Hoarfrost Fondly Recalls Barnstorming Tours As Teenage Prodigy

By Richard Finn | June 11, 2019, 10:44 p.m. (ET)

Judy Bochenski

Hoarfrost Fondly Recalls Barnstorming Tours As Teenage Prodigy


By Richard Finn


By the time Judy (Bochenski) Hoarfrost was 15 years old she had been the youngest member of the historic USA Ping Pong Diplomacy team that opened the door and relations with China almost 50 years ago.


Barbara Walters had interviewed her on national television in addition to numerous other media interviews. She had spoken to conventions and had addressed the Oregon Legislature and shared the podium with the Oregon Governor at the Portland Coliseum.


And in the summers of 1971 and ’72, Hoarfrost played all comers on tables set up in shopping malls, sleeping in hotels and in a camper in a barnstorming tour through most of the country to promote table tennis.


“An American table tennis player, a 15-year-old girl, in 1971 or any time, could never be truly prepared for the sudden onslaught of media attention that I received as the youngest member of the Ping Pong Diplomacy Team that went to China nearly 50 years ago,” recalled Hoarfrost, owner and founder of the Paddle Palace now based in Tigard, Oregon.


“There were constant invitations to give speeches and interviews and to perform in table tennis exhibitions, and it seemed I had a responsibility to let people know what I had experienced in China and to promote the sport of table tennis,” said Hoarfrost.


“As I was just 15 years old, most of the many invitations were addressed to my father, a lover of the sport, who had already spent many years coaching table tennis and running clubs and tournaments.


“My parents were both teachers, and they had summer breaks when they usually had extra jobs, usually teaching summer school. In the summer of 1971 and 1972, instead of teaching summer school it was my father’s idea to arrange a table tennis tour where “The Girl Who Went To China” or “The Ping Pong Diplomat” as the press called me, would go on the shopping malls tour to do exhibitions and take on all challengers,” explained Hoarfrost.


So off she, her father and her younger brother Michael went – to Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, West VA, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Toronto, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and back to Oregon - playing almost every day all who showed up to take on the gifted teenager.


“People would sign up to play me, and there would be long lines and dozens or a hundred people watching. We would play a game up to 11 points. Afterwards we would shake hands and often I gave them something like a “Ping Pong Power” button,” said Hoarfrost.


“Table-tennis-wise it was easy to take on all challengers. Nearly everybody that signed up to play was very easy to beat, getting only 1 or 2 points usually in a game up to 11,” recalled Hoarfrost.


“Often I would try to keep the ball going a bit and the player would think they were playing very well and sometimes a player couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t win points. But I think most players did get it. Sometimes I would slam the ball hard to give the crowd some perspective.  Sometimes I would get out the tiny paddle and play the challenger that way, if they had a good sense of humor about that. Or I would sit in a chair and play. The crowd liked that stuff,” she said.


Judy Bochenski USA Table Tennis


At many of the stops, Hoarfrost was met by the civic officials and the Mayor and presented with “Keys to the City” and her appearance was heralded with headlines in the local papers -  “Judy Mows Them Down” or “Heads Swivel as Table Tennis Champ Visits”, or “Ping Pong Diplomat Visits Harbor”.


Once in awhile-serious tournament players would step up to the table.


“I did have “real” club players come out to watch and challenge me in the cities where we played. I remember in Southern California a couple of good players we knew came out, around my age, Ray Guillen and Paul Raphael. I think both were rated higher than me at that time, but I won the games,” said Hoarfrost, a member of the USATT Hall of Fame and Oregon Hall of Fame.


Today Hoarfrost is a leading voice of the table tennis community and was a key advocate in the winning 2021 World Championships bid for Houston.


Her activism and willingness to promote table tennis throughout her career had its seeds as a teenage prodigy on those long days and nights touring the country.


“I did not especially want that kind of attention but I learned to push aside any shyness and took it in stride as something I was supposed to do,” said Hoarfrost.