SHEILA O’DOUGHERTY

By Tim Boggan, USATT Historian

            Sheila O’Dougherty was inducted into the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame in Dec., 2014.

Like a number of her peers, she was honored for both her tournament play and for her service as an official. 

First, the highlights of her playing career:

            1976/1977/1978: U.S. Intercollegiate Champion.

            Sheila, weaned at Charlie Disney’s Minneapolis Club to become the Minnesota Women’s State Champion, scored her first National triumph at the 1976 ACU-I (Association of College Unions—International), sponsored by Stiga/Sportcraft/Halex. “The most exciting match” of these National Intercollegiate’s was the Women’s final between Sheila and Jean Varker, a member of the U.S. Junior Women’s Team. Sheila, “serving heavy chopped serves mixed with occasional top-sidespin, and looping and killing her forehand, took a two-game lead. But Jean forced her into the fifth where “many counter-driving rallies usually were ended by daring kills.” At the finish, Sheila rallied from down 19-16 to win five straight points and take the title.

             In 1978, Sheila, as Defending Champion, again met Jean in the final, and again O’Dougherty was two games up. This time, though, Varker was ahead 19-16 in the third. But Sheila “played an overpowering final five points and took the game, the match, and again the title.” 

            1979: #1 in U.S. World Team Tryouts. Her record was 10-1 (lost only to Judy Bochenski Hoarfrost, the 1980 Women’s Singles finalist).

            1980: #1 in U.S. World Team Tryouts. Her record was 9-2 (lost to 1983’s U.S. #2 Alice Green, who’d beaten her, 18 in the 5th, in the quarter’s of the Singles, and to Angie Rosal Sistrunk, the 1982 Women’s Singles finalist—but this time she beat Judy). 

            1979: Finalist in U.S. Closed Women’s Doubles (with Judy Hoarfrost).

            1980: Finalist in U.S. Closed Women’s Doubles (with Judy Hoarfrost).

            1981: Finalist in U.S. Closed Women’s Doubles (with Judy Hoarfrost). 

            1983: Finalist in U.S. Closed Mixed Doubles (with Ricky Seemiller).           

            1983: Winner: U.S. Amateur Women’s Singles. 

            1980: USOTC’s Women’s Team Winner (with Judy and Carol Davidson).

            1985: USOTC’s Women’s Team MVP Award winner 

            Some selected other titles:

1980: Won: Concord Open (over Alice Green in five).

1982: Won: Nissen Open.

1985: Won: Louisiana Open.

1985: Finalist: Duneland Open (to future 11-time National Champ Insook Bhushan).

            1985: Won: Duneland Mixed Doubles with Danny Seemiller (over Sean O’Neill/Insook). 

            1983: PAN AM TEAM TRIALS—3rd Place. Big swing match with Kasia Dawidowicz Gaca. Kasia, down 18-12 in the 3rd to Sheila, got to deuce. But then she looped Sheila’s serve into the net, then, down match point, she served off.

1987: OLYMPIC TEAM TRIALS5th-Place           

            U.S. TEAMS ABROAD

1980: Represented USA at tournaments in South Korea and Japan

1981: Represented USA at Novi Sad, Yugoslavia World Championships

            1983: Represented USA at Pan Am Games in Caracas, Venezuela. Bummer. At the last minute, the Pan Am organizers would allow the U.S. to play only two women—#1 qualifier Insook Bhushan and #2 qualifier Diana Gee. However, Sheila became the Women’s Team Captain and received a gold medal when Insook Bhushan and Diana Gee took the Team title.  

SHEILA O’DOUGHERTY 

Ten-Year Non-Player Contributions: 

1983: USTTA Non-Playing service begins in earnest: Sheila becomes Chair of the Athletes Committee and Player Rep on the Executive Committee. 

1986: Acts as USTTA Treasurer: gives “85 to ’86 Analysis/Budget. 

1987: Writes an Athletes Update: “Marijuana Testing Approved.”

1987: As E.C. Player Rep accompanies U.S. Youth to China for 3 and ½ week Goodwill visit. 

