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32-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

By Sheri Cioroslan | July 31, 2014, 9 a.m. (ET)

 Day 32, July 31 - Tim Boggan Provides “A Summing Up (of sorts)” 

“I much admire Adham, who’s served the ITTF so well with such vision and clarity.” 

Tim Boggan

As Tim Boggan divulges in the first sentence, our friendship has spanned over four decades!  He is one of my dearest friends in the sport.  In response to my original request and subsequent nudges and reminders that he participate in the Countdown series, he -- out of everyone else to date -- actually edited the interview in such a way that he, as the interviewee, went first.  He also included this title, “A Summing-Up (of sorts).” 

Anyone who knows Tim knows that he is a “character,” as we say in the United States – a spirited, no-nonsense individual who speaks his mind.  As a writer himself, he had a vision for his submission and I aim to honor his contribution.

Sheri Cioroslan, I’ve known you now for 40 years (a countdown for more, of course, I’m very much aware has started). Darlin’, you are very determined, very persistent, so, yeah, yeah, o.k., I’ll do the, uh, darn interview you want.

For so many years you’ve been part of the table tennis world — when did it all start?

Well, they say that Life begins at 40 — and for me that’s certainly in some important ways true. I’d started playing table tennis seriously when I was 19, had slowly achieved some modest success — was twice U.S. Intercollegiate Champion, ranked #7 among U.S. Men, and represented the U.S. in the U.S. vs. Canada Matches at the Canadian National Exhibition Tournament in Toronto (I went 0 for 3). Finally (I was also playing in bridge and golf tournaments), even I decided I had to get a life.

So I left the Sport for almost 10 years, married (twice), had two children, became belatedly a student and eventually earned a tenured Assistant then Associate Professorship in English at Long Island University.

In the mid-1960’s I returned to the table tennis world, adjusted from hard bat to pimpled-sponge play, and became intensely involved — first as a player (with a romantic readiness to travel to weekend tournaments as far away from my Merrick, Long Island home as Detroit or Montreal), then as an officer in the Long Island TTA, then as a V.P. in the USTTA, and then in 1970 as Editor of the Association’s National Magazine (where I became at least a little aware of how table tennis as a Sport was viewed appreciatively abroad).

Tim Boggan

Looking back to 1971, you attended your first World Table Tennis Championships. You’ve said that experience was more than unique to you, it was life-changing. How so? 

I hated the amateurish, parochial, pedestrian, bureaucratic malaise that permeated the USTTA, and so wanted to be a part of the larger table tennis world I knew existed. The 1971 Nagoya World’s beckoned, but I had no money to go. What could I do? I hit upon the idea that if the USTTA paid my way I could combine two issues of the magazine and do — what had never been done before — a highly detailed, in-depth report of a World Championship.

But, aside from the hassle of getting my Department Head’s o.k. for an extended leave of absence and trying to get fellow teachers to cover my classes, two things were stopping me: (1) I’d have to try to convince my fellow USTTA Executive Committee members, some of whom I didn’t like, and who didn’t like me, to vote “For” this unheard of request; and (2) since the players on the U.S. Team would have to do much of their funding themselves, how could I ask for my way to be paid when theirs wasn’t?

After I’d almost delayed too long, I was spurred on finally by this haiku:

A giant firefly:

that way, this way, that way, this –

and it passes by.

I got up enough courage to make my awkward pitch. Amazingly, USTTA President Graham Steenhoven used his influence to produce a tie vote, then broke the tie himself in my favor, and the first miracle of 1971 happened — I was part of the official U.S. Team, appointed a U.S. Delegate to the important (all member-countries please attend) ITTF Meeting.   

The second miracle of 1971, aside from the extraordinary experience of close-up watching the world’s best players in action, including how the Chinese made their arm-swinging ceremonial parade-march into the stadium, was the unexpected invitation there in Nagoya for the 15-strong U.S. contingent to come to China. That I knew was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and right from the get-go I took so many notes that I could later fashion from them an insider’s primary-source Ping-Pong Diplomacy book (later Vol. V in my History of U.S. Table Tennis series).

What are your most vivid memories of that Ping-Pong Diplomacy trip?

I’ll just summarize a few, the better to draw you into (contact me at: buying my Ping-Pong Diplomacy book. Not counting what I said to Premier Chou En-lai, here are four of the four hundred I could as easily mention:

(1) I remember sitting in the train on our way to Canton, talking with hippie-opportunist Glenn Cowan, hearing him muse more to himself than to me, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” How prepared was Glenn, were we, for what we were about to encounter? As the train stopped occasionally, we looked out the window at the many people doing what they were doing; not one of them ever looked up at our train. Unknown we were, going into the unknown.

