olympic windfall money—a sum that will likely turn out to be more than $1,000,000.

With the wind at our back, the EC went on a hiring spree. 

We offered U.S. Women’s Team Captain Henan Li Ai $18,000 a year as our first full-time National Coach, and she accepted. The Ai’s—Liguo, Henan, and daughter Li—(SPIN, Feb., 1985, 14) “moved to Colorado Springs from Iowa City, IA, home of Richard and Sue Butler, who were instrumental in bringing them to the U.S. and getting them settled here.” Henan’ll be based in Colorado Springs where, come June, she’ll take up her day-by-day duties. “Besides coaching regularly-scheduled players’ and coaches’ camps at the Springs, Henan will be the head coach of the USTTA’s proposed Resident Training Program [a much-touted youth live-in program at Colorado Springs], which will begin in September of 1985.

The RTP will offer the opportunity for eight elite athletes to train continuously at the Olympic Training Center for a nine-month period each year. The selection committee that will determine the participants will be made up of Henan, Bob Tretheway, and USTTA player representative Sheila O’Dougherty.

Henan Li Ai was the youngest of three women elite coaches famous throughout China. She worked at China’s National Training Center, helping the Chinese Table Tennis Association’s best women’s players, including 1981 World Champion Tong Ling. She was the coach of China’s 1975 World Championship Women’s Team, and a playing member of the 1965 World Championship Team.

Liguo Ai is himself a world-class coach and one of the top theoreticians of the modern game. At present, he is working on translating his comprehensive book on table tennis from Chinese to English, the very same book the Chinese use for training table tennis players. Liguo was also an associate editor of China Sport Magazine and the recipient of China’s highest award for journalistic excellence.

Ten-year-old Li is a fifth grader at John Adams Elementary School, enrolled in a special class to learn English, and practices table tennis daily under the tutelage of her parents.” 

Hired, too—as National Program Director—was an ever-increasingly-involved Bob Tretheway (also at an $18,000 annual salary). He’s to continue concentrating on his successful coaching programs—see his attached Training Camp Schedule for 1985. Also, and most importantly, Bob’s to fix a complementary inner eye on Association Membership and Development. As we all know, without junior members no one’s job in the Association can amount to much more than an un-advancing “Let” in any game we play.

Bob’s good friend and co-worker, SPIN Editor Tom Wintrich reviews (SPIN, Feb., 1985, 14) Tretheway’s background for us:

“Tretheway moved to Colorado Springs at his own expense in June of 1983, following his appointment as National Coaching Chairman, a volunteer position. He left his native Missouri where he had been actively involved in table tennis since 1974. He started the Moberly TTC and was instrumental in affiliating two other clubs, one in Columbia and another in Kirksville. He also spent many hours coaching young players, organizing competitions, and performing exhibitions in schools and shopping malls.

            Since arriving in Colorado Springs, Tretheway has continued his penchant for grass roots development. The local club here has doubled its size since his arrival. He started an Explorer’s Post for table tennis that meets on the OTC complex. [This Post for young men and women aged 14 through 20 is an extension of and has a similar goal as the Cub Scouts Sports Program—to give young people a physical fitness activity to pursue, in this case table tennis. (See SPIN, Feb., 1985, 15)] Bob wrote the table tennis coaching guide that has been adopted by the Cub Scouts of America for their new national Sports Award Program. He also established a summer youth program at the Salvation Army Center. And most recently he set up a three-week program for over 400 elementary school kids in the mountain community of Woodland Park, CO. Following is his own assessment of his new position as well as the direction he will take to fulfill his expanded responsibilities.”

 “The E.C. has given me one charge: ‘Make the sport grow.’ They’ve accepted my precept that the USTTA, our sport, must grow from the bottom up; that a coaching program for developing and intermediate players is important; that a program for coaching coaches is vital; that our affiliated clubs are the backbone of the Association; and that the membership is the Association’s most important asset, not our Olympic windfall money.

