2019 US Table Tennis Hall of Fame Mark Matthew Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

Presentation Speech by Rick Hicks


Good Evening.  Congratulations to Sharon, Li and Michael.

When my dad asked me to be his presenter for this honor I told him you know I hate to fly and I don’t like speaking in front of people but for you I’d be happy to do it.  Sean reminded me that my speech would actually just be talking to a room full of our lifelong friends; so I’ll take just a few minutes to relay some of my favorite stories and highlights of my dad’s career. 

He did not begin playing serious table tennis until he was in college at the University of Kentucky.  He taught himself to play by reading a book.  His interest grew and he found the Southern Indiana Table Tennis Center in New Albany Indiana where he was introduced to serious club players and would begin travelling to tournaments with Bernard Hock ( a very good player and of course famous paddle maker).  By his junior year of college in 1959 he won his first of 31 Indiana Men’s Singles Championships.  He won his 31st in 2005 at the age of 65 having won at least 1 title in 6 consecutive decades.

He met my mom while in college and I’m told when their dating relationship became serious she asked what happened to his last girlfriend and he told her “she complained too much when I went to table tennis tournaments”.  She decided she better start playing herself and (with dad’s coaching) would become a multiple time state champion in women’s singles as well as a multiple time mixed double state champion (partnering with my dad).  Mom relayed one of her favorite playing memories was teaming with Dell Sweeris to win the Indiana Open Mixed Doubles Championship defeating Mildred Shahian and Jim Lazerus in the final. 

Many of you remember Mildred.  I was so scared of her when I was a little kid.  Later as an adult the last time we ever spoke she told me how much she loved watching my dad play and that she had won a lot of money betting on him in the early days of his playing career.

Through those early days in the 1960’s dad began to rise through the rankings reaching the top 10 at year end 3 times; peaking out at #6 in 1966.  He recorded victories over many of the top players.  Some of his more memorable victories were against Irwin Klein, Bobby Fields, Norby Vandewall, Derek Wall and Canadian Champion Max Marinko (in the deciding 9th match to give the United States team a victory over Canada in the international team competition finals at the Canadian Open).  He would also team with Canadian Denise Hunius to win the Canadian open Mixed Doubles Championship and would reach the semi-finals of the Canadian Open in Men’s Singles that same year.  

I know he would say he is most proud of his playing accomplishments however he has served our sport well as an administrator, including:

  • 3 years as National Tournament Director 
  •  Midwest Regional Tournament Director
  • 18 years chairman of the Hoosier State Games
  • 10 years on the USATT Ethics Committee
  • Recipient of the Victor Barna Award for contributions to our sport

As he moved past his prime playing age he continued to work on improving his game as well as keeping himself in excellent physical condition.  Through 2 heart attacks, a triple by-pass surgery, and 2 pace maker procedures he would always ask the doctor when he could start playing again.  His practice and conditioning has paid off with over 80 national titles in age division events and culminated this past summer with a gold medal at the World Veteran Championships.   All of these accomplishments and I know friends and opponents would all agree were achieved with great mental toughness, integrity and sportsmanship.

His love for the sport spread to me and at the age of 9 I played in my first tournament and so I have now been blessed with the unique opportunity to  enjoy traveling to tournaments with my dad, receiving great coaching (right in my own home as a young player), and having a wonderful doubles partner over the years. There have been so many wonderful memories and special moments along the way.  And so tonight comes another special moment for me as I have the great privilege of being here with so many of our lifelong friends to present my dad, Richard Hicks as the 2019 recipient of the Mark Mathews Lifetime Achievement award.   Please join me in welcoming him to the podium. 

 

2001 Hall of Fame Player Profile

It’s not yet 1960 and Richard Hicks is playing out of Lyndon, Kentucky. Since that’s somewhere between Anchorage and St. Matthews, what are the odds that four decades later he’ll be in the USATT Hall of Fame and that its founder, Steve Isaacson, will be up at the podium introducing him for Induction?

And introducing him, I might add, in a humorous way. Steve’s opening went like this:

“I started dating my future wife, Sari, in 1963. Shortly thereafter she went to a few tournaments with me. One day we went to Maywood, Illinois to the Midwestern Team Championships. All the players were beautifully attired in their respective team uniforms. But Sari noticed one young man walking around, and whispered to me, ‘How could they name their team that?’ I looked around and saw the back of this player’s shirt. It read [and Steve was suddenly silent, just held up a big lettered sign], ‘INDIANA HICKS.’”

Of course Sari hadn’t realized that Hicks, a member of the Indiana team, was the name of the player.

No joke, though, when it comes to any cool-eyed appraisal of Dick, for from the beginning one had to take him seriously.  

It’s not at all clear from the USTTA publication Topics how Dick, without any previous ranking, suddenly came to be U.S. #21 for the 1958-59 season. And how immediately after the Rankings were published he could beat U.S. #7 Laszlo Varenyi and pair with Dick Branstetter to win the Indiana Open Singles and Doubles. But he was off to a fast start, and as if Topics knew just how important an event this was, it printed the entire results of the tournament not only in its Oct., 1959 issue but four issues later in its Feb., 1960 one.