(2) Canton (Didn’t I have “Cantonese” food at a Chinese restaurant in my hometown, Dayton, Ohio?) —one of the largest, well-known cities in China, wasn’t it? — had streets clogged with bicycles and beasts of burden, drab, unpainted buildings in places strewn with what looked like bombed-out rubble. Not being a China-watcher, I was big-city stunned, shocked.

(3) Dick Miles asking an interpreter, “What do you think of Americans?” The Chinese was non-committal. But Dick persisted, “I mean in what ways do you find them peculiar? Have you ever seen an American before?” The Chinese looked Dick right in the eye. “On the battlefield,” he said—“in the Korean War.” 

(4) At the Commune we visited just outside of Shanghai, there was much commotion when our 15-year-old Judy Bochenski was spotted petting, I believe (but what did I know?) a water buffalo. Amateur and professional photographers came in a rush. They shoved, pushed themselves in, to see the girl, Judy, and the animal. But our George Buben was suddenly being prevented from filming this had-to-be-captured-quick-or-lost-forever moment. For Frank Fischbeck from Life Magazine had swung his weight in front of him. George was angry at this professional who’d rudely moved in, blocking him. He said, “You’ve ruined half my picture coming in like that!” To which words, Fischbeck, hurrying to ignore him, responded, “Look, you’re just here. I’m doing a job.” To which George said, “You son of a bitch.” But the professional, having got his picture, walked rapidly away, stopping the last parting shot of a sentence to himself, “Silly little….”          

Can you give a summary of the many roles you played in the USTTA and the ITTF after that historic trip? 

Well,  to continue, not only did I immediately write the Ping-Pong Diplomacy book, but I felt I had to oppose he who was running unopposed for the USTTA Presidency, a man who believed we in the U.S. had to practice at home more before we could spend any money going abroad just to get beaten. That I won this election was another life-changer.

And now, with my University job, my magazine Editorship, my desire to play in tournaments, my interest in writing them up, and my involvement in trying to encourage our sons to win matches, my wife Sally, who’d become an unpaid Secretary for me and the USTTA, had finally had it. Spontaneously I resigned both the Presidency and my Editorship. After we both cried for a week or so, Sally relented and said it’d be o.k. if I kept one of the positions. I chose the Editorship—and remained the Editor for 13 years … until in the most underhanded way I was fired.     

Again, something new: angry, I started my own magazine, Timmy’s North American World. “North American” because my continuing good friend Adham Sharara, long holding official positions of authority in Canada, was giving me encouragement and support for Canadian coverage in the magazine.       

Now something old, in which I was trying anew, with all my energy, to make something happen — I again was voted in as the USTTA President … until to my surprise I was defeated in my re-election bid. This after Adham and I (I always valued his help, his careful, preparatory thinking) were planning a change of policy that would allow some of the $1,000,000+ windfall money the USTTA had received from the 1984 Olympics to be used we thought productively. Cynics had always said, “If the USTTA had a million dollars to spend they wouldn’t know what to do with it” — and, almost to a man, my E.C., on principle, was against any outlay that might reduce that $1,000,000+.

Disgusted, I left the USTTA. But 2 ½ years later I was back. When Danny Seemiller became USTTA President he wanted me to represent the USTTA as ITTF Vice-President for North America — and of course I did a hell of a job. For example, I remember once insisting that President Ogimura call the question — which was: Whether a man who’d reached 60 could be allowed to umpire important matches? World Veterans 50 and 70 Doubles finalist Boggan (1) — two-time World Singles Champion Ogimura (0). But my dominance didn’t last. No hard feelings though — and after I’d written a lengthy obituary on Ogimura, and what I thought was a very good review of that biography “Ogi” Etsuko Enami had inspired me to write, Adham got me up on stage at one of those ITTF Meetings I was by now a perennial U.S. delegate at, and gave me an award. (Ah, yes, reminded me of that ITTF Order of Merit I got so deservingly earlier.)

Also, I might mention that Table Tennis Illustrated Editor Ian Marshall seemed to like my issue-spanning writings on such luminaries as man-of-many-U.S.-hats Jimmy McClure and Butterfly’s Hikosuke Tamasu (in his book, Songs of International Friendship, there was that wonderful drawing of traveler Tamasu by Yuriko Murata). Ian, I want to give credit to — for he repeatedly, tirelessly provided me with invaluable help for a number of World Championship articles I did.       