1989: Ends six-year stint as USTTA Athletes Chair/Player Rep.

1989: Becomes E.C. Treasurer. 

1991: Is Re-elected E.C. Treasurer. 

A “Summing Up” (1991): 

At this point, Sheila, now 33, gives us a brief “Summing Up” of her table tennis life: 

 “I’d started playing Table Tennis in 1972, at the age of 14, at Disney’s Table Tennis Club in Minneapolis. I have great memories of the next eight years, as I trained hard and gradually became a top player, finishing first on the U.S. Team in both 1979 and 1980. The four things I loved most about the sport were training hard, tournament competition, traveling, and the diversity and character of the people. From 1980 to 1986, I moved into the ‘real’ world as I finished my undergraduate degree and began working. This part of my Table Tennis life was highlighted by being a member of the U.S. Pan American Team. I viewed tournaments as a rejuvenating subculture in which I emerged myself on weekends. In 1986, I began having problems with my neck that resulted in 1988 surgery to fuse three cervical vertebrae together. I started to practice again in 1989 and played in the Olympic Festival again last July. Unfortunately I herniated another disk and have not hit a ball since.

“Last Christmas, I went home to Minneapolis for the first vacation I’ve had in a long time that wasn’t related, even peripherally, to Table Tennis. Having the free time allowed me to reflect on my life. I felt that I was very happy with my job researching hospital payment policy for Medicare, was considering going back to school to get a Ph.D. in Health Economics, liked Baltimore enough to buy a house and at least act settled, was becoming involved in community-based activities, enjoyed Olympic Committee volunteer work, and was participating in sports including golf, softball, and tennis.

“Although I’ve come to realize that my neck injury threatens to take away what I most love about Table Tennis—the competition, travel, people and community environment—I find that being a member of the Executive Committee is intellectually stimulating and provides me with an opportunity to contribute to the growth and development of Table Tennis in the U.S., and so I would like to continue serving on the Executive Committee.”                               

            In 1994, Sheila was inducted into the Minnesota Table Tennis Hall of Fame. 

Update (2014)

            At Sheila’s 2014 Induction into the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, U.S. Olympian, five-time National Champion, and fellow Hall of Famer Sean O’Neill provided the Introduction for her. Here’s the up-to-date conclusion of his speech: 

            “Sheila said she was surprised by how timing and the door of opportunity opened to allow her to contribute to USOC governance and management. It was a lot of work but she enjoyed it and felt drawn to it. To be the first table tennis athlete rep on the Athletes Advisory Council was an honor. From 1984-1992, she represented table tennis on the US Olympic Committee Board. She also served on the Olympic Foundation Board and on a number of U.S. Olympic committees including Budget and Audit, Ethics and Education committees.

            “After working at the Health Care Financing Administration to set hospital payment rates for Medicare and for Senator Moynahan at the Senate Finance Committee on the Clinton Health reforms, Sheila made a career choice to commit to another interesting and quirky community…the international development community. She is a project director, and health policy/systems/financing/and management expert with more than 25 years of experience in the health field and 19 years of international health experience.

            “A resident in Central Asia for 17 years (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), Sheila was Chief of Party of four USAID-funded health systems strengthening projects supporting the new countries in a reform of the post-Soviet health system. Sheila is currently a vice-president of Abt Associates located in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., and continues her work on health systems and financing in many developing nations of the world, including Armenia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iraq, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Ukraine, and Vietnam.

“Being in Central Asia for 20 years did take her out of the table tennis community, but, having repatriated two years ago, she’s considering re-entering a community she feels she never really left.

“Sheila, you set the bar for all AAC table tennis representatives that followed in your footsteps. You guaranteed that athletes had a voice at the decision-making table, you helped protect our rights and ensured we met our responsibilities for the sport. In conclusion, I would like to thank you [and I’m sure the audience here tonight is ready to thank you too] for your leadership, contributions, and passion for the sport of table tennis in the United States.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Sheila O’Dougherty.