The 57th St Joseph Valley Open
by Brad Balmer
The 57th St. Joseph Valley Open: By Brad Balmer
I am not sure if there are any club tournaments that have endured for 57 years but this event has. It has a long and storied existence that will continue on March 19-20, 2022, at the Indiana University at South Bend Student Activity Center. The very experienced crew from the South Bend Table Tennis Club will once again conduct a tournament that has been enjoyed by many players over its long history. This will be an Omnipong event with a focus on Staying on time. Round Robins are to start at the event time listed on the entry blank. Players simply go to their designated table, (info posted on wall) then match slips will be brought to the tables. Pagers are then supplied to the RR winners and buzzed to pick up next single elimination match. South Bend is in the Eastern Standard Time Zone (EST). The tournament motel is the Holiday Inn Express, located at, 120 N. Dixie Way, South Bend, IN. 46637. The phone number is, (855) 680-3239.
This tournament had its origin as a South Bend Tribune sponsored event, in 1936, at the old S.B. YMCA. Located at the corner of Wayne and Main Street. Weldon B Hester, the Y’s Boy’s Director, created the S.B. Club and this event. The next year help would be provided by legendary South Bend coach, and USTTA Hall of Fame member John Varga. There was no tardiness for a match, nor complaints, or controversy. Varga directed and, often was heard, shouting orders. The players responded, “yes sir and how high!” Needless to say the tournament always ran on time.
That downtown YMCA was home for the SJVO for 27 years, until the Studebaker sponsored structure finally gave out in 1964. So many of the best players in the land would trek to South Bend, to compete in the first major event of the year.
In Weldon’s own words “we sent players to Toledo and Chicago tournaments. I was determined to start a South Bend tourney, and called it the St. Joseph Valley Open. I arranged for an excellent set of trophies. Then I drove up to the Illinois State open, in Chicago, to show them off, and arouse interest in our SJVO. I had no arrangements, and just walked in the door, said I had trophies and set them up on a table.
Somehow they didn’t throw me out. This was my first table tennis tournament. (it wasn’t so hot!) I met Jimmy McClure, Nationals Men’s Champion, from Indianapolis there. Our trophies were much larger than those of the IL open and Jimmy was interested. He helped bring in many of those first year top players. We ended up with players from 7 states, Toledo sent their top players and after that attended all of our affairs.”
The SJVO continued from that first year until 1963. Winners included table tennis legends and U.S. Hall of Fame members, Lhea Thall, William Holzrichter, Bernie Bukiet, Harry Hirshkowitz, Norbet Vandewalle, Mildred Shahian, Peggy Ishkoff, and South Bend’s, very own, Betty Henry and Sherri Krizman. Early January dictated the SJVO was always the first major event of the season, with the weather sometimes making attendance an adventure.
The South Bend Club has actually endured for some 87 years, with many venue changes. Here is a basic timeline through the years. 1935- 1964 old S.B. YMCA, 1965-1978 the club was continued through the efforts of coach Varga at the new YMCA, Bill Hornyak efforts in the Michigan City area and Ronald Liechty running a club at the Boys and Girls Club in Plymouth. I along with Phil Schmucker, Jason Denman and Dan Rush re-ignited the South Bend TTC flame, in a basement room at the old Administration building on the IUSB campus. We later started the SJVO back up, in 1993 and it has been going strong ever since. All four of us will once again, join together, in helping run this year’s event. This tournament has been on the cover of the Topics magazine 4 times.
Larry writes in the Topics: A quick note about the running of the tournament itself before we get to the main events. I’ve been to many large tournaments, and seen many an experienced director fall apart and run a sloppy tournament. When I first arrived at the tournament site, I discovered that there really wasn’t an experienced tournament director at the desk, at least not experienced in running big tournaments. I was worried. It was fantastic to see what, on their very first try, they ran it nearly flawlessly. (If you played in many of the big tournaments in the 1980’s, you’d know how much some of us appreciate that!) How did they do it? They did solicit advice from experienced directors such as Donna Sakai, Dan Seemiller, and Barry Rodgers. However, in general, they simply were very competent $ efficient workers and planners.
They also had some of the best table tennis artwork I’ve seen, done by club artist Paul George. Congratulations to Coordinator Brad Balmer, Director Jason Denman, President Phil Schmucker, and all the others who helped put this event together. (And apologies to all those who did not get named here) Thanks for running such a great tournament-we hope to be back next year.
