2013 Hall of Fame -  Player Inductee


            By USATT Historian Tim Boggan 

            Todd SweerisTodd Sweeris: you couldn’t help but notice this 10-year-old in action at the 1983 Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) tournament in Toronto—and his proud parents as well. That Dell and Connie were well-known for having won many major Singles and Doubles Championships might have been deduced, or at least suspected, from the attention they were giving their son. But most of the Canadian spectators weren’t really aware of just how serious the game—make that the sport—was to this Michigan family. 

            Take a look at father Dell’s diary entry back in Grand Rapids the day before they all were to leave for the tournament:

            “7—7:45 pm and 9—9:30 pm…

            Practice routine same as usual. However…I started a new drill where I mixed in chops that Todd was to loop and I blocked; then we countered steady till I chopped again. The key to this drill is to get the first loop in and then to handle what comes after that. This drill is very similar to actual game conditions.

            Practice rating—very good.

            PS. During the 15 minutes (17 minutes actually) of F.H. to F.H. Todd only missed his forehand four times.” 

            And now the following account of Todd’s play at an event in that Open in Toronto:

            …“Dell,” says Todd’s mother Connie excitedly, ‘did you see in the Under-1200 event that Todd did his little flip and the other kid missed it!”

            But sometimes Todd’s shots don’t always go in. “Oh,” he complains in this match he’s in now shortly after play’s begun, “you are playing so bad!”

            “Todd,” says Dell watching from the sidelines, “keep your cool now.”

            Todd is not winning—and you can tell.

            His distress gets to Connie; “I never thought I’d see the day when Todd would be acting up at the table. And I certainly thought that if he ever did I’d take him out of the match.”

            Todd, as if his concentration is divided, as if he were always keeping a watchful eye, a listening ear, on his observing parents in the background, suddenly takes this moment to turn around, stamp a little, and says, “Don’t expect me to win. He’s better than YOU, MOM!”

            To which Dell responds, “Naw. Now, c’mon, son, he’s not that good.”

            Would not many a reader looking backward for clues to Todd’s future success find some here?

            It’s hardly a surprise after reading that precise Diary entry—“15 minutes (17 minutes actually)”—to be told that Dell’s an accountant, and that, as Todd grows up, enters high school and begins to think not just about winning the next tournament but about going to college, he himself takes an accounting course. “You know why I liked it?” he asks rhetorically. “because with problem after problem I always come to an answer. I like surety. I don’t like gray areas.”           

            Later that year, in Las Vegas, Todd wins his first National Championship—the U-11’s. However, his progress as a 12-14-year-old, aside from a Junior Olympics win, is slow. But he and his parents persist. If at 13 Todd wants to enroll in the USTTA Resident Training Program for ambitious U.S. Team hopefuls and live and go to school there in Colorado Springs, do it! And—do it!—he did, for five years…so that by the time he’d graduated from the local Palmer High School and was looking to his collegiate future, he’d begun, still slowly, to build another future—in table tennis. At 14, he’d been part of a U.S. Junior Team that went to China where in the Association’s National Magazine he could be seen in a friendship photo with China’s World Champion Jiang Jialiang. Thing was, though, despite opportunities, Todd wasn’t improving like he couldn’t help but notice his fellow juniors were—and that was frustrating. He told Hodges, “I went through a pretty rough period and left the Olympic Training Center. I actually thought I was going to quit.”  But after he’d taken some time off, Bowie Martin asked him if he’d like to go to Japan for a month to train. And he said, “Sure.”  This helped him make the first conscious jump of his table tennis career. So finally—yes, the years at the RTP HAD helped his game, had given him, he said, the necessary formal training to improve—in 1990 he upset his friend and arch-rival Chi Sun Chui to win the U.S. Junior National’s.           

            In a 1993 Interview with Larry Hodges, who for a number of years had been the RTP Manager, and thereafter would be one of the few most knowledgeable U.S. aficionados we have in our sport, Todd, the late-bloomer, said. “In the summer of 1991, just after my senior year in high school, I went to a training camp in Detroit attended by Coach Li Zhenshi, Sean O’Neill, Huazhang Xu, Dhiren Narotam, and others, and so got a lot of good practice. Coach Li helped me a lot. And from then on, my game became more solid and I was more confident.” 

