USA Table Tennis

In the late 1930’s, when organized table tennis was still in its bright-hoped childhood, Bob Green was not only one of the top half-dozen players in Indiana, and one about to quickly improve, he was also beginning his 15-year stint--initially in Indianapolis, then primarily in Columbus, Ohio--as manager of a successful table tennis club. In that famous photo of Who’s Who in Indiana table tennis, taken at Kokomo in 1937 of Jimmy McClure, John Varga, Bernie Hock, and other notables, it seems only fitting that the 22-year-old Green has on a suit and tie rather than playing togs, for, much as he always liked to compete, he liked even more to try to bring order and direction to those who enjoyed playing.

Hence we’re about to view him not only as a nationally-ranked competitor, but as a versatile contributor to the Sport. See him, for example, as an organizer of leagues (Bob said at one point he had over 200 players in All-Star, industrial, commercial, and novice league play at his Columbus Club). See him as a director of local, regional, and national tournaments. As the President of his Ohio Table Tennis Association. As the Editor of the official USTTA publication, Topics. As a table tennis writer and columnist. As a coach for all ages and a promoter of junior play. And, very importantly to me, as a preserver of the Sport’s history.

In addition, with his years at Muncie, Indiana’s Ball State and his later Electrical Engineering degree, along with his work as a piano-playing union musician that enabled him to pay his way through school, Bob also had a life outside of table tennis. Yet one that kept connecting him with the Sport. As he says, he was on the road as an engineer for the Howard Hughes Aircraft Corporation for many years and stationed in many places, and so learned a lot about players, clubs, and table tennis activities in general.

After managing Schuyler "Sky" Blue’s Paddle Club in Indianapolis in the late 1930’s, Bob moved to Columbus in July of 1940 and organized a Club there on the corner of Buttles Ave. and High Street. By Oct. of 1943, as his Places to Play ad in Topics confirmed, he had expanded to own and operate a 12-table hub of a Club on North High St. This was part of the Columbus Olentangy Village Recreation Center that featured bowling and included rifle and archery ranges. Bob would run this club on into the 1950’s before selling it to Guy Blair and Jim Irwin, two of Ohio’s leading players. Blair, in particular, felt that whatever success he had as a player he owed to Bob Green.

In those years before the U.S. entered into World War II, Bob with his picture-book, crisp, two-winged chop strokes and an ever-ready attack, soon began to make his mark as a player--not only in singles but in doubles. His regular Mixed partner, even into the early 1940’s, was Columbus, Ohio’s Leah Thall (later 9-time U.S. Singles Champion and World Mixed Doubles Champion Leah Neuberger). For the ‘38-39 season, Bob was ranked #7 in Indiana, Leah #5 in Ohio. The following year, Bob had moved up to U.S. #35, Leah to U.S. #8--and in the Mixed at the Toledo Lake Cities Open in March, they’d given Don MacCrossen, U.S. #14, and Sally Green, that year’s U.S. Champion, a tenacious 19-in-the-5th battle. Few knew back then that Bob’s last name, Green, was really spelled the same as Sally’s, but that through some sportswriter’s error his name for 20 years was invariably spelled with an ending "e."

By the fall of 1941, Bob was good enough to represent the U.S. at the Canadian National Exhibition Open in Toronto. This was the last CNE before the War, and Bob’s two singles wins, and a doubles win (with Harry Sage, another Ohio star from Columbus), helped the U.S. rout the Canadians, 6-0. In addition, Bob and Leah won the Mixed.

During the fall and into the winter of the ‘41-42 season, Green was President of the Ohio Association, but had to give up that office as it was taking too much of his time, and he certainly didn’t want a recurrence of an old ulcer problem. Though he literally wined and dined the Columbus press--Lou Berliner of the Dispatch, for example--and gave sportswriters Christmas presents in order to get needed publicity for his Club, the fact that it flourished did not afford him a living. So he worked the 3rd shift at Curtiss-Wright--1:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. on the 2-seater Helldiver bomber--slept during the day, then opened the Club at 5: 30 in the afternoon, and on closing it went to work.

In 1943, Bob was in St. Louis for the National’s, where in the 8th’s he took a game from Dick Miles. That year he was Ohio #2 and U.S. #15--was steadily improving.

