Bill HodgeBill Hodge came to the Game late—in 1958, at age 22. While working at a supply company warehouse, he began spending his lunch hour playing t.t. That led him to join the Columbus, Ohio Club and to begin playing seriously in tournaments. At the 1968 Ohio Closed, for example, he and D-J Lee won the Men’s Doubles over the strong partnership of John Tannehill/Rich Farrell; in 1969 he was up in Cleveland winning the A Doubles with Ferenc “Frank” Mercz; and by the 1970-71 season he had an Ohio triple ranking: #4 in Men’s Singles; #3 In Men’s Doubles with Dick Evans; and #1 in Mixed Doubles with Sandy Schuer. He also showed he was something of a maverick. When a Team from Taiwan (not an ITTF member-country) arrived in Columbus on a Council of Christian Churches’ “Ping-Pong for Peace” Tour, Hodge, defying an ITTF/USTTA order not to play them, captained an Ohio Team to challenge them.

Bill has always liked to take on responsibility, always wanted to see that things were done efficiently. “My last job in Ohio,” he says, “was with Columbus Retail Merchants Delivery. I was a key executive. Retail is the largest Pool Distributor in Ohio, delivering over 1 million pounds of freight per day for about 900 manufacturers. Our terminal was about 800,000 cubic feet, and had 92 doors for loading freight, the largest in Ohio. We could even unload 6 railroad cars inside at one time. I was in charge of all claims, approved them, and processed approximately $5,000,000 in claims per year. Additionally, I was the Security Chief. I set up the entire security system, hired Pinkerton guards, worked with the FBI and local police by putting undercover men on the dock, and in fact helped prosecute three men we caught through this undercover operation. I was the only contact between the company and Pinkerton. Also, I was in complete charge of OS&D and Tracing, with nine employees in that Department. Eventually, however, the Company wronged me, so I left, forfeiting a valuable stock option.” 

Bill moved to Las Vegas in July, 1972 and, as the best player in Nevada and a natural organizer, he began to recruit players for a local table tennis club. He coordinated a 1973 Southern Nevada Youth Fair, and promoted a 73-74 League at the Club’s Phil Mirabelli Teen Center. During this time he was popularizing the Sport by giving coaching info and exhibitions wherever he could. As President of the Las Vegas Club he got strong support from his fellow officers—Vice President Paul Therrio, Treasurer Gary Sternberg, and Secretary Neil Smyth who’d joined Caesars as their Controller in 1970 and later would become Senior Vice-President for Operations. Indeed, with their encouragement, Bill took on the job of Director for Caesars’ successful Dec., 1973 International Table Tennis Classic that featured John Tannehill, Joong Gil Park, Howie Grossman, Heather Angelinetta, and Hodge himself. After this competitive play, Tannehill stayed over to put on a half-time exhibition with Bill at a UNLV-Washington State basketball game. 

By 1975 the Las Vegas Club, with an ever-enlarging membership, had a new site—the University of Nevada, and Hodge in his spare time would begin teaching a table tennis course there. Of course he had to make a living outside of table tennis. “Here in Vegas,” he said, “I was Food and Beverage Manager at Caesars Palace on graveyard for eight months, having responsibility for over 300 food and beverage employees, and the overall supervision of four bars, four restaurants and the main show room. I’ve also worked for the Thunderbird, Desert Inn, and Sands Hotels in Purchasing, Warehouse, and Receiving Departments, being in charge of, and responsible for, millions of dollars worth of merchandise. In fact, most of my working life so far has been spent going to problem-plagued companies, putting in new methods and procedures, organizing and solving their problems, then moving on to a similar company.” 

Also, in 1975, Bill, being something of a history buff, would eagerly take over the USTTA’s rather dormant Library and Film Committee. However, it turned out that the USTTA had relatively few films and books and only a rare copy of any of them (for lending them out had always been risky). So, without considerable support and funding from the USTTA (which was not forthcoming), it soon became clear to Hodge that neither he nor anyone else at this time could do much toward establishing a meaningful Library. Thus Bill’s lifelong abiding passion to serve the USTTA would have to surface elsewhere.

And sure enough it soon did. Bill tells us, in a lengthy, historic article (see Table Tennis Topics, July-Aug., 1976, 21A+, or Vol. VIII, Chapter 23, of my History of U.S. Table Tennis on the USATT web site), how, coming from Las Vegas as an emissary of Caesars Palace executive Neil Smyth, he was caught up in the turmoil of the 1976 Philadelphia Open. And, yet, how, despite seemingly insurmountable problems with the Players’ Association and the USTTA itself, he managed, with his own skill and Smyth’s encouragement, to secure the first U.S. Closed tournament in USTTA History. It would be held Dec. 16-19, 1976 at Caesars with Bill as Tournament Director and an unprecedented $12,500 in prize money. 

