Monday, August 22, 2011

George Hendry: St. Louisan Table Tennis Champ Featured on Wheaties Box

Posted By on Mon, Aug 22, 2011 at 8:59 AM

George Hendry paddling it up in 2002.
  • George Hendry paddling it up in 2002.
George Hendry of Clayton passed away Wednesday following a recent stroke. He was 90.

A table-tennis phenom, Hendry got his start as an adolescent in north St. Louis and continued to play the sport right up until his finals days. The Riverfront Times was fortunate to sit down with Hendry on two occasions over the past decade (A & B). Here's an excerpt about Hendry from a 2002 article about St. Louis' table tennis scene:
Hendry, under the expert tutelage of Northside YMCA instructor Bill Price, became a table-tennis prodigy (Price went on to train Jimmy Connors in tennis). He won the junior nationals in 1935 at age fourteen, and the next year, competing against men old enough to drink and drive, he became the youngest player to ever win the prestigious Western Open, a distinction that earned him the holy grail of commercial athletic recognition, World Series be damned.

At the age of fifteen, Hendry had his grill emblazoned on a Wheaties box, inspiring a legion of would-be table-tennis champs to eat up but good every morning before school.

A couple more years of teenage dominance ensued before Hendry shelved his paddles to serve his country in World War II. Providing an early boilerplate for Michael Jordan's "quit while you're on top but leave the door cracked" style of retirement, Hendry wouldn't play table tennis competitively for another 40 years or so -- before coming back to regain his throne atop the sport in relatively short order.

Former St. Louis Table Tennis Club president Rich Doza has a favorite tourney yarn: the day then--72-year-old Hendry pulled off a shocking upset of twentysomething Peruvian champion Andr Wong (who'd just beaten then--U.S. champ Seemiller). This qualified him for the round of 32 at the U.S. Open in Midland, Texas.

"We're out in the center area, and we're warming up," begins Doza. "This guy comes by -- he's on the Japanese team. He says we have to leave 'cause he has a match. I said, 'So do we.'

"The guy couldn't believe he had to play this old man. He thought he'd be playing André Wong, and instead he's playing his grandfather. His English was a little shaky, so he just couldn't understand that George had beaten André Wong."

For more on Hendry, check out the Hall of Fame of USA Table Tennis.

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