Jim Poole Interview

Oct. 06, 2016, 10:56 p.m. (ET)


Jim Poole Interview – September 2016
US Hall of Fame Badminton Player

by Guy Chadwick

Jim Poole Malaysian ChampionshipsJim Poole on his way to victory at the Malaysian Championships in 1961

It is my pleasure to give you a brief biography and interview with US Hall of Fame Badminton player, Jim Poole, who retired to Arizona in 1995 and is an honorary member of the Arizona Badminton Center. He has earned more national titles (60+) at the open and senior level than any other US player in history. Jim's badminton career began at age 20 in 1952, which quickly expanded to tournament level play continuing for more than 40 years into the 1990s. He was among the top singles players in the world from 1958 through the 1960s.  He was the first non-Asian to win the Malaysian Championship in 1961.  His string of 11 straight years as US National Doubles champion with partner Don Paup from 1964-1974 is unmatched. Along with being a university professor, Jim was an NFL referee, including selection to officiate the 21st and 27th Super Bowls!

James Richard Poole was born in Nashville, Tennessee on February 6, 1932. His parents were James “Claude” and Ethel Poole. Jim was the oldest and had a younger brother Bob and has a sister Carol. At the age of 15 his family moved to San Diego (his father was in the Navy), and he went to Pt Loma High School where he played football, basketball and baseball. Jim then went to San Diego State from 1950-1954 where he excelled in basketball and baseball earning induction into the Aztec Baseball Hall of Fame as a pitcher. He was also in the ROTC and after graduating enlisted in the Air Force where he served from 1955-1957.

Soon after the service he married his wife, Sue, and they went on to raise 3 children-- Kelly, Jon, and Lisa. He first became a high school teacher in San Diego (1959-1966), professor at Tulane in New Orleans while working on a doctorate at LSU (1966-1970), professor at Cal State Northridge in Los Angeles (1970-1973), professor at Cal State Dominguez Hills (1973-1995), then retired to Sun Lakes in Chandler, Arizona (1995-present). Jim began refereeing basketball and baseball at the high school level in the early 1960s, moved up the ranks into college basketball officiating in the mid-1960s and added football to his duties. He was then scouted by the NFL while officiating football in Los Angeles and began working with them in 1975 continuing for 20 years to 1995 when he retired.

Guy: What and/or who inspired you to take up badminton in the first place and when?

Jim: I took badminton as an activity class as part of my physical education major at San Diego State in 1952. Never had played it before.  Toward the end of the class semester the professor suggested that two of us who were the better players play intramural in the afternoon to get more competition.  So, we played in an intramural competition at San Diego State and got beat badly by two girls, who it turns out were “B” level tournament players. From then on I began playing at Balboa Park maybe a couple of days a week around my other sports commitments for basketball and baseball. I started to meet other badminton players there, and, sometime in the first year, I met Carl Loveday, a top ranked US national player who was at the end of his career. Carl began to help me out a lot. For the next two years I would play badminton when I could, but my collegiate baseball and basketball careers took precedent and kept me from playing tournaments. I did begin to play more “A” players like Dick Mitchell, Bill Berry, and Martin Mendez. I wasn't very competitive with them, but I would still play them when I could.

Guy: How difficult was it for you to rise to the top?  How long did it take?

Jim: Carl entered me in a tournament without telling me in June 1954 in LA. My baseball season had just finished. He thought I was ready, but I wasn't so sure and didn't think I could afford it. But Carl took care of everything. The tournament organizers put me against a middle “B” level player with the idea that it would put me in the “C” flight. But I beat him easily and then went on to win 4 or 5 matches in a row including the defending “B” champion in the finals. I found that at different times of my career, every year or so, I had improved more than I realized and could suddenly beat people easily that I had been at the same level with just a week before.

A month later Carl entered me in a Santa Barbara tournament as a “B” player. But, in the first round, I lost a close 3- game match against a top “A” player. So, after that tournament they ranked me as an “A”. Although my baseball career was over, I was still playing AAU basketball and played in the Pan American Games during that time in 1955. So badminton had to fit in around that. A year later I was in the service. My first US Badminton Nationals was 1956 in Philadelphia. I went while I was still in the Air Force, because I had some chance to play at or near some of the bases I was stationed at and was recognized as the best badminton player in the Air Force.  I made it to the round of 16 and then lost to Dick Mitchell.  Much better than expected considering the limited amount of play I had.

Guy: How much did your other sports abilities and successes help you develop as a badminton player?

