TIM BOGGANUSATT Hall of Fame Inductee (1985)
by USATT Historian Tim Boggan - © 2002
Tim Boggan's 1996 interview in Table Tennis World
My earliest recollection of playing not table tennis but Ping-Pong was with my father in the basement of our house in Dayton, Ohio, in the sandpaper and hard rubber bat days of the late 1930’s and early ‘40’s. I loved the lights over the table and the indefinable darkness around it, the green and white colors that seemed so clear and beautiful to me, the sound of the racket in the silence steadily hitting the ball.
One night my father beat me in a game, which—though he might by then have been giving me less than 15 points—was very unusual. To make matters worse, it was the last game of the evening and I had no chance to get back at him. As he moved heavily up the cellar steps, I stood there at the bottom and cried and carried on terribly. When my dad got to the top of the stairs, he turned slowly around and said, “You didn’t want me to let you win, did you?
And I, looking up, sobbed, “No!”
Naturally, my father, quite contrary to what he’d said, had indeed let me win almost all the games we’d ever played together. Only this particular night for some reason he hadn’t. And because he hadn’t, I’d started to learn more about winning—how it wasn’t any good if you didn’t do it by yourself.
In the fall of 1940, sometime after my Sept. 25th birthday when I was 10 years old, I won a tournament at my grade school on an improvised table the nuns made atop some student desks. I still have the small cup I was awarded (minus the arms) that many years ago when I smoked I used as an ash tray.
When I was in the 8th grade, to my amazement I won an All-City Catholic Youth Organization tournament. I don’t know how all those hard hitters, so impressive to me when I first entered the playing hall, lost, but I remember how in the final I relentlessly outpushed my final opponent.
In high school I played only once in a tournament—in a City Novice event. Was I really a “Novice”? I asked my parents and then the organizers. The latter assured me I was. I had my doubts, but not for long: I lost in an early round.
Then, quite accidentally, I discovered the USTTA tournament world from a fellow student at the University of Dayton. In January, 1950, I attended my first out-of-town tournament—the St. Joe Valley in South Bend, Indiana. I lost my first match 27-25 in the 5th to a better player who was also a very hot-tempered one. When he tried to psych me a little, I responded in kind—the towel, the handkerchief, the shoelaces. We must have been ridiculous. Finally, the legendary John Varga himself came out to our table to no-nonsense umpire—very fairly I remember. At the age of 19, then, I started to play in earnest.
In the beginning I had only a stay-at-the-table push/block defense. Then, in 1951, at a tournament in Cincinnati, I quite insensitively began mimicking my weaker opponent’s eccentric forehand, and to my astonishment found I could keep snap-hitting in balls for winners. Wow, I thought, that was fun! Taking the offense was fun!
For four more seasons I played with great fervor. At the University of Dayton, where for years I was a perpetual “student” (who would ever think I’d become a professor?), many a day I’d cut all my classes and teach beginners cum novices to block-return the steady forehands I’d roll ever harder at them. And since I’d heard that U.S. Champion Dick Miles used to practice his close-to-the-body windmill forehand with a handkerchief under his armpit, I did that too.
My advance in that then clubless town was steady but slow. Dayton City Novice Champ, Dayton City Champ, Ohio State Champ, Central Canadian Champ, U.S. Intercollegiate Singles and Doubles Champ, U.S. #10, U.S. #7, Member of the U.S. Team in the U.S. vs. Canada matches at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto (the night before, I’d been throw-up sick, the next day I was still weak but played anyway, tried hard, lost every match).
During the 1954-55 season I had my best losses: to Bernie Bukiet in the final of the Illinois Open in Chicago; to Bukiet in the semi’s of the St. Joe in South Bend; to Johnny Somael in the semi’s of the Michigan Open at Pontiac; to Bukiet again in the final of the Western Open at Milwaukee; and to Erwin Klein in the 8th’s of the National’s at Rochester, N.Y. The best doubles I ever played was in the following ’55-’56 season, my last before I retired (I thought then forever): Steve Isaacson and I for a short time dominated the major Midwest tournaments, won 4 out of 5 finals.
During the 1950’s I was also the Captain of my University Golf Team and one of the youngest Life Masters in Bridge. Ninety percent of the time I was playing in some tournament or other. My poor father—how supportive he was, and how he must have worried about me. Finally, it was clear, even to me, that I couldn’t go on like this. In my mid-20’s, I went cold turkey, started a new…and, slowly, an academic life, fraught with peril.
Ten years later, I’d achieved some success—a job, a (second) wife, Sally, a home, a family—and at first hesitantly, then with a passionate rush, I returned to the Game. Only once in the years 1956-65 did I have any contact with table tennis. In 1960, Sally and I decided to drive to Washington D.C. to see my sister Jackie, who’d taught with my wife in the Falls Church, VA school system (it was Jackie who’d brought Sally and me together on a blind date), and also to combine an afternoon and evening at the Sheraton Park Hotel, for we wanted to see the world-famous French chanteuse Edith Piaf who was performing there. As it happened, the U.S. Open was also being held at this hotel, and although I hadn’t touched a racket in four years I’d entered for old times sake and of course with my quick afternoon exit didn’t have to worry about not making the Supper Show.