The three areas in which I will be active are: membership development, the coaching program, and special projects. [Because Bob elaborates only abstractly on these areas and we’ve already periodically been following his progress I’ll not reproduce his comments here, other   than to give you his finishing ones.]…I have no quick fixes, no swami-like vision, no plan of attack that will catapult table tennis into the forefront of American amateur sports.

What I do have is an ability to make things happen—a Timmy-like whirlwind but with direction. I have an ability to plan and a persistence to believe. I don’t mean to be tooting my own horn, but I do know the tune.

A year and a half ago I introduced through SPIN a National Coaching Program of considerable ambition. Many said that it was too much too soon and that I’d burn out. Those of you who have been involved and those of you who have followed the program’s progress know that most of it has come to fruition and it has only added fuel to my fire.

However, what energy I have for the game comes not from within but is the reflection of the many volunteers who have worked with me on various projects, both nationally and locally. I’m confident that with their support and with the help of others that we can make the difference, that table tennis will grow and find itself in the limelight, if not the forefront of American amateur sports.” 

Of more interest is Bob’s specifics about the Resident Training Program he’s pushed for (SPIN, Dec., 1984, 17): 

Resident Training Program:

            Those countries that have had consistent success in table tennis have provided their athletes with an opportunity for long-term training.

            With a cooperative effort between the USTTA and the U.S. Olympic Committee such an opportunity can be given to American players.

            A Resident Training Program would provide eight to ten players a chance to train during the school year at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Players would be provided with:

            Top-level coaching

            A quality training environment

            Room and meals

            Medical care

            Dental care

            Vision care

            Resident status for Colorado junior high, high school, and college attendance

            Per-diem allowance for personal expenses and entertainment

            The players would be expected to pay their own transportation to and from the OTC and to compete in the U.S. National’s and U.S. Open.

            The largest expense of this program would be the coach’s salary. This cost, however, becomes more reasonable when considering that a full-time coach could also be utilized for the other scheduled camps throughout the year.

            The program is ready to go….” 

Wintrich, with a little increase in pay but with more responsibilities, some of his own making, gives us, in SPIN’s last issue of the year (Dec., 1984, 20-21), an article entitled “Idiot- Proof Time-Scheduling.” This time-scheduling system, Tom notes, “was taught to me by Sue Sargent of Arlington, TX who’d used it to schedule the 1980 U.S. Open at Fort Worth after learning it from Ron Shirley of Oklahoma City.” Here it is:

“This system is based on the total number of Time Slots for the entire tournament, not just for one event. Evert time slot has a starting time and can be numbered numerically or alphabetically for easier identification. Within a given time slot, different events can play simultaneously, like seniors and juniors, which automatically avoids conflicts). This is the jigsaw puzzle aspect of the system and the trick to making it work.

For example, a draw of 32 equals five rounds of play: (1) 16th’s, known as round of 32; (2) 8th’s, known as round of 16; (3) Quarter’s, known as round of eight; (4) Semi’s, known as round of four; (5) Final, known as round of two.

Got it? Five separate rounds to determine a winner in a 32-person draw. If you have 16 tables, this also means five time slots for that event because the 16 tables will allow you to play the first round—the round of 32 (16th’s)—all at once. The next round of this particular event will require only eight tables (16 players left, two per table). Consequently, within the next Time Slot for the example event, you can run eight other matches for any other event, or possibly two or three events.

But what if you have only eight tables for this 32-person draw?

That being the case, you have to add a Time Slot to make the system work. It means you will have six Time Slots to accommodate what from the draw point of view is only five rounds of play….

How do I do that? With a simple solution of course. Your first round in a 32-person draw is 16 matches. Simply divide the upper and lower halves of the draw into two separate Time Slots. Call the first round Round ONE, Flight ONE. Label the second round Round ONE, Flight TWO.