Jason Denman writes: SBTTC has always been about innovation and out of the box thinking to fund our club and juniors program. Poster artwork in 1993, which later became part of our T-shirt designs. The playing arena, which illustrates the scope of the SJVO, with television arena as well as a view of Paul’s figures. We were a computerized tournament in 1993, that was fully time scheduled, with each player getting a player packet and in 1994 filmed a commercial to go along with the televised matches. Even more important is the teamwork that was displayed throughout the years. From an organizational standpoint, through the massive group of volunteers that setup/tore down tables, assembled the barriers, checked in our players, posted the results and all the little things that make a tournament what it is. We were fortunate enough to have a group of diversely talented folks who had the drive to make SBTTC what it is.
Larry Hodges reports, “the SJVO tournament crew once again showed that it doesn’t take decades of experience to run a great tournament, just hard work, efficiency, and determination, 263 entries and 50 tables highlighted what is fast becoming one of the most popular U.S. tournaments. He continues, “Also in this tournament I witnessed what may well be the shot of the century, and I don’t even know who the player was who made the shot. The player smashed a ball so that it hit the net post against the knob that tightens the Stiga net. The ball bounced all the way across the table, and hit the top of the other net post. It bounced back around ¾ of the way across the table, rolled along the top of the net a foot or so, then dropped over the other side. It hit the net clamp on the far side, and rolled it onto the table for a winner! “ That guys tricky,” said USATT Vice President, Jimmy McClure upon hearing of the shot.
To top things off that year, we hired the local independent T.V. station to film and broadcast the semis and finals of the tournament. Local announcer Bob Nagle, (who meandered in 5 minutes before airtime), and table tennis legend David Sakai did the announcing. The station was tied into ESPN, so the entire broadcast was nationally shown at least 4 times, along with many of the commercials that we solicited from local sponsors. We also hired Grassroots Productions, to create two South Bend club commercials, with the help and guidance of Hollywood actor Chad Everett, (cousin to club members David and Sherri Krizman). Club coach Viktor Tolkachev wrote most of the script and played the butler, As Viktor always said, “UNBELIEVABLE.” We did have a lot of energy that year. We had a blast…
Larry writes in 2000, “What makes a 4-star tournament good? Good playing conditions-floors, lighting and spacious courts; timeliness; lots of events; and a friendly staff. The St. Joseph Valley Open had all of this-plus $20,000 in prize money, probably the most ever for a 4-star tournament.”
2003 saw yet another tournament move to Indiana University at South Bend. The real story for the next 10 years was the play of South Bends own Mark Hazinski. He dominated this time frame by winning the Open 9 times along 6 doubles championships and dozens of other event wins. (BREAKING NEWS, Mark will be back for this year’s 2022, event) Mark’s exemplary sportsmanship follows in the footsteps of the club’s philosophy and mimics club mentor Virgil Miller and coach Dan Seemiller. An award in Virgil’s name is given out each year to the individual who donates time, effort and attitude, to the highest degree in support of club efforts. His legacy will live on, as long as there is a South Bend TTC and the St. Joseph Valley Open. This tournament is the result of numerous volunteers.
The St. Joseph Valley Open continues the efforts of so many throughout it’s long journey. Unfortunately, so much of the original paperwork was discarded a long time ago. We did manage to save some of the records, entry blanks, and pictures. There evidently was a broadcast of the tournament, in the early 60’s on local station WSBT, but try as I might, could not retrieve a copy of that event. I will keep trying. Anyone out here reading this article who happens to have any programs, pictures, or paperwork from the 35-63 time frame, please contact me.
If this sport is to grow, it will be by club managers/coordinators, tournament organizers, sponsors, and fund raisers. With all due respect, U.S. table tennis has had top players for 80 years and yet we still have only 8k registered tournament players. This won’t change until motivated, committed club organizers are found, to move the sport forward. Events such as the SJVO, are the tools we use to promote the sport and also help fund our programs. To have one club run a top notch event for 57 years is a great accomplishment. “Sustained Energy,” is the hard part. We use the St. Joe Valley as our annual energy boost to continue our efforts. If you haven’t attended one of our tournaments in a while, come on back. As of 2/22 we had 195entrants, and we expect over 200 total. Some events are filling up, so enter ASAP. Once again all players will receive a tournament poster and t-shirts will be for sale. We hope to see you next month. You can enter at www.omnipong.com. Check out our club’s website at; www.southbendtabletennis.com