In 1962, there came one day in the mail to our Great Neck, Long Island apartment an entry blank for a tournament on Long Island. That prompted a two-hour hassle in my head as to whether I should play (though I was studying for my Ph.D. Orals). Only one way, finally, to handle it—I tore the entry blank into tiny pieces, really tiny pieces, so that I wouldn’t have to look at it any more. One hour later, I emptied the entry form pieces from the wastebasket onto my desk, and, as if trying to put together a puzzle, scotch-taped them all back into place. Then, cursing, I tore the form up again for good.
In 1965, I read in a local newspaper of another Long Island tournament. By now I felt more stable, more secure (whether I was or not), so when I called for more information, I was invited to a semi-private little Club on the Island to play—a huge turning point in my life, and the lives of my family.
This very social two-table Club in Rockville Centre was run by Frank Davison and hostess/player Mary Larsen who served us cake and coffee. Frank, who in the 1930’s had been Table Tennis and Track Coach at East Rockaway High School, loved to play “Director” at this Club. Each week before competitive play began, he’d carefully explain to the assembled regulars (all of whom of course had heard it all before) the round robin format of play, would then formally welcome any new players and perhaps even go so far as to begin to give them a little history of Long Island table tennis until those most eager to play would (“Jesus, Frank, you’re getting senile!”) try to shush him. Which wasn’t easy because he always had the assured air of a world-class aficionado winking, parting on occasion with but a small sample of decades of stored up table tennis lore. As the evening progressed, he would with a flourish of chalk write game scores on the board, which, no matter how meticulously he tried to keep them, would contain errors that over his bald brow would cause him to scratch or tug strands of wispy white hair in momentary puzzlement--this while mischievous players like bright but undisciplined students would yell out corrections Frank would never begin to act on until he stubbornly saw the change for himself.
The first time I went to Frank and Mary’s Club I lost every match badly, and before the night was over my pride had gotten the better of me and I told Frank that by next year I’d not only be beating all these players but I’d win the Long Island Championship.
And I did too—though in a peculiar way.
Frank was the something less than international umpire who was covering my semi’s match with Harry Liedtke, who’d come to the U.S. from Germany where he’d been a friend of Eberhard Schoeler, the 1969 World Singles runner-up. At 20-18 in the 5th, my favor, Harry’s return went long and I whirled around and gave an Indian victory whoop. But when I turned back to shake Harry’s hand, Frank was pointing to the table edge: Harry’s ball had hit he was saying, nodding the secret truth out of that vast hidden store of private table tennis knowledge. “Ohhh, Frank!” I said somewhere between despair and sympathy. So, although the spectators supported my view, I played on and my friend Harry, confused, one moment trying to dump, the other trying to win, got 3 more points in a row…then sportingly tried to default…then, so I could play in the final, persuaded Frank to reverse his decision—an almost unheard of occurrence. To this day I think Frank unconsciously wanted to prove me wrong—wrong, really, as to my earlier claim that I’d win the title—though being very fair-minded he would never have taken the point from me deliberately.
I soon became very active in the LITTA (was Secretary of that Association), and won another Long Island Men’s Championship. Meanwhile I hung out at Bobby Gusikoff’s Club in the City, sometimes played cards all night, and began going to tournaments all over the East and, gradually, beyond…first sometimes with Sally, and then, by 1970, with Sally and our sons Scott (born June 13, 1961) and Eric (born Aug. 14, 1963). During these years when I was in my late 30’s, I ranked anywhere from U.S. #12-#20, and had wins over the strong U.S. players Dell Sweeris and Danny Pecora, and at the 1968 U. S. Open Team Championships trounced the untrounceable U.S. Champion Dal-Joon Lee, 21-8 the first game (before losing the next two)—only one of two times in my life when I was in such a zone I didn’t realize the game was over.
In 1970 I was elected Vice-President of the USTTA, and—another turning point—began editing Table Tennis Topics, the official USTTA magazine that since 1966 I’d been writing aticles for. I greatly expanded the format, and would continue to edit this magazine for 13 years, 92 issues.
Then came—another turning point—my opportunity to go (and my protracted self-debate about going) to the Nagoya World Championships, and then on, miraculously, to China and “Ping-Pong Diplomacy”—about which, in hundreds of pages elsewhere on this Website, I’ve given highly detailed accounts of, including the reciprocal trip the Chinese made to the U.S. in 1972.
In 1971 I’d received the Dunlop Barna Award for service to the Sport. Now, in 1972, I was elected President of the USTTA, and again in 1974, though this time my tenure would not last long, not if I wanted to keep my wife from having a nervous breakdown. I had four jobs—was the full-time President (in that capacity I’d Captained a U.S. Team to Jamaica), the full time Editor, the damn near full-time Player, as well as Tournament Co-Caretaker of aspiring Junior Champions, and, oh, yes, the University Assistant Professor of English, fortunately tenured (I’d been recognized by the prestigious PMLA as one of the 40 best Freshman English teachers in the country) but not exactly preoccupied with moving up the academic ladder. So my unpaid USTTA Secretary wife, in real life a teacher, tearfully said something had to go. I spontaneously resigned both the Presidency and the Editorship, and after Sally and I both cried for two weeks, we reached a compromise where I continued on as Editor of the paper.
