The roots of table tennis in Rochester go back to the 1930’s as not one but TWO clubs were founded in the year 1938. Kurt Baker, before enlisting in WWII, started a club above the Capitol Theatre while Mike Borrelli was running a club on East Avenue. Ted Mosher and Tex Lloyd (then ranked #3 senior in the country) continued to run Baker’s club, but unfortunately, both clubs closed due to WWII. Organized play continued in local YMCA’s like the Central and Maplewood.
A large newspaper article in 1939 detailed Tex Lloyd’s fifth county championship at the Central YMCA. There were eighty eight entries for this tournament, sponsored by the Democrat and Chronicle, which included free entry and trip to the nationals in Toledo Ohio that year! ALL results from each round were in the newspaper, with detailed results from the quarterfinals through championship match.
The club was originally called the Genesee Valley Table Tennis Association (GVTTA).
1980's & 1990's
In 1986, the club moved yet again, this time to the Indian Community Center in Macedon. We stayed there for 10 years before moving to the Rochester Sports Garden in Henrietta, near Monroe Community College in 1996. The club plays on 8 tables on a cement floor with very high ceilings. The club still has a Monday league open to all players, and a Tuesday Classic League. Practice time is available on Saturday mornings. Because the Sports Garden is a year round facility catering to multiple indoor sports, players who want extra playing time can rent the club’s tables and play on most any evening.
Year end banquet awards are given for Sportsmanship are given to Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday players in honor of Mark Bunce, who played in the Classic League in the 1980’s. Mark passed away as a result of an auto accident while in his 20’s, but his contagious smile and excellent attitude live on with the Sportsmanship award.
The top players in this era are Craig Bensch, Chris Olan Jr., AJ Carney, DJ Colt, Brad Gelb, Harry Hawk, Ray Mack, Shuja Jafar Ali, Satrajit (Sam) Mookherhee and Ming Xu.
In the 90's other notable players with unique styles that caused fits for many opponents were Bob Brickell, Don Young, Robert Maronian, Andy Barron, Walt Soffer, Wayne Carney, Roman Shandalov, John Walker, Mike Bacci, Leroy Gilchrist, Ta Min Chang, Frank "Oh-NO" Nwachujor, Horace Byfield, Michael Olugbile, Foek Hioe, Marty Salata, Tom Wood, John VanDuerson, Andre Maronian, Mike Bacci, Chris Olan Sr., Dave Jess, Jim Barnhart, Dave Colt, Lucas Colt, John Foxton, Bill Smith, Dave Clawson, Fernando Ofray, Laslo Jacobs, Pat Tapia, Michael Landon, Jeff Koch, Jay Gelb, Steve Maus, and Marc Maronian
In the mid 1970’s the club moved to the Rochester Turner’s club on Clinton Ave., which featured a gym floor, high ceiling and good lighting (provided by the GVTTC). When used for tournaments, the club would set up 12 tables, but for league play would use 8 tables.
Rising costs forced us to move again in the early 1980’s and we found the Polish Falcon Hall (Nest 52A, on Weyl St., just off Hudson Ave. near Norton St.). The club was open Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings from September through May. The club had 6 new, high quality tables, a gym floor, high ceiling and excellent lighting (provided by the GVTTC). Leagues played on Monday and Wednesday (Classic League) and Friday was reserved for open play. Club membership grew to over 100, and featured a challenge ladder and a practice “robot”. Most of the tournaments were played at the Falcon Hall, and Irondequoit High School was the location for our yearly Giant Round Robin tournament.
As the club changed venues, the game shifted also. New technology brought about new rubber surfaces and improved blades, designed to fit the styles of certain players. The caliber of play (perhaps driven by the perception of very aggressive attack) is much higher than the old days, with the use of loop drives (from forehand and backhand) and high toss serves as tricks of the trade. Playing conditions in Rochester took a turn for the better, driven in part by Chuck Knowland, who also brought about the rebirth of the Classic League, featuring almost all of the club’s top players. Defensive play also improved again with use of “anti-spin”, “feint” and “phantom” rubbers that are not affected by the heavy spins of the players. In fact, the emergence of “anti-spin” rubbers, mixed with inverted rubber “combination” paddles of the same rubber color, forced rule changes geared to produce longer rallies!
Special mention should be made of longtime club member Sager Barton. Sager gave selflessly of his time and money to many of our junior members, also. Most notable of his charges was the talented and modest Joe Billups, who rose to #1 in the club before hitching up with the Marines, where he continued to play in exotic locales like Okinawa, the Philippines and Germany.
The club’s driving forces in those years were Bob Brickell, Carolyn Bush, Horace Byfield, Dan Costanza, Don Clawson, Howard Kashtan, Ray Mack and Don Young.
The best players of that era were Jim Shoots, Emile Short, Ray Mack, Joe Billups, Manfred Werner (a German national who worked here for a year in the 1980’s) and Craig Bensch.
1950's & 1960's
In 1956 Kurt Baker (again), with help from Bernie Douthwaite and Ed Murphy, started up the Genesee Valley Table Tennis Club again. This time, it was located on the third floor of the Katz Home Decorating Co. at the corner of Joseph Ave. and Sullivan St. The club (GVTTC) boasted approximately 60 members, and leagues were played on Monday and Wednesday evenings, and Sunday afternoons.
