Steve Isaacson Interview: Honoring Ruth Aarons - Butterfly Table Tennis
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Steve Isaacson Interview: Honoring Ruth Aarons

(Intro by Steve Hopkins)

As I have been collecting stories from Hall of Fame members, players, and personalities in the sport, I recently had opportunity to converse with Hall of Fame Member, Steve Isaacson.  I will be sharing some of his many stories in a series of articles over the next few weeks.  This article will focus on Steve’s effort to right a wrong – to restore the 1937 Women’s Singles World Championship title to its rightful winner(s).

Of all of Steve Isaacson’s stories, this is the one that could read like a Hollywood movie script.  It’s set in Austria in 1937 as Nazi Germany’s power and influence is beginning to boil over into the rest of Europe – just a year before Germany formally annexes Austria, and about the time that concentration camps were beginning operation.  The story is about USA’s 1936 World Champion traveling to defend her title at a time where people of Jewish decent faced bigotry and hatred and were at risk in that region of the world.  Here is the story in Steve Isaacson’s own words:

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Almost every sport has a legend that is known to those who devote their lives to that sport.  There’s Babe Ruth pointing to right field just before he homers to that exact spot against the Chicago Cubs in the 1932 World Series… or did he?  There’s the story of the Chicago Bears fullback, “Bronco” Nagurski, scoring a touchdown at that same Wrigley Field and not stopping until he hit a concrete wall – smashing it to pieces… or did he?

In table tennis, our legend dates to 1937, and I heard of it in 1947 at 10 years of age when I played my very first tournament in Hinsdale, Illinois.

As the story goes, Ruth Aarons, a New York Teenager, the 1936 Champion of the World, was cheated… that’s right…cheated… out of the 1937 World Championship by the Austrian officials during the Finals of the Women’s Singles between Ruth and Austrian Trudi Pritzi.  The ridiculous excuse was that some unknown “time limit” had been violated and both Ruth and Pritzi were disqualified and the title declared “Vacant”.  That’s right…vacant.  Incredible!  Ruth Aarons had almost never lost a match.  She won 4 consecutive US Women’s Championships, the 1936 World’s Title, and was in the Finals of the 1937 Worlds.  She lost only one match in two years of team matches at the World’s with an amazing record over the  entire four years she competed.  There was absolutely no chance that she would lose to Trudi Pritzi in the 1937 Final.  But she could be cheated… and she was.  Cheated by the Austrian “Jury”.  Why?  Anti-Semitism?  Perhaps.  A beautiful, blonde Jewish teenager slaughtering the rest of the world.  Legends are legends.

Sixty four years later I decided to try to do something about this atrocity.  I bombarded the ITTF and the USTTA with information about our legend, and with the help of my long-time friend and doubles partner, Tim Boggan, himself a USATT President and ITTF Official, convinced the ITTF to overturn the 1937 result and today’s history books no longer read “1937 Women’s Singles – Vacant”.  Instead they read “1937 Women’s Singles Co-Champions Ruth Aarons (USA) and Trudi Pritzi (Austria).

This World Championship is only the 2nd World Singles Title ever won by the USA in Men’s or Women’s events.  Both of those titles belong to Ruth Aarons – the first one being in 1936.

For my efforts, I was presented with The President’s Award for 2001, by USATT President Sheri Pittman at the 2001 US Open in Las Vegas.

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Ruth Aarons Hall of Fame Profile

Video: Ruth Aarons exhibition – showing footwork and power that would translate well in any era.

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