Jim: Basketball helped my footwork. Baseball, as a pitcher, helped for all the overhead shots, including the concept of changing speeds and direction of the shuttle and being accurate to various locations on the court that would make my opponent move the most. Having played at a high level of collegiate and AAU competition it helped against opponents that were good and carried over in being mentally tough and competitive in badminton.

alternate textJim, with the great Dane, Finn Kobbero (on the left), just after their championship match -- Jim's first US Singles title in 1958


Guy: At what point did you realize you could become a badminton champion?

Jim: I was out of the service in June 1957 and then started to play a lot in San Diego.  A few months later, Rod Starkey and I were invited to participate in the Thomas Cup tryouts in the fall of 1957 in Pasadena, even though we weren't among the top players yet. The organizers wanted to show that the West Coast was so deep that there were players below the known top players that could beat the best players from the East Coast. We did. But not only that, I also made it to the final round- robin series of matches and ended up finishing third and later ended up winning the 2nd position in singles on the 1958 Thomas Cup team. Ronnie Palmer was the #1 US player at the time.  Then, the first round of the Thomas Cup was held at Long Beach City College against Canada. I won both of my singles matches against the Canadian #1 and #2 players. Winning against Canada moved us to the next round in Singapore where we lost to Thailand in June of 1958.

But before going to Singapore, I got a phone call by the American Badminton Association offering to pay my way to the US Open Nationals in Boston in April 1958, because Ronnie Palmer couldn't make it. I ended up winning the tournament and beat Finn Kobbero of Denmark in the finals.  Kobbero was the best shot-maker I ever played. I didn't really realize I could win a national title until I did.  An interesting fact is that I was co-ranked #1 at the end of the year with Ronnie Palmer. The year before I was not ranked at all, because I hadn't played enough tournaments at that point. So the only ranking I ever had in singles was #1!

Guy: What mental hurdle did you need to overcome to win?

Jim: I really didn't have mental hurdles for badminton. I guess I had gotten over those in my other sports careers. I just needed to play a lot and practice and develop my skills to compete against the better players. We didn't really train like players do today. We mostly played a lot. The one “training” I did was to modify my game without telling my opponent in practice. For example, I would not hit a clear for one game, followed by no drops and then no smashes in successive games, so that I could work on the other shots and play with a handicap to make it a more difficult match.  Also, I had one friend in San Diego (Alex) who I would always bet for dinner and give him points-- I always won.  That went on for six months, and he never figured out I would set him up for the points. Only some of the international countries, like Indonesia, had formal coaches and training facilities. I remember seeing World Champion Rudy Hartono training by playing singles one-on-two against a top doubles team. The doubles team would try to keep Rudy moving all over the court at a fast pace but not necessarily try to put the bird away.  That was one of the first training sessions I ever saw.

Guy: Do you have any losses that you remember most?

Jim: The one I remember most is when I finally had the opportunity to go to the All Englands in 1968 and I lost in the first round to an English kid I should have beaten. The year before I had beaten the runner-up of the All Englands at another tournament, so they offered to pay my way. I was 36 by this time, but I wanted to play in the All Englands-- the most prestigious of the international tournaments at the time. Unfortunately I didn't have time to practice on the courts prior to the match, and in the match I just couldn't adjust to the drift in the hall.  My clears were too short on one side and too long (out) on the other and he played better than I did. Fortunately the doubles was a better experience. I was teamed with a Scotsman and we played surprisingly well, beating some good teams and getting to the quarterfinals.

Guy: How did you usually respond to losses during your career?

Jim: Generally I learned from my losses. During my prime, if I lost, it was usually to a top level player.  I would think about and practice what I needed to do better to beat them next time.  World Champion Erland Kops told me one time that if I lived and trained in Europe I would be a better player having to play at many more higher level tournaments throughout the year. The constant competition makes you tougher physically and mentally match after match. But I couldn't play badminton full time like the top international players. Early in my career I was playing other sports that took priority. Later I had a family, teaching, coaching and officiating that I had to work around. Also, my travel, especially internationally, generally had to be during the summer when I wasn't teaching.  It was much more limited at other times of the year.

Guy: Did you have to deal with injuries in your career?

Jim: Actually the worst injury I suffered was early in my career when I was helping to coach the freshmen baseball team at San Diego State.  During one baseball practice they were moving the batting cage, and a wheel ran over my heel.

That kept me from playing badminton for about a month. Other than that I really don't remember having any significant injuries other than an occasional sore shoulder and the like.

Guy: If you had to name your most personally satisfying win, which would it be?