In those days of typewriter Wite-Out, the writing and editing was laborious work, but great fun—serious pleasure. I printed anything and everything from anyone I thought responsible. And I actively solicited material from all over the country. It was, if not a family paper, an in-group table tennis community paper, wherein the community was the multi-cultural world, with all its possibilities. I wanted subjective points of view, the more varied the better. I wanted a particular eye/I, an individual voice. I thought if everyone was free to say what he/she wanted about any topic, the many subjective responses would provide a basis for objectivity--and the truth, though it might take time, would out. I preferred writing that showed involvement, that combined reason and emotion—as the best writing does. But I see now that in my zeal for the written word I stressed too much copy and not enough photos.
Though I resigned the Presidency, I still deeply cared about, and felt responsible for, the U.S. Team players. So I did fund-raising for them and Captained them to the ’75 Calcutta World’s. (You can find my write-ups of the World Championships I went to through the ‘70’s—at Nagoya, Sarajevo, Calcutta, Birmingham, and Pyongyang-- elsewhere on this Website.)
When, in the ‘70’s I was USTTA President, I and those who helped me did accomplish a couple of things. Concerned with the Image of the Sport (at least to the relative few who might care about it), we increased the prize money at tournaments for the top players—those players who generally speaking have worked the hardest and whom the others, and certainly the “outsiders,” if we’re to have a Sport, must be entertained by. And in 1974 we opened the gates to the world-class players who’ve been coming to our U.S. Opens ever since.
In 1975-76 I had the opportunity to write and see published my Winning Table Tennis (part of a Sports Series—compare Pete Rose’s Winning Baseball), and after I accepted the advance and spent it, I damn well had to produce the book. But I couldn’t get started. I couldn’t write without being honest and write out of my own experience, but that meant I had to focus on my own somewhat eccentric game (as typified by the Boggan “no look” forehand), as well as use whatever appealed to me from what others had written. Further, since my chief concern was not to be boring, I wanted to include as much anecdotal material as possible. It took me three months to find the right voice, without which I couldn’t proceed. Finally I got started with what became “Chapter Five—Serve and Receive.” And thereafter I finished the whole book inside of a month. Fortunately I had a very sympathetic editor who liked the way I wrote and scarcely touched my original manuscript.
On returning from Calcutta, I remained the U.S. Team Captain at the 1975 U.S. Open in Houston, and then (O.K., Sally?…O.K.) was back on the E.C. again—as Vice-President.
At the 1976 U.S. Open, I was at the forefront of a group of players who picketed the Philadelphia venue because we all felt the prize money was grossly inadequate. Back then, and for some time after, I was quite outspoken about what I felt or thought. I remember one player passing me as I was on the picket line who hissed, “You’re disgusting.” But our boycott of this tournament was heard. Thanks to Neil Smyth and Bill Hodge the first U.S. Closed was held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas—with 10 times the prize money that had been offered at the Open.
By the 1977 U.S. Open, my sons had begun to come of age as players. In the Under 17 Junior Championship, 15-year-old Scott beat 13-year-old Eric in 5 in the final. Both would go on to have illustrious careers. (Hall of Fame inductee Scott you can read about in this Profile section; Eric, who’d become U.S. Open and Closed Champion, and 18th in the world, is not yet old enough to be inducted.)
The next time I ran for USTTA office, my slate was handily defeated. But of course I continued to freewheel-write-for-and-edit Topics (though not without some complaints), and continued to be an avid tournament-goer and fervid supporter of our U.S. Team at the World’s. Meantime, I arranged for, via my friend Nisse Sandberg, Founder of the Stockholm-suburb Angby Club, and fund-raised for, my boys and others to play in the 1978 Swedish Open Junior Championships. (Later, in ’81, Eric would win the Under 18’s in this tournament). Soon my sons were good enough to be on the U.S. Men’s Team and so began to accompany me to World Championships—the first being our journey to unworldy North Korea with a side trip (some side trip!) to what in comparison seemed a “free” China .
As my sons matured, both won, became unique brothers in table tennis history, both the U.S. Junior and the U.S. Men’s Championship, became players who were paid to play abroad, lived there, trained there, endured some hardships but had some successes—especially Eric.
Actually, I, too, had had some successes—not only on the home front but as an occasional player abroad--and in the years to come would have more. In 1971 at Nagoya, in the Jubilee Cup for players/officials Over 40, I beat Ferenc Sido, the 1953 World Champion, who of course was long past his prime but still good enough to be the Defending Jubilee Cup Champion. Then I went on to become runner-up in the event—losing in the final to the Czech “Laci” Stipek, a former 3-time World Doubles Champion. In 1977, at the Birmingham World’s, in the Press Championship, I beat a good Israeli player to get to the final where I had no chance against the former #1 Czech, Jaroslav “Yardo” Stanek. However, in 1982, at the first World Veterans Championship in Gothenburg, former Canadian National Champion Derek Wall and I, in the final of the Over 50 Doubles, had a great opportunity for a world title, but blew an 18-14 lead in the deciding 3rd. Still, as involved Official, Editor/Writer, Team Captain, and Player, who by now had been to a number of countries, I began the more to think of myself as an Internationalist.
