The fact that most Americans do not really take table tennis seriously has a number of depressing consequences for those who do. The national association has virtually no funds, and helping the best players get around this country to tournaments, let alone around the world, is a continuing struggle. Table tennis clubs, where they do exist, have no more than 20 or 30 members, and do not help much in transporting contestants.
"It's the basements," says J. Rufford Harrison, gloomily. Harrison, four years president of the USTTA and its present recording secretary and most active official, observes, "This is such an infernally rich country that everybody's got a basement and everybody's got a table in it. In England nobody's got a basement, so you have literally thousands of clubs." Klein has said, "In the Orient they have practice during the day and are used to playing at odd hours. An American table tennis player isn't worth a darn until the sun goes down." It should be pointed out that all the tables in all the U.S. basements do not indicate a particular interest in real table tennis. They are the remnants of the 1920's craze for the family game of ping-pong. It is a paradox that today, while billiard academies and bowling lanes have blossomed into shiny respectability, the public table tennis facilities, outside of the clubs and school recreation rooms, have been deteriorating into hangouts that make the old pool halls look like the ladies' aid society.
Along with no money, no clubs and no club spirit, of course, goes no regular competition for the real table tennis player. Table tennis in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas may be on the increase; Erwin Klein can now call to mind three, maybe four, opponents with whom he can practice. Previously there was no chance of working out with his equals, who were in New York, Detroit or the Army. You cannot polish up your loop shot against an auntie whose game is a relic of that fad of the '20s, and the almost total lack of even national competition makes world play just that much more unequal a battle. It represents a considerable triumph that, of the 83 nations, the U.S. men's team is ranked 10th. For three years in a row, 1935, 1936 and 1937, the U.S. men's doubles team took first place in world competition. The best we have done since then are two mixed doubles championships, one in 1947, the other in 1955, and a third in the men's singles in 1959, achieved by the redoubtable Richard Miles, who has been U.S. champion nine times.
The financial difficulties of the USTTA have produced what in other respects must be one of the richest sports associations in the country. "We can afford to make no distinctions," J. Rufford Harrison says contentedly. As a result, there is within the USTTA no amateur or professional category, no shadow of a racial, religious or national bias, and only the most rudimentary provision for recognizing differences of age and sex. The U.S. table tennis team has been competing tranquilly with Communist China for years (or as tranquilly as it can, overmatched as it is). "Of course, there's no such thing as an amateur over there," Harrison points out. "I think Brazil and Japan insist on pure amateurism," he says doubtfully, "and perhaps some others."
The top U.S. players run table tennis clubs, play exhibitions and coach table tennis, and the association rejoices cordially over every penny they earn. As for nationality, you do not have to be a citizen of the U.S. to hold the U.S. championship. Harrison and incoming president Herman Prescott of Newport News, Va. think that the dethroned, Polish-born Bukiet might at some time have taken out citizenship papers, but they are neither of them at all certain. "I'm not a citizen," Harrison, who is English, adds. Prescott is a Negro. And in the Inglewood gym, though attendance was not large, one could hear German, Spanish and English English spoken, and tentative English with Chinese, Japanese, Hungarian, Serbo-Croatian, Polish and New York accents.
Carter Lenoir of Tucson was there. Carter prefers to play in his bare feet, and favors a racket with no rubber on it at all. Judge Alexander came, wearing the polo shirt of the Miami Valley Table Tennis Haven. Walter Alexander is an 81-year-old ex-postal clerk from Cincinnati who does six pushups every morning and has not missed the nationals in 26 years. W. Yee and L. Lee of Vancouver, B.C. were present, happily also in shirts proclaiming them W. Yee and L. Lee, since otherwise, paired in the doubles, they would have been indistinguishable from behind.
The next world championships will be held in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia. Not until 1965, but already J. Rufford Harrison is practicing Serbo-Croatian at lunchtime, Erwin Klein is developing new strokes and Herman Prescott is thinking up ways to get money. Everybody is ready to charge out and get beaten again, but not without honor and a certain �lan.