After enduring this trial by combat to see his dream of a U.S. Closed come true (it’d been prompted in part by his work for Caesars as Coordinator of Special Sports Events there), Bill appreciated Boggan writing “a terrific letter to Caesars bragging me up in how I handled the negotiations,” and hoped others also thought he’d done a good job. When Bill asked his old Columbus, Ohio friend Dick Evans to be Director of Physical Operations at this Closed, it was an. historic beginning for Dick too. It would be the first of a total of 16 U.S. Open and Closed tournaments he’d do the set-ups for, culminating, after 20 years, in his Physical Implementation work at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. For the ’77 Caesars Closed, after making preparations based on what he’d learned in ‘76, Bill had planned to be on hand as the Tournament Director but had to absent himself because of new outside work obligations.  

In addition to his coaching work with youth—he was in 15-year-old Eric Boggan’s corner when he won his history-making U.S. Closed in 1978—Bill also found time to win some major Championships of his own. In 1977 he was the U.S. Open Senior Doubles Champ (with Bohdan Dawidowicz). In 1982 the U.S. Closed Senior U-3400 Doubles Champ (with Frank Suran); plus in ’83 in that same event in the U.S. Open, the runner-up with Smyth. And finally, in 1987, the U.S. Open Esquire Doubles Champ (with George Brathwaite).

But more than winning Championships, Bill wanted to involve himself in the USTTA, wanted to be a player in the largest sense of the word. He wanted to know, literally at every moment, what was going on in the Association so that he could tell the Membership the truth as he saw it (most dramatically in a series of so-called “Hodge-Podge” articles that appeared in variant USTTA publications in the 1980’s). To that end he began to attend USTTA Executive Committee meetings, and to accept various important “inside” jobs for the Association, moving on through various positions, trying to solve problems, just as he’d done outside table tennis. 

In 1983 he did what those on the USTTA Executive Committee couldn’t do—balanced a seemingly “impossible to balance” budget. In ’83, too, he was appointed a USTTA Vice-President, and, following a later election, would be again. In 1984 he was Publicity Director for the Tropicana U.S. Open in Las Vegas, and in ’87 for the World Police and Fire Games in San Diego.

In 1985 he had the important Table Tennis position of Men’s Team Manager at the Baton Rouge National Sports Festival—and, boy, did he chastise his home San Diego Union paper for its zero coverage of the event. In 1986, at the Houston Festival (the large attendance coming perhaps in part because the tournament was now called the National Olympic Festival), he was our sport’s Director. And in 1987, after directing the Pan Am Team Trials at Colorado Springs, he was again at the Olympic Festival, held this year in Raleigh, as the Assistant Tournament Director behind Shonie Aki.  

Also, at this time, as a member of the Olympic Grant Disposition Committee, he worked on grants awarded the USTTA—in such areas as Junior Development, School Impact, Resident Training Program, and the China trip Program. Bill was also a Delegate to the Olympic Quadrennial and Ground Breaking Ceremony at Otay Mesa for the new Arco Olympic training Center.

Hodge has had his table tennis disappointments—but this isn’t surprising. No one gets through a long period of USTTA service unscathed. By 1988, he was Executive Director of the San Diego Club. But 1988 was a bad year for Bill. After being nominated for the Association’s Vice-Presidency, he didn’t win the election. And then, having been named Tournament Director for the 1988 Caesars National Championships, he worked diligently, even to preparing all Finals schedules for the Program, only at the last minute to have to give up the job because of the stress and pain certain individuals were causing him. Something similar happened again in 1990 when personal problems—again too much anxiety, too much stress—forced him to relinquish his Directorship of the 1990 San Diego U.S. Closed.

Bill continually gave much of himself, perhaps too much. But despite serious health complications he couldn’t bring himself to totally quit working for table tennis. In 1989, he was named San Diego Boys Club Volunteer of the Year, his Linda Vista Team was the Southern California Boys Club Champs, and of the 18 students accepted at the Colorado Springs Training Center, Bill was proud to be able to take four of his own. Of course Bill did not always work with youths—he was a San Diego Senior Olympics Tournament Director. And he always seemed to have a special feeling for the U.S. Olympic Festival—was a volunteer worker for both the ’91 and ’95 extravaganzas. 

No inductee has ever been more appreciative of entering our Hall of Fame, or issued a more sincere statement than Bill’s “My 44 years of unpaid sweat and tears has been because I love the Sport.”