This brings me into the 1980’s, past feisty controversies over what I or my son Scott wrote in Topics, past the so-called Boggan Point-Penalty Rule, past the Legality or Illegality of Eric’s Footstamps, and past my son Scott’s non-respectful behavior to those officials I myself thought too often uncaring and incompetent. It wasn’t just Scott, however, who paid a price (see his Profile), but me.
In 1983, after 13 years of very conscientious but sometimes very controversial service, I was fired as Editor in a secretive, underhanded way—which, though I was very angry over all the cowardly deception, would not do anyone any good (least of all the now mellow me) were I to recount the details again here. Suffice to say that I think it’s almost a given that a free press is not much liked by the resident officers in power. And with some good reason, for in such a democratic press not all is gospel, though some people are apt to think so. Also, what one says at any one moment—and of course I myself have regretted what on occasion I’ve said or written—shouldn’t really be held as his/her definitive word forever or perhaps even for a short time. There’s always dirty linen and very likely much more of it when it’s never aired in public. Readers of all persuasions realize people not only have differences of opinion but make errors. Mistakes are not so hard to forgive, particularly when acknowledged. But who wants their elected officials to practice secrecy, for secrecy breeds corruption.
After being fired, but not even being given the courtesy of being officially told I was, I fought back as best I could by starting Timmy’s, my own magazine, with the same USTTA advertisers, and, since it was better than the official USTTA magazine, it was well received. I built up in one season well over 900 paid subscribers, the great majority of whom were regular tournament-goers who knew me and trusted me. Not content with that, I again ran for the Presidency and was elected—ousted he who’d ousted me.
Sound petty? I didn’t think so, and still don’t. As President, I ran a regular “Up Front” column, always leveled with the Membership, and tried as hard as I could to ignite someone, anyone, on or off my E.C. to help me make something happen in the Sport. I remember Jimmy McClure saying as we were about to go to a Meeting I’d called, “We don’t know what we’re doing.” He was right, but I for one didn’t know what else to do but struggle. I didn’t want to be merely a hold-the-line caretaker President. But we had no money (always the bane of the Association)—and what we did have I used to try, particularly with Dennis Masters’ help, to make the 1985 Open something special by bringing the Chinese World Champions to Miami Beach. The China Connection was always important to me because the Chinese were, and still are, what Table Tennis is all about. I was criticized for wasting money, and I’m sure, since I’ve never cared to be frugal, I did waste some, but nothing like some were accusing me of. Moreover, I damn well knew what to do in order to ensure that $1,000,000-plus USOC windfall money wouldn’t be squandered. From the beginning I saw to it that it should be in a Foundation set up by Jimmy McClure who I knew I could trust to be careful with a buck. Anyway, without money to spend, I felt there was a kind of what’s the use attitude and little or no enthusiasm among my E.C. members.
When I was defeated for reelection by the same fellow who’d been President before and who I was sure wouldn’t struggle as I did to at least try to make something happen (he’d had a distinguished career, but in this office, at this time, I thought him a loser), I was disgusted with table tennis and some of the people in it, and left the scene—again I thought forever. But 2 and ½ years later I was back…and of course again involved.
By the time the ’89 U.S. Open was held in Miami Beach, I’d so changed my appearance during my wife’s brief absence to her childhood home in South Carolina that, when I met her at the airport, clean shaven, in a suit and tie, and mischievously said a few short words to her as if I were someone else, she did not, after 27 years of marriage, recognize me. “I’m sorry,” she finally said, astonishing me, “I don’t know who you are.” But she and the table tennis world soon got accustomed to me again, for I was back with a beard writing articles.
And now starting something new—which as the years would go by, I’d from to time to time abandon—and that was a projected multi-volume History of U.S. Table Tennis.
Although six weeks earlier, I’d had a serious heart attack, was twice in intensive care before I was able to have an angioplasty—23 days in the hospital in all—I went, though with some trepidation, to the Jan., 1990 U.S. Closed in Berkeley and won the Over 60’s (as, before, in either the U.S. Open or Closed, I’d won the 40’s and 50’s, and would later win the 70’s).
I’d also done o.k. at the quite ambitiously conceived but woefully run 1990 Tournaments of Champions (three Championships being held June 8-17 at the Baltimore Convention Center—namely, the World Veterans Tournament, the Junior International, and the U.S. Open). In the Open I was a winner in the 60 Doubles with my Croatian t.t. historian friend Zdenko Uzorinac, and, in the Over 55 Singles, was, oh, the (20, 20) runner-up to one of the Swedes who’d beaten Wall and me in that World final in Gothenburg. However, playing in the tournament was not my preoccupation, for I’d not only put together the large Program (as, before, I’d done the ’85 U.S. Open Program), but was in charge of the whole Tournaments of Champions Press Committee (13 people on the payroll)--which meant I was responsible for the Daily Bulletins that were coming out.