It was no oddity, though, that, after Hicks in 1959 won the first of what would be an incredible 30 Indiana State Men’s Championships, he would be caught up in the sport. In 1960 he went up to South Bend and became the St. Joe Valley Champion, and subsequently could be found playing in Milwaukee or Chicago or Toronto or Columbus or the Washington D.C. National’s—with his Ranking quickly rising to U.S. #14.

By 1961, he had moved from Lyndon and the University of Kentucky at Louisville to settle permanently in Indianapolis, where, in addition to working as a civil engineer, he helped run, then for 17 years was part owner and operator of, the Indianapolis Table Tennis Center. During this time he was Director for an estimated 80 USTTA sanctioned tournaments. So, though he’s being inducted into this Hall as a player, that’s not his only contribution to the Sport.

In 1962, at the Toronto Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) tournament, he reaches the semi’s by defeating Defending Champion Bobby Fields. That year, too, he wins the Central States--beating not only Varenyi again but former Asian Games star Houshang Bozorgzadeh and several-time U.S. Open Champion Erwin Klein..

With the ’62-63 season, Dick begins his incredible run of 25 consecutive Indiana Closed Men’s Singles Championships, and is ranked U.S. #7. He’s picked for the U.S. Team in the annual International Match against Canada at the CNE, and defeats multi-time Canadian National Champion Max Marinko in the deciding match to give the U.S. a 6-5 win.

His excellent showing allows him to represent the U.S. against Canada the following year, and at this CNE he wins the Mixed Doubles with Canadian Denise Hunnius.

In 1965-66, Dick is successful in a number of Midwest tournaments. His highlight victory over Dell Sweeris, U.S. #3, gives him another Indiana Open, and so for the ‘65-66 season he achieves his best ranking—U.S. #6. That fall he represents the U.S. at the CNE matches for a third time. This year and the next he’ll be the U.S. Midwest Regional Director. He’ll also receive the Victor Barna Award--donated by the Dunlop Company through their distributor, Jimmy McClure’s Indianapolis Pla-Good Sports Shop. This Award, uniquely shaped in the form of a racket and ball, is given to the person who contributes the most to the Sport during the season. For his 1966-67 play he’ll again make the U.S. Top 10.

From 1969-72, he assumes the responsibility of being USTTA National Tournament Director.

In 1973, at the U.S. Open Team’s, Dick has a 16-1 record, is named Most Valuable Player. In both ’73 and ’74, he and his son Ricky win back-to-back U.S. Open Parent-Child Doubles Championships. This partnership via an earlier tournament had offered them both a learning opportunity—as witness another story Steve Isaacson told at Dick’s induction:

“…Ricky missed a crucial kill shot and let out a strand of invectives unsuitable for family television…including several forms of the “F” word. Understandably, Dick was not amused. And mother Norma was appalled. At this point Dick escorted young Ricky around the table to their startled opponents, had him apologize, and defaulted the match.

Afterwards, Dick was heard to say to Ricky, “Couldn’t you have just said ‘Shit!’”

After confining himself for more than a decade to local Indiana play, Hicks becomes Chairman of the Hoosier State Games, a position he holds to this day.

In 1988 after he’s turned 50, Dick suffers a heart attack and has an angioplasty. But he comes back to play even better than he did in his 40’s. In fact, during an 11-year stretch, from 1991 to 2001, Dick’s success in the U.S. Open and Closed, especially in the Over 50’s and 60’s events, is nothing short of phenomenal.

To summarize as with an adding machine: in the U.S. Open, he’s been the Over 50 Singles Champion 3 times and the runner-up once; the Over 50 Doubles Champion 4 times and the runner-up 4 times; the Over 60 Singles Champion once, and the runner-up 3 times; and the Over 60 Doubles Champion 4 times. In the U.S. Closed, he’s been the Over 50 Singles Champion twice and the runner-up twice; the Over 50 Doubles Champion twice and the runner-up 6 times; the Over 60 Singles Champion 3 times and the runner-up twice; and the Over 60 Doubles Champion 3 times and the runner-up twice.

Moreover, all this has been achieved not without some handicaps. In 1995, Dick was the torch-bearing Hoosier State Games Athlete of the Year. But in 1996, just before he’s to play in the table tennis final of these Games, he has a mild heart attack and is quickly taken to the coronary unit of the Indianapolis Community East Hospital. But again he recovers…to win more Majors—this despite the fact that he’s had back problems for years, ever since he was a civil engineer and lifted one manhole cover too many, and so nowadays when he plays protectively wears a weightlifter’s belt with a back brace.

Having reached his vulnerable 60’s, Dick is careful about his health. With the coming of the new millennium, I had an interview with him in which he spoke of diet and exercise. For breakfast he likes a banana on oat squares and cheerios with skim milk; for lunch three vegetables and a wheat roll; and for dinner no red meat but often chicken. He has a large basement in his house which he converts into a “track” and, carrying weights in each hand, he walks very fast so long as he wants to raise his heart rate. As a forensic engineer often involved with attorneys, he’s kept busy checking into, say, traffic accidents (a faulty driver? a faulty-designed intersection?), and so generally plays table tennis only once a week. However, in that same year, 2000, I had the interview with him, Dick amazed everyone by winning both the U.S. Open Over 50 Singles and Doubles and the U.S. Open Over 60 Singles and Doubles.

 Such an accomplishment, such an overall record—given Dick’s longevity in the Sport, and his role as both contributor and player—had to be rewarded.