The game in our earlier era was usually divided into attacking or defensive style players. Paddles were covered with pimpled rubber and steady, conservative play marked the competition. Rallies for a single point sometimes lasted several minutes and matches could take over an hour.
The top player of the earlier time was Ben Morgan (who passed away at age 45 in the 1950’s), Ben was a 9 time County Champion! He lost in the finals of the Central Canadian open to Tim Boggan, USA historian/Hall of Famer, losing a hard fought 2-0 game lead. Other top players were Ted Mosher, Bill Dengler, Rick Kavulciuc, Pete Lyman, Al Wickes and Bob Brickell.
In 1961 the club moved to Ridgecrest Plaza in Greece. The club had 6 tables, cement floors, moderate lighting and a relatively low ceiling. The club was open to members 7 days a week. Leagues were held on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday (Classic League) evenings, and Sunday afternoons. Club officers in this era were Dr. Joe Costanza, Cliff Hagen, Bill Hunt, Bill Butts, Bob Brickell and Walt Stephens, who doubled as the U.S. Eastern Regional Tournament Director. Two tournaments were held each year at the Carter Street Recreation Center.
The Industrial league deserves mention, as it originated back in 1939, and was also organized and run by Ted Mosher. The first winner was the team of Hunt’s Hardware. By the mid 1950’s though, the league had changed to the Industrial Management Council (IMC) league, and only larger industries were included. The IMC league had difficulty finding a permanent home, and would roam all over the city, playing out of YMCAs, even the YWCA! They also met in a dank room under the Concord bowling alleys, and of course playing at our club sites. The dominating Kodak Park teams won the league every year but twice, when the Kodak Apparatus (Elmgrove Plant) team prevailed. But that wasn’t until the 1970’s! Other teams that belonged to the league were Rochester Telephone, Bausch & Lomb, Rochester Gas & Electric, General Railway Signal, Kodak Office, Pfaudler’s, Rochester Products, R. T. French, Stromberg Carlson and Taylor Instrument.
Inverted (sponge) rubber was introduced to the world in the 1950’s, and many Rochester players switched from pimpled rubber to the smooth sponge. The game changed dramatically. With the new rubber came the opportunity to impart great spins on the ball, thereby changing the complexion of the game entirely. The loop shot (heavy topspin) and close to the table attack play became the most common strategies. The United States Table Tennis Association (USTTA) also initiated a rules change to discourage defensive “stalling” tactics and minimize the time of games. This change was called the expedite rule. Long rallies became rare. Defensive players became a minority, as they couldn’t provide consistent or suitable returns to counter the barrage of topspins and hits they faced.
The best players of the time were Helmut Schaller, Mike Ezzo, Don Coluzzi, Dave Hunt, Ted Mosher, Bob Brickell and Vytas Grybauskas. Special mention must be made for the dynamic duo doubles team of Vytas and his mate and fellow Lithuanian countryman Connie Maciulis.
The club had an especially strong junior program at the time, and tournaments were fiercely contested. No less than 7 boys shared the junior titles in a 2 year span in the late 1960’s. Names like Jeff Anderson, Andy Anvelt, Tom Brickell, Gary Burroughs, Craig Graci, Steve Kazak and Tom Kress (who went on to a career in professional bowling) dotted the scene. Bob Green, from California, former #3 player in the U.S., lived here for a short while and was most generous in his help for the juniors.
Rochester has provided more than a few top flight table tennis competitors. Among them:
Tex Lloyd was the #3 ranked Senior in the country.
Ben Morgan was ranked in the U.S. top 20 for several years and won the County Championship 9 times.
Ted Mosher was ranked #29 in the U.S. in 1942 and won County Championships 22 years apart!
Dave Hunt was County Junior and Open Champion, and attained a national Junior ranking of #5.
Andy Anvelt climbed to a Junior ranking of #5, and made the finals of the U.S. Open Junior Doubles.
Don Coluzzi won 13 straight local tournaments in the Open division.
Bob Brickell won the U.S. Senior Olympics Gold medal for singles several times, and was still ranked in the top 6 in his age group nationally into the early 2000’s.
Ray Mack was ranked in the U.S. top 50, and was in the County finals in Open singles 15 consecutive years. As an Esquire and Senior Esquire player (over 50 and 60), he made the finals of both the singles and doubles events at the U.S. Nationals, and rose to a ranking of #4 in the U.S. as he reached the Senior Esquire events. As a hard bat player, he was in the finals of more than ten events at the U.S. Nationals, including 4 consecutive years in the Over 40 competition and 3 consecutive years in the Over 60 competition. He won the U.S. Nationals Open Hard Bat Doubles three times, and has won 4 Gold Medals in U.S. Senior Olympics events in singles and 2 Gold Medals in doubles (with John Foxton), Open Singles Gold Medal at the Huntsman Senior World Games and won the Gold Medal in his age group four times at the Huntsman Senior World Games. Perhaps his proudest achievement was winning an Open Singles title in 5 decades.