Meanwhile, under Danny Seemiller’s administration, I was back with Topics—as Executive Editor, with the young but very capable Scott Baake as Managing Editor. I was also back going to World Championships (as I’d last done in the ‘80’s--Novi Sad, Tokyo, Gothenburg). This time it was Chiba City, Japan, where I became a member of the ITTF Media Committee, and, as my reporting was extremely comprehensive, it was our best issue—and our last. Since neither Scott nor I were too concerned about monitoring our expenses, and since no one on the E.C. was either, everybody suddenly decided we’d spent far too much money, and so we were summarily fired—a big disappointment to us because we were very proud of our 9 issues.
I bore President Danny Seemiller no ill will, however, for he was always above board with me, and my sons and I were always good friends with him and his brothers. Afterwards, he would think of me for alternate positions of importance, and later I would write an Introduction to his book, named, as was mine, Winning Table Tennis, though the chances of anyone confusing the two of us would be…minimal.
That summer I had another job—was appointed North American Technical Director for Table Tennis for the Havana Pan-Am Games…and got along very well with the Cuban tournament organizers. I also was able to visit Ernest Hemingway’s home outside Havana --a big plus for me because I’ve always admired and taught his “iceberg-style” short stories (the meaning of them 1/8th on the surface, 7/8’s underneath).
In 1991 I was appointed, for the Swaythling Club, International, its representative for North America, and so had the more reason to go to the 1992 World Veterans Championships in Dublin--Championships which Sally and I combined with a 3-day tour of south and west Ireland with Dick and Mary Miles.
Just prior to the first USTTA Hall of Fame Awards Banquet in 1979, I’d become a Charter Member of the Hall of Fame Board of Directors, and in 1985 was inducted. Of course, since the Award was meaningful to me, I gave a long, emotional acceptance speech which no doubt caused my family in the room some inward, maybe even outward, squirms of embarrassment. In 1993 I began MCing that Banquet and since then have spent quite a bit of time and money, researching, in my capacity as USATT Historian, candidates for induction and preparing poster boards and slide shows of the inductees. In 1999 I suggested to our first U.S. Champion, Mark Matthews (then Marcus Schussheim) that he sponsor an annual USATT Lifetime Achievement Award and he generously provided a Permanent Trophy and also annual individual trophies, selected painstakingly by the Hall’s founder Steve Isaacson.
Steve, I might add, was later responsible for a new millennium idea. It concerned an historical oddity --the fact that 1936 U.S. World Champion Ruth Aarons was unable to successfully defend her Championship because her 1937 final with Austria’s Trude Pritzi was stopped when the match exceeded the time limit, and the title was declared vacant. Steve thought the ITTF should award posthumous medals to both women, thus giving the U.S. another World Championship, and asked me as ITTF Council Member to liaison with ITTF President Adham Sharara to see if this couldn’t happen. As Adham was for it, it did happen—with USATT President Sheri Pittman accepting for Aarons and the U.S., and Steve himself being honored by the USATT for his suggestion.
In 1993, I’d started my two back-to-back 4-year tenures with the ITTF-- first, as ITTF Vice-President for North America, and then as Council Member for North America. I was paid to attend Meetings, to understand what the discussions were about, to talk if I had something to say, to take, if only for my own satisfaction) careful notes, and to write (when such were needed) occasional Reports. Also, since the Meetings were invariably held in conjunction with big International tournaments, I always wrote up these tournaments for the USATT readers back home.
What was I paid? Well, a vanity payment--that is, I was momentarily “important.” I met metropolis mayors who didn’t remember me as I didn’t remember them, even shook hands in passing with the President of China, whom I do remember. And for a few days I dined well and saw a little something more of the world. However, going to these Meetings invariably involved long, wearying hours of solitary travel—to Japan, China, Taiwan, Cyprus, Malaysia, South Africa….I once had an itinerary that took me, from the door of my house back to the door of my house, 84 hours. Missed connections and long layovers so you won’t miss connections are not uncommon. Sometimes you’re met at your destination and sometimes you’re not. At the airport in Taipei, it turned out there were two exits that led into a gigantic hub of a room crowded with hundreds of people. You know how the guy sent to meet me—he hadn’t any description—found me? Before leaving home, I’d put a table tennis ball in my pocket, and now I kept lobbing it up ceilingward until… “Mr. Boggan? Are you Mr. Boggan?” For that rare show of foresight, I was very proud of myself, still am.
It’s a good idea for the ITTF to have varied geographical representation in its inner circles, for then disparate voices can be heard. The Federation really is democratic, and I had a voice that could be heard. Take as an example that which I’m most pleased about. The Ichiro Ogimura administration, Ogimura himself really, was very much against any umpire at any world title competition being more than 60 years old. But, speaking on behalf of the USATT, I argued against this ITTF Handbook Directive and I was listened to, and, with indispensable help from my colleagues, I was able to get the Directive rescinded. So I’m sure any number of our USATT Match Officials appreciated me having represented them.
It was impossible for me of course to become an ITTF Hall of Famer, a tribute rightly reserved for World Champions, but in 1995 at the Tianjin World’s I was honored with the next best thing—the ITTF Award for Merit, given for my “distinguished service to table tennis in the USA over a period of many years.” I’m scarcely a unique recipient—there are many world-wide. Still, it’s always nice to be recognized.