In addition to my long friendship with Adham—I remember he had enough confidence in me to make me his personal representative to the 1999 Pan Am Games where, with Latin America Table Tennis Union President Miguel Delgado’s help, I was able to diffuse talk of a Players Strike. (I’d had some experience with a Players Strike before, but that was when I was on a picket line at the 1976 U.S. Open. Tim, Tim, what were you? A maverick or a team player?)      

In the new millennium, I wanted to support Sheri, my friend and interviewer here, in her desire to become USTTA President, so I did — and returned as Secretary in her administration to try to help her in what I well knew was a difficult job. There’s no doubt I always liked to have some new t.t. experience, even in some relaxing capacity, so the Swaythling Club’s Di Schoeler gave me a title and helped by U.S. player/coach Lily Yip I brought in, well, initially, a little money for this Club.     

In my History volumes, I’ve stressed my international friendships — coming quickly to mind are: India’s Subhash Mashruwala (my wife Sally and I, after I’d captained the U.S. Team to the 1975 Calcutta World’s, were guests for a week at the Mashruwala home in Ahmedabad); with fellow Croatian T.T. Historian Zdenko Uzorinac who with his friend and mine, Zlatko Cordas, first came to the U.S. on a trip I’d helped organize; later it would be Zdenko’s son Damir I’d welcome; and, from 1974 to the present, Sweden’s Nisse Sandberg, who not only was a great Angby Club counselor to my younger son Eric but has loyally, playfully named his entire family after mine. Also, he’s twice seen to it that I was able to come to celebratory festivities in Stockholm … and of course go mushroom hunting with him.          

Among the many people in our sport, you have the rare distinction of having not just one son, but two — Scott and Eric — who were National Champions and National Team members, and who spent some years abroad seriously competing, Eric as #1 for his club in the famed Bundesliga. What kind of role did you play in that?

Well, you couldn’t call me much of a coach, more a cheerleader. I didn’t insist they practice, but when they played a match I insisted they be serious and try hard. From the time they first began to play in our low-ceiling basement, on a rickety table, I tried to encourage them, setting up Scott to hit in forehands and letting Eric block me around until I pretended to be panting.

When they were seven years old we began going to tournaments and after that there were more and more of them both near and far. Of course from time to time we went into New York City to Bobby Gusikoff’s Club where I’d pay Bernie Bukiet, 8-time U.S. World Team member, to play some with the kids. And he was marvelous with them: “Ho, Scotty, you hit in that big forehand today” and “Airrick, don’t change that grip—you block good with this grip.” My boys would beam and — this is important — began to think of themselves as little professionals, which in time they were.

Eric always focused in quickly; it took Scott a while. Neither were ever much interested in being coached. I strongly fist-up rooted for them in tournaments, and encouraged them to play abroad. I thought they could go to a university later. I thought playing in different parts of the world would educate them, broaden them. I detailed their rather short adult careers in my books — Eric was once World #18, and I’ve documented all the world-ranked players he’s beaten over the years (40 or so) and what they were ranked (from #1 on down) when he beat them.

Tim Boggan

At the end of 2012 or beginning of 2013 you suddenly ended your active ITTF involvement, which surprised many people. What led you to make that decision? And what are you doing with your time these days?

Going abroad just got to be work, and not much fun. I must have gone over the years to at least 25 major Championships, and in many of these I traveled alone, sometimes long distances. I thought others, like Sheri, should be taking my place — in a little over a month I’ll be 84. Moreover, I’ve more than enough to do.

Since 2000, I’ve written 14 books, a book a year, and have 21 chapters done on Vol. XV. I continue with my yearly Hall of Fame emcee work — both at the December Las Vegas Induction Banquet, and with the now 138 HOF Profiles I’ve written for the USATT web site. I still write up an occasional tournament, or an obit, or a reply to a request … like this one.

I’m fanatical about doing the best I can with my History volumes, work on them every single day. But I don’t begrudge this interruption. I wanted to do this little assignment. Your fidelity to your Countdown, Sheri, is admirable. And I much admire Adham, who’s served the ITTF so well with such vision and clarity. He’s shown me great friendship and support now for decades. What can I say but, “Bravo, Adham!” 

Tim, seeing as how your retirement from the ITTF sparked your idea to ask USATT to nominate me, as your successor so to speak, to serve again on the ITTF’s Media Committee, which resulted in my being named as a Special Advisor to the Media Committee in 2013, the Countdown series can almost be traced back to you!  So let me give credit where credit is due.  Thank you for inspiring me, for many decades now, to be curious about everyone I meet, to be genuine in finding each person’s unique story, and to contribute to the unfolding tale of our sport.  You may no longer be attending ITTF events, but your presence is always felt!