Further Edification: Say your Round ONE, Flight ONE starts at 9:AM. At 9:30 (2/3 matches), you will play Round ONE, Flight TWO. Therefore by 10:00 AM, you will have completed the entire first round of a 32-person draw. Now you’re left with 16 people in that particular event. Sixteen people equals eight matches on eight tables. Voila! You have eight tables so obviously the next round of the event can be run all at once. Now for the next round you’ve got eight people left. That’s four matches on four tables. But you’ve got eight tables. Consequently, you can play four other matches for a different event at the same time.

You’re going to make a master schedule of the tournament so everyone can determine when every match of every event will be played. Besides the players, this works wonders with the media people.

Things to know: This system necessitates scheduling 30 minutes for 2/3 matches and 45 minutes for 3/5. Don’t do it differently.

At the 1980 Fort Worth U.S. Open, the 40-event, 500-person, 75-table competition was time-scheduled a month in advance and essentially ran perfectly on time. You need to know the number of people in the draw of each event even before the entries close. Some guess work as to the final number of entries is necessary, but follow this example: if your tournament has never exceeded 22 people in, say, 1900 singles, you simply time schedule for a full draw of 32. It makes no difference to the system if 10 less people play but it does matter if the number exceeds your estimates.

It is useless and senseless to use this system if you schedule conflicts. What are conflicts? Example: scheduling Jr. U-15 and Jr. U-13 participants in the same Time Slot. There’s a possibility that a 12-year-old might have to play two matches simultaneously. Be sure to schedule seniors and juniors in the same Time Slot; also, men and women, Unrated and Open entries; men’s doubles should be played opposite women’s singles, women’s doubles opposite men’s singles.

Realize, though, that some conflicts are inevitable. It helps to know your players—a Jimmy Butler can be competitive in Open Singles, 2300 Singles, U-21 Singles, and Junior Singles. If you’re aware of the situation, you can reschedule that player’s matches if necessary. Remember, in the late rounds there should be more open tables to do this.

Time Scheduling Tools; pair of scissors, scotch tape or thumb tacks, package of 3 x 5 cards, pencils, Bulletin board—wood or slate will determine whether to use scotch tape or thumb tacks. Assemble your own tools or send $59.95 to USTTA Time Scheduling Kit. Allow three weeks for delivery.

How to begin:

Cut a 3 x 5 card in half, then cut the halves in half, then cut the halves in half again. You now have eight pieces of stiff paper like the example below.

Now cut the remaining stack of 3 x 5 cards likewise. You will now have hundreds of stiff pieces of paper like the example above. On one of them write Saturday. On 20 others write 9:00 AM, 9:30 AM, 10:00 AM, and so on in 30 minute intervals. Stop writing when you are at 6:30 PM. [Tom, using six of the Time Slot slips created, is now going to give you, as on a Bulletin board, a boxed-off sample of an Open Singles time-schedule for a 32-player draw.]…Since the Open final is the last match of the entire tournament, you can play it 3/5 and your tournament will still end by 7:15, 7:30 at the latest.

Obviously, you have a whole bunch of Time Slots to fill with your other events, but don’t panic—[just follow the example guidelines given in Tom’s accompanying boxed-off Time-Schedule for Open Singles]. Understand that, as play evolves, you must juggle the placement of the different rounds of different events until they are each plugged in to separate Time Slots without conflicting with other events in the same time period. If the Time Slot card for a particular round of play is not compatible with one for a different event already occupying that time period, you simply pull off said Time Slot card and try to plug it in somewhere else. You may find yourself constantly altering the placement of the Time Slot cards until the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

What you may also discover is that no matter how hard you try, you cannot time-schedule all your competitive events. Most likely it’s because you have too many events, too many players, too few tables, or a combination of all three. Something has to give and usually that something is the events themselves. If they don’t fit, forget them. In other words, when in doubt, throw them out. If you plan well, use reasoned guess work based on experience, and time- schedule the tournament before you send out your entry blanks, no one will ever know the difference—out with the handicap event, out with that U-2700 doubles, so what? It’ll make for a better tournament. Remember, since athletes accept responsibility to improve their play, tournament directors should accept responsibility to improve their competition.”   