In the summer of 1995, the World Team Cup, was held in Atlanta as a pre-Olympic warm-up, and I was part of the Competition Management Staff—the Information Services Manager whose job it was, with some staff help, to get out information to the public, and to pick the Tournament’s Most Valuable Players.
I was brought back to Atlanta for the Olympics—with ITTF Media Chair Bas den Breejen and Sheri Soderberg Pittman who, as she’d helped me earlier at the Baltimore Tournaments of Champions and had done a number of interviews with world-class players, I thought very well qualified to assist us in putting out day-to-day tournament stories over Info ’96, a communications system being used during these Centennial Games. The three of us worked very well together and put out maybe 160 bulletins.
Some years before I’d written entries on Table Tennis for Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia. By 1995 I was writing the annual Encyclopaedia Britannica entries. Soon I’d be contributing a rather lengthy article for both the three-volume Encyclopedia of World Sports and the three-volume International Encyclopedia of Women in Sports. In 1996 the ITTF began publishing Table Tennis Illustrated and naturally I began sending articles there, as well as to the Swaythling Club’s News publication. Also in Dec., ’96- Jan., ‘97 my “Soul Journey” Review of Hikosuke Tamasu’s Songs of International Friendship that had been rendered into English by the translator/artist Tadao Murata appeared in two issues of the Butterfly World Report.
Also about now, and then ever increasingly later, perhaps because more of my writing was appearing on the USATT Website, various people—a few interested in doing Sports books or articles, sometimes without a clue about Table Tennis—were and are calling me, or writing me e-mails, requesting information—which I dutifully keep giving them. Also, over the years, I’ve written quite a few letters of recommendations trying to help players and coaches, which of course, given my positions, is what I should have been doing. Still, all this takes time and effort. Then, as after the “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” trip I gave lectures and exhibitions, so now there’s an occasional radio interview or filmed documentary, which I also dutifully do.
As USATT Historian, it was natural that I help my friend Bobby Gusikoff with his innovative 50-minute Legends tape of former World Champions. Later, at the ‘97 Manchester World’s, I interviewed on tape some of those very legends—Rozeanu, the nee Rowe twins, Leach, Sido, European Champ Berczik. Still later, before Bobby’s debilitating aneurysm, in the company of Dave Strang, former USTTA Film Committee Chair, I drove to Ohio to retrieve some historic films he’d preserved for 19 years, turned these into videos at my own expense and sent them to Bobby, for, with my interviews and these films we hoped to do, and with the help of others, may still do, a Legends II.
In July of ’97, along with some members of the U.S. contingent who’d made the 1971 trip to Canton, Beijing, and Shanghai, I participated in the “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” Commemoration/Reunion in the Delegates Lounge at the United Nations that drew such celebrities as Henry Kissinger and Tricia Nixon Cox. The U.N.’s George Brathwaite had arranged some exhibition matches, so I got to clown a little.
In 1999, at the Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg, when I, as a special liaison representing the absent ITTF President Adham Sharara, arrived at the Winnipeg venue (later than expected because Chicago storms had short-circuited my plane connections), the Canadian TAA organizers had given the Latin American T.T. Union players an ultimatum to play with the ITTF Rankings or be defaulted. Indeed, the CTTA were literally only a couple of minutes away from holding them to account. At this point Competition Director Art Koberstein later told me, only 4 of the 12 Men’s teams and 2 of the 8 women’s teams had agreed to play. The others were defiantly at this very moment at a decisive meeting. Which of course is where I immediately went…in effect, forcing a welcome by my ITTF colleague, Guatemala’s Miguel Delgado, who was in the delicate position of being both ITTF Vice-President for South America and President of the LATTU.
On brusquely clamboring up onto the stage, I informally greeted Delgado, who I knew was “cool,” with a friendly but blustery, “Miguel, what the f___’s going on here?” He of course introduced me to the audience, some of whom already knew me from the Havana Pan-Am Games or recent U.S. Opens. Shall I say I caught everyone’s attention by continuing to speak straightforwardly of compromise in something less than professorial language? Yes, I will say it; indeed, I’ll repeat it. And thus, to make a patient, back-and-forth story short, both sides with goodwill gradually came to a workable position. (I especially credited Delgado, the USA’s Rufford Harrison, and Canada’s Mike Skinner for helping me with my liaison work.) For the first time, play would proceed with seedings based on ITTF World Rankings and with the understanding that both the 3rd and 4th place teams would receive a bronze medal.
After that it was on to Eindhoven and Kuala Lumpur for the World Championships. And then to Vancouver for the World Veterans Championship. Although Sally and I had gone for the first time to the Northwest primarily for a vacation (for years I just hadn’t been playing much except for big tournaments), I surprised the both of us by getting to the final of the Over 70 Doubles with my partner, Californian Leon Ruderman…only, as had happened 20 years earlier, we came up short—this despite our winning the 1st 24-22, and leading in the mid-game 2nd, only to lose it at 19, and then the 3rd. Also, in the 8th’s of the 70 Singles, I met the Swede who’d eventually win the event (he’d been the partner of the Swede I’d mentioned before who 10 years ago beat me in Baltimore; and together, 20 years before, they’d come from behind to beat Wall and me in the 50 Doubles at Gothenburg). Alas, more déjà vu--I was up 1-0 and at deuce in the 2nd …only to lose in 3. Well, anyway, it was a wonderful vacation for Sally and me. As was a trip we took to Hawaii in 2001—where in a Senior Open in Honolulu I did win the Over 70 Singles and Doubles, as I did later that year at the U.S. Open.