At the 1944 St. Joe Valley Open in South Bend, Bob and Leah won the Mixed, and at the National’s, after being surprised by one of those myriad New York "spoilers," he won the Men’s Consolation.

In the spring of ‘45, in the Ohio Open, Bob dropped a strongly-contested final to Bill Early, the U.S. Junior Champ that year over Ohio’s Bob Harlow. Later, in the Ohio Closed he lost another tough one, 19 in the 5th, to Sam Shannon, but won the Doubles with 18-year-old Dave Spence, whom Bob helped to become one of Ohio’s best players. That season was Green’s best--he was U.S. #10.

The summer of ‘45 was memorable for those at the late July Mid-summer Open--a tournament Green had won in ‘43. Why memorable? Because who should come to Columbus at Bob’s invitation but that year’s #3 U.S. Junior, Marty Reisman. How fast this 15-year-old was progressing, for he won the tournament, beating U.S. #5 Early and U.S. #8 Blair in close matches.

Another Green-coached talent, Thelma "Tybie" Thall, Leah’s younger sister, now U.S. #16 but soon to be--astonishingly soon to be--World Mixed Doubles Champion, partnered Bob in the Mixed at the Nov., ‘45 Michigan Open, and a few months later at the ‘46 Ohio Open gave Leah plenty of deuce-in-the-4th problems.

Peripatetic player though Green was--earlier he’d been a finalist in the Colorado Open--he always did more each year than just keep a respectable National Ranking. Of course at his club he continued to conduct weekly leagues, and by this time too he had run many local tournaments. Now he decided to put on his first major--the ‘46 Western’s. This was won by St. Louis’s stylish Bill Price, with Schiff and Johnny Somael taking the Doubles, and Leah winning the Women’s and Mixed with Varga.

Of course Green was a member of the 1946 Columbus Intercity team. As expected, New York took the title, but Chicago’s Billy Condy--call him a penholder relic from the early ‘30’s--who’d returned to the Sport after a long absence that included a 50-mission stint flying B-17’s in the War, and who’d beaten Bob in 5 at the Western’s, surprised everyone by extending U.S. Champ Miles to deuce in the 3rd.

In Feb. of ‘47, Green won the Ohio Open at Cincinnati over Cal Fuhrman in straight games, and this despite the fact that Tournament Director Nellie Weier refused to call the Expedite Rule which would have given Bob an advantage over Cal who hadn’t much of an attack. It’s easy to understand then why next year at the Southern Open in Louisville Fuhrman could get so upset as to default the final to Green when, with Cal up 1-0 and at 15-all in the 2nd, the Expedite Rule was put in. But that fit of pique on Cal’s part resulted in the USTTA suspending him and contributed to his departure from the Game. Later, in the final of the ‘47 Ohio Closed, Green was up 2-0 and had a big lead in the 3rd against Bob Harlow when he made an awkward chop-stretch to his backhand and, ohhh, hurt his arm so badly, pulled two ligaments, that he had to default.

Reisman returned to Columbus in Feb. of ‘48. He’d had no competition in winning the Central Open there the previous year, but this time he barely survived young Gordon Barclay’s challenge in the semi’s, was down 2-0 and at deuce in the 3rd before pulling it out--this after Gordy had beaten Green in 4 in the quarter’s. But in the final Miles beat Reisman--in straight games. Disappointing? Never mind--they’d play again in Columbus, for Bob, buoyed by the praise he’d received from out of town players for his handling of these well-attended tournaments, had undertaken to run the Apr., 1948 U.S. Open.

In the semi’s at these ‘48 National’s, Marty defeated Schiff in 4, and Dick defeated Cartland in...well, 4, but it seemed longer. For with Dick up 2-1 at the break, Doug extended the 5-minute rest period and began testing balls. According to Helene Cinnater, USTTA President Elmer Cinnater’s wife who wrote a Topics column, Doug went through maybe a dozen balls, and Green, "after losing patience, walked out to the table with 8 dozen more." Years later, he said, "My wrist still twitches from spinning them." The Miles-Reisman final for Bob and everyone else fortunate enough to be there was electrifying. Reisman deuced it up from 18-20 down in the 5th, and at this tense time either a whistle blew from somewhere, or (perhaps the story is apochryphal) the phone rang and Marty quipped, "Tell them I haven’t won yet!" And that time against Dick he never did.