Don Young was a nationally ranked Senior Esquire player, and won U.S. Senior Olympics Gold Medals in singles and doubles for his age group, and the Gold Medal in his age group at the Huntsman Senior World Games.
Jim Shoots, aka “the Shooter”, won the County tournament Open division 5 years in a row. He and Ray Mack (with only 2 players) played their way into the Open category 3 man National Table Tennis Team championships! Once, during a match with Lim Ming Chui, one of the top players in the country, he roared back from a 2 games to 0, 20-10 deficit to win the best 3 out of 5 match!! He also holds a win against In Sook Bhushan during her peak years, when she was winning her record 11 U.S. women’s championships.
Casey MacClaren won the top singles record for the Wednesday league (2009-10) at the age of 14!
AJ Carney was ranked in the top 12 nationally as a junior player in the U-14, U-16 and U-18 categories, and advanced to the finals of the U.S. Nationals in Singles and Doubles in hard bat. He remains our only club player who had a rating over 2400.
John Foxton twice won the U.S. Senior Olympics Gold Medal in doubles (with Ray Mack) and Silver Medal in singles.
Mike Brown became one of the top handicap players in his category TT6 in the nation qualifying for the US National Paralympic team in 2015.
The club has bestowed lifetime achievement awards to Walt Stephens (posthumously), Bob Brickell, Ray Mack and Marty Salata.
Paul Nielsen won two Silver medals at the 2021 US Nationals for Men's 75+ Singles and Men's 80+ Singles
in the early 2000’s, the game changed again. A larger ball was used – 40 mm. Games were changed to 11 points instead of 21, and only 2 serves instead of 5. In 2008, “speed” glue, which was used by offensive players, was banned. “Frictionless” rubbers were banned, and the rules for service were tightened to remove hiding the ball, either with the body or the free hand.
The club grew, adding a third weekly league on Wednesdays. An effort has been made to incorporate lessons to help improve skills. Some of the modern training incorporates the use of “multiball” practice, where the feeder does not return the ball. Also, a junior program was started, and we are seeing the juniors learn quickly and beat many of the adult players.
GVTTC saw tremendous membership growth in this era attracting the rise of many new players, addition of a new Wednesday league and more open play. Rochester Sports Garden remained our venue for all leagues and a few years required up to 16 tables for Monday league. The sport grew in Rochester during this time.
The early 2010's showcased the top players AJ Carney, Craig Bensch, Ray Mack, Brad Gelb, and Wei Zou. The back half of the decade featured Koen Kron, Uwe Runge (from Germany), Desmond Preston, Andre Maronian, Marc Maronian, Dominic Sanzotta Jr., Dustin Zemaitis, Wayne Carney and Peter Yu.
Other era notables were Oded Kalir, Kort Kron, Kalina Kron, Saher Al Ghazi, Sri Ramaswamy, Guy Mclean, Kock-Yee Law, Ta-Min Chang, Roger Haidvogel, Jamie Barnhart, Jay Gelb, Bo Yuan, Ralph Prescott, and Dan Emord.
It's also important to note the fantastic play of Mike Brown who qualified for the US National Paralympic team.
GVTTC also mourned the loss of a few legends in Bob Brickell, Harry Hawk (from Syracuse) and Paulie Or.
In addition to adding a Wednesday league we also had enough interest to begin a summer league during off season play. Special thanks to Classic league directors Ray Mack and Marc Maronian, Monday league director Dan Emord, and Wednesday league director David Shih. We also introduced an alternating classic league schedule between normal team night and the new ladder format play.
The style of play evolved tremendously throughout the club where we saw more loop drive style players emerge showcasing more of what you see nationally at the top levels. The time of long pips (phantom), short pips, and anti still survives but is much less used amongst the players.
Other notable players that played throughout this era were Ed Bizari, Alan Estill, Berl Stein, Boris Shmoys, Dominic Sanzotta Sr., Yogi Pulla, Jacob Shmoys, Ed Bizari, Kevin Johnson, David Friedman, Mike Friedler, Michael Yu, Larry Polinski, Daquanne Dwight, and Doug Kleinhammer.
GVTTC also saw an increase in female players like Kalina Kron, Mary Litavsky, Terry Bryne, Irena Kozhinova and Joan Alden.
By 2020, GVTTC began the process of honoring some legends by launching the Bob Brickell Giant Round Robin and Paulie Or 2-Man Team tournaments to create consistent USATT events in the region.
2020 was also met by the COVID-19 pandemic which caused a significant change in Table Tennis during this time. Like the rest of the world, the club shut down for a period of time but due to the natural 6 ft. distancing in singles matches, our sport was one of the first to get back at it. Masks were required for most of 2020 while on the sidelines but not the case when playing. Our club attracted many new athletes during this time that were looking for a replacement activity that they couldn't get with other sports and/or hobbies. Although many players chose to "sit it out" for almost 2 seasons, the new players that joined the club made up the difference to keep Classic league at 36 players and Monday league continued at full capacity. It was a tough time for all including GVTTC but we experienced the closest thing to "normalcy" when compared to just about anything else.