With the coming of the new millennium I received great satisfaction in seeing Volume I (1928-1939) of my projected multi-volume History of U.S. Table Tennis published. I was a total novice at getting it in publishable form, made costly mistakes, and was fortunate to have Laszlo Bellak, Marv and Caron Leff, Larry Hodges, and my computer whiz of a neighbor Terri McSweeney help me. Publishing Vol I gave me incentive to work hard at finishing Vol. II (1940-52), 12 chapters of which at the moment I’ve finished.
I’d been active in the Classic Hardbat Renaissance--often played now with Hardbat, and was Secretary of that Association. Just recently, however, I gave up that Scretariat for another. Earlier I’d run for USATT office and lost a close Northeastern Region election, but in 2001, running on a slate with incumbent President Sheri Pittman I easily won the position of Secretary, and in Osaka at the World Championships, while Sheri became the ITTF Vice-President for North America, I became—deservingly, if I may say so--a full member of the ITTF Media Committee.
Consequently, I’m still very much working for both the USATT and the ITTF, and so am not at all ready to sum things up and close the books. I will say, in keeping my account up-to-date, however (since, as you no doubt can tell, I think some show of pride a good thing) that for an engaging 35 years, beginning in 1965, with a couple of years off for good behavior, I’ve written hundreds and hundreds of pieces of every description for USATT readers…and most importantly for myself. International, national, regional, and local tournament write-ups, interviews and ITTF reports, poems, stories, books, and book reviews, profiles of the living, obits of the dead, and chapters of USATT history that can’t help but show table tennis past, present, and future.
What mixed feelings I’ve often had in my long USTTA/USATT involvement. How many times have I thought, “How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable/Seem to me all the uses [ways] of the [table tennis] world.” But such moods pass. And, again, I feel that what I do, what I’m defined by, is valuable.
Tim Boggan Receives
2006 Mark Matthews’ Lifetime Achievement Award
(Nov. 14, Stratosphere Hotel, Las Vegas)
I’ve thought about this acceptance speech—especially how to acknowledge all the people, so many in this room, so many deserving of mention, who’ve made my half-century table tennis life on the whole so enjoyable. But in the short time I have to speak, it’s an impossible task. So I hope if any of my friends feel slighted at the moment because I’m not acknowledging them in these accompanying slides, they remember that I’ve cared about them in the many moments of the past, and know that I still care about them.
The first thought that comes to me echoes that of my so long-encouraging wife, Sally, once an overworked pro bono USTTA Secretary, as it were, until she’d finally had it, and, crying, said, midst her tears and anger, “What’ve I been doing it all for?…WHAT’VE I BEEN DOING IT ALL FOR?”…
From the time I started playing seriously in my perpetual-student, cut-class days, and years later when—who’d’ve thought it—I myself was a professor, and than started playing again, I wanted to be a professional player of relative sorts. Wanted to travel about with others who were willing at a moment’s notice to drive off to a tournament far from home. I enjoyed great camaraderie with such players because, like me, they had a romantic readiness, were intense; they came with all their varied individuality to heart-and-soul compete. That’s 3-time U.S. Women’s Champ Patty Martinez I’m wrapped around—we’ve just beaten the Mixed pair of England’s #1, Denis Neale, and Canada’s #1, Violetta Nesukaitis. My friends and I played for just such a win.
Very soon I not only wanted to be with these circuit players, I wanted to write about them, and when I saw a chance to edit the USTTA magazine, I went for it, lack of experience be damned. (Anyone wearing a Nehru outfit like this had to show some pluck.) As I encouraged a variety of voices in the magazine, I had to battle with a few interior ones of my own. Fortunately, I chose correctly, went to my first World’s (I’ve been now to 20 of them), and then to China. There I was given a moment in time—a handshake, a look-in-the-eye from Premier Chou En-lai—that went beyond imagination. That trip changed, broadened my life. It led to my later years of ITTF involvement, and to more connections with the Chinese. Here Dick Miles, the writer Jose Yglesias, and I are covering “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” in the States. And here, years later, I’m having fun with China’s ITTF President Xu Yinsheng.
I’ve always disliked parochialism, provincialism, amateurism. More than anything I wanted the isolated U.S. of my time to be part of World Table Tennis. So I took another no-look jump in the direction of responsibility—became the USTTA President. A different President in a sense, for I was both a team player and a maverick, both respectful and disrespectful of “authority,” both approving and disapproving of Rules. Here I am, a USTTA Vice-President, picketing the 1976 U.S. Open. I’m on line when a fella comes up to me and says in my ear, in a hiss of a whisper, “You’re disgusting.” That’s one of my friends in line behind me, the both revered and reviled Fuarnado Roberts.