The Men’s event in this Columbus National’s drew 136 entries--a record for the 1940’s--and the matches were played on 16 tables, double the number used previously. "Compliments go to Bob Greene & Co. for a well run tournament both from spectators and players angles," wrote Helene Cinnater. "Lights were good, seating good." Photos of this tournament show how much spidery wiring Bob took the trouble to put up so that the players would have the best lighting possible.

After running these exhausting National’s, Green, in the ‘48-49 season, took a rest. For the only time in a 9-season span, he would receive Insufficient Data rather than a National Ranking.

But soon he was again playing in and running tournaments. In Feb. of ‘50, he not only put on the Ohio State Open at Columbus, he almost won the 91 entry Men’s, losing in 5 in the final to Michigan’s #2 Hersh.

Then again, ambitiously, Bob took on a major--the Nov. National Team Championships. And again he wanted to do it in a big way. A most-ever 12 teams were invited, including for the first time a team from California. The entry fee was $30 a team, and all players were required to wear white, with the name of the player and their team on the back of their shirts.

As it turned out this was a very unusual tournament weekend, for Columbus was hit with its worst blizzard in 37 years. Reisman, who’d just been reinstated after being suspended by the USTTA, was again suspended in that, on coming from New York by car with Captain Bill Gunn driving, he was stranded in snow just outside Pittsburgh and so couldn’t play. Which left Somael and Cartland, while spotting all their opposing teams Reisman’s forfeited matches, to try to win the five matches necessary. This they almost did, losing only in the final to Chicago, 5-4, for though undefeated Cartland annihilated Allan Levy, Bill Holzrichter, and Dan Kreer, and Somael got by Kreer, 20, -21, 20, Johnny, likely feeling the strain of 15 matches, then lost to Levy, 19 in the 3rd, and Holzrichter, 17 in the 3rd.

Bizarrely, the California team--Kenny Choi, Bob Ashley, and future famous contract bridge expert Eddie Kantar--were stopped cold by the snow in Richmond, Indiana, not far from the Ohio border, and didn’t arrive until the fifth match of the final tie--at 10: 15 Sunday evening! Chuck Burns of Detroit quickly came and went--saw he couldn’t get to the Knights of Columbus playing hall because of the snow and so just resignedly re-boarded the same train he’d come in on. With this move savvy Chuck certainly upped the St. Louis players, for they couldn’t leave for home until the Wednesday after the tournament.

On Cinnater’s retirement, Bob says he was offered the USTTA Presidency, but declined. However, at the beginning of the 1951-52 season, under Jimmy Shrout’s administration, he did accept the Editorship of Topics and began writing a "Sidelines" column. In making some predictions about the 1952 National’s he had this to say: "If Sol Schiff plays in the seniors this year he should win in a walk. For when Schiff really wants to play, he is still one of the greatest shotmakers in the game."

Later in an Oct., ‘52 "Sidelines" column, in speaking about the ‘52 Cleveland National’s run by Sanford Gross, Green says, "It wasn’t too well known, but the Cleveland police (Vice Squad) were present at our National’s after repeated warnings by the tournament manager failed to stop gambling. USTTA officials requested their assistance...and a few well-known characters were apprehended. They were released at the request of these USTTA officials after ‘good behavior’ promises were made. There were some pretty scared characters, I tell you."

Bob resigned his Topics Editorship and moved to California--first to Santa Monica to work briefly as an engineer for Douglas Aircraft and then to Pasadena where for seven years he was with the Space Agency’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Then around 1960 he began his long tenure with the Hughes Aircraft Corporation that involved him in a great deal of travel.

While Bob was in California, he had some moments. He says he won an Open over Bob Edwards, but then superstar Kenny Choi arrived and for a couple of years before his return to Korea, Kenny was winning everything. In Feb., 1951 at the Southern California Open at Burbank, Choi beat Green convincingly in the final, then they teamed together to win the Doubles. A few weeks later Bob served on a local committee that agreed to raise funds that hopefully would enable Choi, who’d lost family members in the War, to stay in the U.S. Later, Bob would be part of a group that by their individual votes would decide whether or not to ban sponge play in California. They didn’t, but only by the narrowest of margins.