The E.C. also decided to accept the marketing-arm help of Joseph Potocki and Associates, a Newport Beach, California firm. While being careful not to grant JP & A any unreasonable exclusivity (our Fund-Raising Chairman Jay Harris and others can themselves continue to try to find specific-project sponsors), we want to acknowledge Potocki’s marketing success with other Olympic sports and see him as offering us a much-needed promotional assist.

By accepting JP & A’s sponsorship help, and utilizing Henan’s coaching experience, we’ll be able to start the Resident Training Program at Colorado Springs that Tretheway has long championed.

The E.C. did not commit to funding a prototype club that would provide its owner with a decent living as I’d urged in my Presidential Campaign statement.  However, I myself went ahead, with the help of Bobby Gusikoff, Doug Cartland, Barry Margolius, and others, to try to start a much-needed New York City Club by raising money via Membership fees. I’d hoped that the owner of the location we’d wanted, who had us on “Hold,” would be impressed by the roughly 100 supporters whose names appeared in SPIN. Unfortunately, however, he did NOT give us the site we’d hoped for, and I had to return all the individual money given me.  Nice try—but another disappointment.

The E.C., however, did provide $6,000+ help to Jeff Mason who for four years now has been consistently expanding his 50-school coaching work with juniors into a seven-day-a-week club occupation. Since Jeff’s Sacramento Table Tennis World is the nearest thing to a prototype commercial club the USTTA has got going for it, we’ve asked Jeff (and partners Mona Mason and Cindy Miller) with the help of our Colorado Springs Headquarters to put together a book.

This book would be a comprehensive guide with pics—a “How to Start and Succeed with a Commercial Table Tennis Club” that will be sold exclusively to those who want to learn how to make a living at the sport and who show their serious interest by paying to come into Jeff’s World for a week or two of highly personalized instruction. This would involve an hour by hour surrogate exploration of the advantages and disadvantages of being a fully-committed club owner totally dedicated to the establishment of a perpetual junior cum adult clientele. Unless such clubs are set up, the USTTA, the sport, can never have any real stature.

The E.C. also agreed to fund one of our most experienced player-coaches, Perry Schwartzberg, to work with Ron Shirley in the extensive Junior Program he’s long been identified with in Oklahoma City.

Perry has recently written another helpful article (SPIN, Oct., 1984, 22) that I’ll take a moment here to let him tell you about. It has to do with the “Attributes of Different Rubber Surfaces”: 

“…The maximum thickness of the entire sheet of rubber (both surface and underlying sponge) cannot exceed 4.0 mm. Since most surface pieces are 1.5 mm., the maximum sponge thickness allowed is 2.5 mm. In addition to the two-color rule requiring the two sides of the racket to be of obviously different colors, all rubber legal for tournament play requires the ITTF seal to be visible on the surface….

INVERTED (smooth rubber):

…Although the surface is very important to the inverted rubber sheet, the sponge underneath plays a vital role as well. Even though most high quality inverted rubber sheets have virtually the same surface, the sponge underneath varies from brand to brand. The softer the sponge (less dense), the more control and (on most shots) the more spin it will produce. Harder sponge bases provide more speed for hitting and driving the ball, but less control and perhaps a bit less spin, except for the loop drive. Of course, the thicker the sponge, the faster or quicker it will seem to play.

Make certain to use your inverted rubber properly. The surface and (most importantly) the sponge are designed to ‘catch’ the spin on the oncoming ball and then to reverse it….Let the ball sink into the sponge to get this effect. It should help you to stroke easier and still have good spin and speed with more control of the ball.