Jim: Probably my first nationals in 1958 when I beat Finn Kobbero of Denmark. The other would be when I beat the #2 player in the world from Japan in 1967 in Indonesia at a Thomas Cup. By then I had quit playing tournament singles for the most part. But they needed me to play the #2 singles position, and I killed him with my attacking clears. Don Paup and I also won both of our doubles matches– but our US team lost 6-3.

Guy: You and Don Paup won an unprecedented 11 straight US National Men's Doubles titles from 1964 – 1974. What was the secret to your success?

Jim: I had talked to the world champion Danish doubles team of Kobbero and Hansen about their doubles strategy and why they were so successful. They told me how they intentionally capitalized on their strengths and positioned themselves on the court accordingly. So, Don and I discussed our roles and our strengths. Don had a great serve and was best at the net. I had more power and took care of the backcourt. We discussed how to best get in our strongest positions to win.  For example, if an opponent smashed at Don, he would likely block and follow to the net.  If an opponent smashed at me, I might block or drive the bird, but Don might dart to the net from the crosscourt position. We weren't weak in the opposite position, but we would get to our best attacking position as often as possible. We generally attacked straight and to the inside of the opponent. We rarely attacked crosscourt or to the riskier sidelines.  We played as a team and hit shots to set each other up. It probably helped that we were both lefties. Sometimes opponents didn't adjust well to that rare combination.  What's interesting is that when Don and I decided to break up our team, I played next with Mike Walker.  He was much younger and stronger in the backcourt.  I then became more a forecourt player.

US Thomas Cup team at Opening CeremoniesThe US Thomas Cup team at Opening Ceremonies set against the backdrop of the newly build Djakarta Sports Arena in June, 1961


Guy: What is your best badminton memory?

Jim: Probably the win against the Japanese top player at the Thomas Cup. Another interesting event happened at that Thomas Cup against Japan in Jakarta. We were playing a long, close doubles match, which went to set into the 3rd game, when, at match point, we had a long rally which ended with us being called the winner of the match as the linesman called the shuttle out. All the fans went wild cheering our victory.

However, the final shot had grazed against my partner, Don Paup's chest before flying out. The referee and the linesman did not see the bird hit Don. Don and I quickly discussed it and went to the referee and told him what happened. They then reversed the call, resumed play and after a few more rallies we ended up winning the match (again). At the subsequent luncheon the American Ambassador to Indonesia told us that that single act of sportsmanship did more for our international relations with Indonesia than anything he had ever done in 3-4 years as Ambassador. It had been televised throughout the country seen by 5-6 million Indonesians, and was in many newspapers.

I can tell you of many stories of cheating that I and others experienced in international competition. Although badminton generally has a good reputation for sportsmanship, there have been many examples to the contrary where sometimes international sportsmanship was lacking in various countries, and I witnessed and experienced several instances of cheating, especially on line calls for “home” players.

Guy: Who are some of your favorite badminton contemporaries by friendship, personality or competitive style?

Jim: Both Finn Kobbero and Erland Kops were real characters-- lots of stories there. Some life-long friends are RIchard Purser of New Zealand and Sheila McCoig and her husband, Bob, from Scotland.  Used to play with them in tournaments around the world and still get Christmas cards from them every year.

Guy: Who was the best badminton player you ever saw play?

Jim: Among my contemporaries, it would have to be Erland Kops who won so many world titles and was incredibly strong and mentally tough. Finn Kobbero, also of Denmark, had the best strokes and an unbelievable backhand. He could hit backhand smashes, straight and crosscourt, and backhand clears with no effort. Probably the best player I saw at anytime, in the next generation of players, was Rudy Hartono of Indonesia, for his speed, power, quickness and consistency.  He won several world singles titles.

Guy: What is the most important attribute(s) to being a badminton champion?

Jim: Looking at many of the top players, there is a mental side for the good ones who have a “no-give-up” type of attitude.  There is the necessity of having the skills, but many players have the skills but not the mental ability to win.

Guy: You were known as a fierce competitor? Did you have issues with your temper? Did it affect your play?

Jim: I probably had more difficulty with my temper when I was younger, but, as you get better and older, you learn to focus your energy to win. When you are younger, you also don't accept playing poorly as well or don't move on to the next points forgetting your mistakes. As you gain experience, you realize there will be times when you don't play as well, but you are able to learn from your mistakes and get back on track more quickly.

Goodyear Physical Activity Series BookGuy: You have literally written the book on badminton – part of the Goodyear Physical Activity Series originally printed in 1969, with numerous re-prints, a primary instructional manual on badminton for universities. How many sold?

Jim: I have no idea how many were sold, but for about 10 years it was about the only instructional book available.  Many players and teachers from universities would come up to me and tell me they used my book. It was good for me, because I did make a little bit from royalties, but, more importantly, written materials like that helped in my promotions and tenure as a professor. My son, Jon, also made some additions in later editions of the book as a co-author, and it helped him as a professor as well.