            “In the fall of 1992,” Todd said, “Rocky Wang and I went to China for two and a half months. That was probably the toughest part of my table tennis career, as well as the funnest. It got really boring. You woke up, you practiced, you went home for lunch, you took a nap, went back for the second practice, ate dinner, read a little bit, and then went to bed. It went on every day like that for two and a half months. But the fun part was that I could just feel myself getting better. At times, in China, I felt like I literally could not miss the ball. I mean, it’s a great feeling when you can do that.”

            In China, Todd, basically always an all-around player, improved the forehand attack he favors, worked on speed, on power, and a better block defense. Later, he developed a much more effective backhand loop. 

            It was Rocky who suggested Todd come to Maryland, and he did, for he liked the community, the opportunity to practice with Rocky, Sean O’Neill, Dave Sakai, Sean Lonergan, Jason St. George, Huazhang Xu, Dhiren Narotam, and Amy Feng. Most importantly, it was at the Maryland National Table Center that Todd had the opportunity to learn from transplanted Chinese player/coach extraordinaire Cheng Yinghua, who’d be a big influence on the maturing young player.

 In 1993 he enrolled at the University of Maryland and there he stayed, continuing to learn on two fronts, until he graduated with a degree in Accounting in 1998.

            Todd would not only follow in his CPA father’s footsteps, it might be said he’d hurry ahead of him. “When Todd took the CPA exam in 1998, he knew that only about 5-10% of those tested would be able to pass all four parts of the exam on the first try. But Todd did it. And that year he was hired by the well-known Accounting firm of Deloite & Touche. He would always be grateful to them, for they gave him very flexible hours and time off when he needed to train or travel to tournaments.           

Back in 1993, Todd made the U.S. Team, won the U.S. Closed U-22’s, and so began a 10-year string of successes that demanded a rigorous preparation. He told Hodges in that seminal interview, “ I’ll prepare for big tournaments at least a month in advance. That means practice four to five hours a day, six days a week, and about 45 minutes of physical training. I’ll run three times a week, about three miles. Once or twice a week, I’ll do about 10 or 15 sprints of about 40 yards each. Also, as much as possible, given my responsibilities, I’ll continue to be very involved in watching and, to some extent, playing other sports—basketball, tennis, and golf. Being from Michigan I root for the Wolverines.” “Over the University of Maryland!” says Hodges, feigning shocked surprise. “I only like the University of Maryland Ping-Pong Team,” says Todd. Perfectly understandable since he’ll be the repeatedly successful Team’s star, and in 1997 represent them as the National Intercollegiate Champion.           

                You could—or at least I could—write pages about Todd’s 10-year stretch of major accomplishments, in which at every National’s, faced with world-class competition, he was a late-round finisher, including being runner-up in 1998 to David Zhuang whom he’d great regard for as his Teammate and Championship Doubles partner. But here I’m going to summarize Todd’s major successes and move on with my own life.

            U.S. Under 22 National Champion.

            Member of winning team at the Pan Am Games, U.S. Open Team Championships, and Olympic Festival, where he was the 1995 Men’s Singles winner.

            Three-time U.S. Closed Men’s Doubles Champion.

            Two-time World Team member (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia  in 2000, and Gothenburg, Sweden in 20003).

            Two-time Olympian (Atlanta, Georgia in 1996, and Sydney, Australia in 2000). Being an Olympian had for years been one of his long-range goals…until dream became reality. 

In addition, Todd served his Association, his country, outside the playing courts. He’s a two-time member of the USATT Board of Directors—Athletic Rep in 1995 and 2001.

Moreover, just as he emphasized practicing—practicing with a purpose, with goals—so he carried over that dedication in pursuit of making a good living, and, as it would turn out, not just for himself but, in due course, for his wife Jacqueline and son Brandon. 

As many-time U.S. Team Captain/Manager  Bob Fox concluded in his Banquet Introduction for Todd: his friend was a class act. On court, and off, “he balanced school, work, table tennis excellence, and family.”

Welcome to our Hall, Todd.