Was I in those days delusional? To hold simultaneously six jobs: be the USTTA President, the Editor of Topics, the tireless Reporter, the serious Player, the Manager of budding little professionals, Scott and Eric—and, oh yes, my students wouldn’t let me forget, the Professor of English needing to earn a livelihood. (That’s Dickens’s Mystery of Edwin Drood I’m teaching. He died before finishing it.)
Because of the ’74 and ’75 influx of foreign players and officials into U.S. and Canadian Opens, I formed a lasting relationship with three good friends from overseas— Croatia’s journalist/historian Zdenko Uzorinac; Indian Team Captain/Manager Subhash Mashruwala; and Sweden’s Angby Club founder Nisse Sandberg. Wanting to support the U.S. Team players, I fund-raised for them (a 1,000 form letters, personalized with one-liners, brought in roughly $6,000), then I Captained the Team to the Calcutta World’s. While in India I acted with my usual decorum…Giving me a lift on his motor scooter is Dr. Amrut Patwardhan, Vice-President of the Nagpur TTA.
The years went by. I wrote a book. Continued to turn out a myriad number of articles on tournaments here and abroad. And of course was very pleased to see Scott and Eric care passionately about competing. Some thought the three of us controversial figures—they even named a “Point-Penalty Rule” after us. We were too emotional.
And then…I was quoting Aristotle: “Anyone can become angry—that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time; for the right purpose and in the right way—that is not easy.” Angry? Could anyone assume I was angry when, after 13 years of service I’d underhandedly, cowardly been fired as Editor of Topics without so much as a notice to that effect. In retaliation I immediately began publishing my own magazine, Timmy’s—think that’s a symbolic cover?—and got over 900 paid subscribers in just a matter of months.
Here’s another fella who didn’t like me—could I live with it? “Boggan’s Rebuttal in the January  issue of Spin [a momentary name change from the historic Topics] is, in itself, the best possible explanation of why the USTTA Executive Committee dropped him from its staff. His obscene writings have been a source of disgust and embarrassment to us all. Whoever initiated the proposal to remove him as editor deserves not only a huge trophy, but the heartfelt thanks of all who want to see table tennis receive greater recognition in the future.”
Actually, the fella does me more than justice. Surely he overrates my obscenities, my volatility, a thrown racket, a broken one, chairs overturned—the embarrassment I cause. I’ve just not been that successful at it. This sponsor wants to use me in his ad…in precisely this racket-flipping way. And here when I make a spectacle of myself and cheer for my kids not a single person in the audience gives me so much as a look.
Since I’ve failed at being suspended, there’s another USTTA Presidency for me. And of course more ups, and downs. Better maybe I give up Happy Hour….Or Table Tennis. Say cheers to everyone and make a change or two.
But then I’m back…getting a little Award, reward, for traveling all over to ITTF tournaments and meetings. Tianjin, Taipei, Cyprus, Kuala Lampur, Dublin, Havana, Tokyo, South Africa where in my spare time I’m on a safari. Here I am in the forward- most seat of some roofless land rover facing this brute of an elephant coming straight at me until the Guide claps his hands and miraculously it stops, 15 feet away, as if suddenly paralyzed.
Oh, yes, I’m back. Playing in some more Majors. My partner there—remember him?—is the late Leon Ruderman. That’s also Leon to the far left. He and son Gary are filming my Manchester World’s interviews. (We’re looking to help Bobby Gusikoff do a 2nd Legends tape. Here I’m talking to former World Champion Ferenc Sido and his interpreter.) More recently, I’ve been writing more than a few minutes as USATT Secretary. And then, in between doing the never-ending obituaries of my friends and acquaintances, continuing with my latest project: the multi-volume History of U.S. Table Tennis—Vol. VII to be out in the Spring. Hence my basement desk among the dust and cobwebs is festooned with little scraps of inspirational notes. Here’s one I shared from the beginning with the inquisitive spiders: “The building blocks of culture are inextricably ethical, bound up with memories of duty to the dead, of duty to the future, of moral obligations to tell the truth and defeat lies, and give people what they deserve.”
So, to sum up: know what I’ve done it all for? Because of what the Sport has done for me.
It’s made me a player…in the largest sense of the word. Given me decades worth of interesting people and their activities to write about. Taught me something about organizing, and working for a cause. Helped me to see the World and slowly become more understanding, more mature; maybe even, against my better judgment, almost at times mellow. It’s permitted me to take great pride in my supportive wife—ah, good, she’s smiling now—and our accomplished sons. Above all, Table Tennis has given me a chance to care about others, enduringly so. Their historic photos, so many by Mal Anderson, live—live permanently, immortally, for me in my open files and boxes. Friends, acquaintances, strangers no longer strangers—all are there to be seen, greeted and talked to by me, as they were, as they are, year after year.
The Sport has allowed me to do more than care about my table tennis work, it’s allowed me to feel passionately about it. It’s given me a place and an identity in the world of my choosing. Indeed, it’s finally brought me—70 years after playing ping-pong on a makeshift table with my father in the basement of our home in long ago suburban Dayton, Ohio—to where I am at the moment. From such a nondescript beginning, how could I not be proud—but also very grateful before you…and to you for helping me to receive this esteemed honor tonight.
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