Succeeding the departing Choi as California’s best player was young Erwin Klein. At the Dec., 1954 Greater L.A. Open, won by Klein over Ferguson, Green, now 40, was said to have played "the most exciting match of the tournament" in squeezing by Mendel Milstein, deuce in the 5th. Milstein, like the recently arrived Bernie Bukiet, was from Poland and, like Bernie, had survived a Russian prison camp. He was said to have been the 1949 Berlin Champion.

Green himself, despite a cabinet full of trophies, did not win a major Championship until two decades later. Perambulating round the country, he was no longer able without a base to involve himself so intensely in table tennis. But then some simmerings surfaced. His Dec., 1973 article in Topics, "Fuel For Thought," offered changes in our tournament formats in case of an imminent fuel shortage. An early 1974 Table Tennis Fight Song he’d composed to march time, illustrated with melody and accompaniment, was reproduced in full in Topics. He wrote up the Sept., ‘74 Rochester Western, N.Y. Open in which Senior winner Vic Meridith played, first, "the longest 2 out of 3 match in Rochester history"--beat Bob in an hour and 20-minutes, 24-22 in the 3rd semi’s--then went on to prevail against Bob Brickell in the final, deuce in the 5th.

A few months later, the first New York State Closed in 10 years was played at Binghamton--and Bob not only wrote up the tournament, he ran it. He said, "[I’d taken] a solemn oath (back in 1948) after I had run the National’s and 150 other previous tournaments that I would never, never run another one." And he kept this promise all these years until, as he said, he was "infected" by local junior Rick Cooper’s enthusiasm--and then, well, "how do you say no to an enthusiastic, persistent, hounding junior without disconnecting your telephone and becoming a hermit?"

Back then to serious table tennis competition Green came, advocating in this sponge age a return to the 6 and 3/4’ net to better balance offense with defense--and at age 62 promptly won the U.S. Over 60’s over Gene Wilson at the first Caesars Palace Closed Championships.

Eight years later, at the Tropicana, he was in the Over 70 final, but lost to Wing Lock Koon. A momentary setback. For in ‘85, at Caesars, he took the Championship from William Walsh.

Nor, as he aged was he finished winning. His decades-strong, George Hendry-like, up-to-the-table short defense enabled him to win at the popular Senior Olympics--the Over 70’s in St. Louis, the Over 75’s in Syracuse, and the Over 80’s in San Antonio.

In the 1990’s, Green regularly contributed his "Did’Ja Know?" columns to Topics. These consisted of historic tid-bits, which I often found entertaining. Here’s a 1996 example:

"...Some enterprising [U.S. World Team] players supplemented their resources by smuggling. There were many shortages in Europe after the war and a fifty cent pair of nylons bought in New York would sell for a pound in London. Foreign custom officials, when checking the team, generally looked the other way at minor smuggling. This was not so with U.S. Customs. On returning from one of the tours, Douglas Cartland, the U.S. #3 player, was arrested for trying to smuggle in over 300 very expensive watches concealed in his clothing. They didn’t buy his explanation that he was only bringing in a few for his friends."

All in all, then, as we’ve briefly followed Bob Green’s table tennis life, we see how varied his contributions to the Sport have been. But there remains for me his most important one. When the previous USTTA Historian Leah Neuberger died, she left a legacy of historic material that gave meaning to her life, and that both her sister Tybie and Bob wisely wanted to preserve. But what to do with all this material, and why? Fortunately, they decided to send it on to the new Historian, me--which is what Bob personally undertook to do, carefully sorting out this and that (working 3 hours a day for three months), then packing up, binding, and shipping to me a select treasure trove of 22 cartons, 627 pounds, of irreplaceable records and memorabilia. This selfless effort on Bob’s part became a catalyst for me to persevere with my own collecting so as to write, and now see published, the first volume of my projected multi-volume History of U.S. Table Tennis--something that Leah herself occasionally talked about writing but was always too busy collecting and recording to try to do.

Bob is thus an inductee I’m indebted to, that we’re all indebted to, and so is welcomed as another worthy member of our USATT Hall of Fame.