Guy: What differences do you see, good and/or bad, in today's international badminton competition compared to your era?

Jim: Overall, I see all positive changes for badminton. The scoring system has changed to rally scoring so that match length is more predictable, which is better for TV and for tournament organizers. A huge improvement in the play since my days is in the coaching, training, money and sponsorship that is now in badminton. In my generation there was almost no formal coaching or training largely because there was no real money available. Players only practiced by playing games for the most part.  Nobody wanted to do drills.  I would have loved to have a coach to work with on my game, but I pretty much was self-coached.  I simply watched other good players-- sometimes I could ask them questions and learn from there. Some top players were helpful, some were not, but that was about the only way to learn. Of course, now most all countries have whole coaching systems for all ages starting very young and with full-time badminton-specific training facilities in place.

Guy: You didn't mention equipment!  That is usually the first thing brought up when comparing generations.

Jim: Well, you're right. The equipment has changed a lot! The first time I picked up one of the new super-light rackets I wondered how the heck you could hit with something you could barely feel!  Then I could see that with a lot of practice you will speed up your swing, hit quicker, and develop your power that way. Lightweight equipment is making all aspects of the game faster, especially when you combine that with the intense training today's top badminton players undergo.

Guy: You are legendary not only for your badminton and other careers, but for eating gallons of ice cream!

Jim: I probably did eat more ice cream than I should have in my younger days, but I think the rumors got started when friends saw me eating ice cream straight out of the carton at home-- easier than scooping it into a bowl. I guess they assumed I ate a whole gallon every time I sat down to watch TV after dinner.

Thank you, Jim, for giving us some of your history!

Final notes by the author...

Guy Chadwick spoke with Jim over several meetings for this interview in 2016. Despite his countless accomplishments you will see little evidence displayed at his home. It was also difficult finding any photos. As part of his dynamic career, Jim was also a sought-after public speaker, and he has not lost a step in calling up a vast array of great stories from his multi-dimensional sports life.  This interview brings only a small sample.

Guy had the privilege of playing doubles with Jim for a couple of seasons as an up and coming player in the mid-1980s while Jim was in his 50s.  Jim was still so capable that they earned a US ranking in the top 5.  Guy also played with Jim in his last tournament ever in Arizona, coming briefly out of retirement for the Open Men's Doubles title at the Grand Canyon State Games Badminton event in the late 1990s. Only fitting that he won his last tournament badminton match! Jim continues to reside, in his retirement, in Sun Lakes by Chandler, Arizona, and is the honorary chairman every year at the Jim Poole Classic Badminton tournament held at the Arizona Badminton Center. Jim is an amazing resource for badminton history, coach development and great national and international badminton stories.

A basic review of biographical facts about Jim's life...

Birthplace/Date: James Richard Poole, born Nashville, TN on February 6, 1932

Parent's: Ethel & James “Claude” Poole; Siblings (Birth order):  Jim, Carol (Riverside, CA), Bob (dec.)

Born in Nashville, Tenn., then in 1947 (age 15) moved to San Diego (Dad in Navy)

High School: Pt Loma HS, San Diego – played football, baseball, basketball

College:  San Diego State (also ROTC) 1950-54 – played basketball and baseball

Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher for the San Diego State Aztecs

Air Force: 1955-1957, got out in June 1957

Married:  met Sue while in service, she worked for Shell in Houston – married in 1957 after service

Kids: Kelly (St. Charles near St. Louis, MO), Jon (VA), Lisa (Chicago, IL)

Raised your family where: San Diego (1957-1966), New Orleans – Tulane Univ (Doctorate received from LSU) 1966-1970, Cal St Northridge- professor (LA, 1970-1973), Cal St Dominguez Hills – professor (1973-1995), Chandler/Sun Lakes- retired (1995-present)

Primary profession: Taught High School 1959-1966, University Professor 1966-1995

Additional professions: HS Referee basketball 1960-1971, added baseball, some College basketball in LA, 1966-1970, football during that time, then College 1971-1975, (basketball, baseball, football), started NFL in 1975 after being scouted by them.  NFL Back Judge referee from 1975-1995 (retired)

Badminton: Started in 1952 and continued to play whenever I could while in service, while a professor in Balboa Park, and later at the Manhattan Beach Badminton Club

Earned more than 60 Open and Senior US National badminton titles in Singles, Doubles, Mixed over his career, including a record 11 straight US National Doubles titles from 1964-1974, not matched to the present