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June 28: Mr. Table Tennis

June 27, 2015

schiff-obit-popupSol Schiff, whose forehand slam made him one of the world’s best ping-pong players in his teen years, was born in New York in 1917. At 15, he won the New York junior title and the public high school table tennis championships; at 16, after dropping out of high school to play in tournaments, he won the U.S. men’s singles championship. At 20, he defeated a Hungarian world champion, Viktor Barna, in 21 out of 22 matches. “When he hit the ball,” reported Dean Johnson, who played Schiff in exhibition matches, “you could hardly tell the difference between the time it came off his racket and hit the other side of the table. It was like one sound, unreturnable.” Schiff led the American table tennis association from 1976-84 and 1986-88 and helped table tennis become an Olympic sport. Schiff wrote the 1939 book Table Tennis Comes of Age. He was a lefthander.

“He was flat-footed, and the phys-ed teacher gave him an option to play table tennis rather than basketball.” —Allan Hoberman (nephew)