PIPS OUT (short pips with sponge):

Short pips-out rubber with a sponge base is used primarily by control players or quick hitters. Defensive-minded players also seem to enjoy its ‘easy handling’ of spin shots.

…In most cases, the larger the pips the better for hitting flat balls. Less spin than with inverted can be applied, but the opponent’s spin can be handled more easily because a spinning ball will not ‘grab’ short pips like it would inverted….Pips-out rubbers playa bit faster than do inverted rubbers, and therefore most players prefer thinner sponge so as to maintain control of the ball.

Finally, the most difficult ball to deal with while using short pips-out is a heavy topspin ball since pips-out rubber does not ‘turn over’ the ball very well. The ball tends to float off the racket uncontrollably. Pips-out players must learn to ‘turn over’ these topspin balls.

ANTI-SPIN RUBBER

…The surface sheet of anti-spin rubber possesses a very low coefficient of friction, thereby not allowing the opponent’s spins to ‘catch’ on the surface. To further this effect, the sponge underneath is normally quite ‘dead,’ having little or no rebounding action….In most cases the thicker sponge still plays faster. Anti-spin users include choppers, blockers, and other bat twirlers.

LONG PIPS-OUT (with or without sponge)

Used by super choppers, the long pips are generally quite soft (so they will actually bend upon impact) and about 1.5 mm. long. Most of these long-pip rubbers have a smooth surface on the face of each pip which helps produce an even more weird effect. Some, however, do have the small control indentations found on all of the short pips-out rubber sheets—but they don’t have the ‘knuckleball’ shot that is generated by the smooth-topped pips. The sheet without sponge is significantly slower than those with sponge, and the thicker the sponge the faster the play….

HARD RUBBER

…Hard rubber never has a sponge backing, but the thickness of the sheet may vary. The size and number of pips may also vary. Hard rubber is still effective as a defensive rubber, for pick-hitting chops and pushes, and for blocking the ball short.

In conclusion, I make the point that a rubber sheet is always a matter of give and take. If you want to ‘give’ spin, you’ll also have to ‘take’ it. If you don’t want to deal with your opponent’s spin, that’s fine, but you won’t be able to ‘give’ it either….

CARING FOR YOUR RUBBER:

The enemies of high quality rubber are heat (light), dirt, and time.

Heat (light) is your rubber sheet’s most dreaded enemy. When the rubber is heated, its chemical properties are changed and it no longer plays consistently. Your rubber will ‘die’ if left in a hot car, in the sunlight, or near a heater. Don’t kill your rubber!

Dirt will destroy your rubber’s performance level, especially if you use inverted sticky rubber. Keep your racket in a case and clean it constantly. Water is fine, water with a little soap is all right, and even saliva will work. Clean your rubber whenever it gets dirty—even between points if necessary.

Time is the enemy you can’t defeat….But only you can decide when your rubber is too old. Visual signs of wear can be seen, but otherwise play it by feel. However, when it comes to top performance, newer is almost always better.” 

                Perry’s article relating to what some people call “Funny Rubber” reminds me of a commercial suggestion someone made to me:  “Why don’t we do one with ‘Krazy Glue’? Show something table tennis crazy, faked, like Eric couldn’t get his hand off his epoxyed racket…then show what the technological development in the sport has produced: what a ball sitting on a racket does when the racket is turned upside down—it  sticks to the rubber!

            And now something new for everybody. Come this June, players are going to be basking in sunny Miami (the new Casablanca” the New York Times, Bogartizing romance and intrigue, recently called it). That’s right, thanks to Dennis Masters and Bard Brenner, the 1985 U.S. Open will leave Las Vegas for a new and different international sight and the $15,000 prize-money support of the local Capital Bank. As most of you reading this article know, I’d not thought it geographically fair to our members that both our Open and National’s be held in Vegas, and so I was very pleased to get a venue other than the Tropicana.

            However, it’s to the Tropicana now we go—for coverage of the climactic 1984 U. S. Closed/U.S. Team Trials.