Irvine Levine-Witness to 70 Years of Rhode Island Table Tennis
We don’t know exactly when the Rhode Island Table Tennis Club started, but we do know there was an active league running when World War II broke out – and that club operations ceased temporarily. We also know that since 1947, when the club reopened, Rhode Island has had a continuously running league that remains a cornerstone of the Rhode Island Table Tennis Association today. The club has had three locations over the years (Providence, then Warwick, and now Manville). The Rhode Island Club, now a WE ARE BUTTERFLY club, has continued to thrive since 1947 – that’s 70 years.
The current board has made a concerted effort to reach out to some of our elder RI statesmen – as we hope to eventually include a Rhode Island Hall of Fame and a listing of all of our State Champions. One of these elders is Irvine Levine.
Irvine (or “Irv”) Levine retired from table tennis thirty years ago, but at 95 he has been helping us piece together parts of our story that had been lost. He played in the club before the war, and was instrumental in setting it up again in the late 40s.
When he was young, he played hardbat and sandpaper and was one of the strongest players in the State. He competed with US legends Dick Miles and Marty Reisman and Sol Schiff and Bernie Bukiet. As the equipment changed, he adapted. Over the years he was a many time Rhode Island Champion. He continued to be competitive in age events years later, accumulating a room full of trophies from tournaments across New England. He later transitioned to tennis and found a similar level of success in a new sport as he was ranked for his age division in both singles and doubles.
Levine’s family business in the 50s and 60s was in leather goods, where they specialized in handbags. And, it is an offshoot of this fact that earned a reference in Tim Boggan’s History of Table Tennis regarding the 1962 Eastern Open:
“Local star Irv Levine, who owned the Gamma Leather Goods Corp., generously offered to make a souvenir for one and all. He took Dick (Evans) into his cutting room and with Levine’s best power machine operator they designed and made what might well have been the first zippered, racket-shaped table tennis case.” — History of U.S. Table Tennis Vol. IV: 1963-1970, p.32
The Rhode Island Table Tennis Association will be honoring Irvine Levine in 2018 as one of the first inductees into the Rhode Island Table Tennis Hall of Fame. The club that he helped build is still running, the league that he used to dominate still challenges a new generation of players, and Rhode Island continues to have a rich tradition in the sport.