Former table tennis national champion Dick Schoorman recalls his playing days when representing the country at the All-India Tournament marked the pinnacle in achievements
The sport of table tennis knows the art of finding its way to the sports pages of national newspapers. Whether it was during the times of Jothipala Samaraweera, N.H. Perera, Mahinda Dandeniya, Lalith Priyantha, Anjelo Santiago, Christopher Arnolda, Hussein brothers Shabir and Shabar or Thilina Piyadasa, table tennis has attracted spectators and made journalists follow its tournaments whenever this sport wishes to grab attention. Right now on a short visit to this country by a former legend in the sport, Dick Schoorman, made Nation locate him and do an interview.
The interview was arranged for this newspaper by another legend in the sport, Lalith Priyantha, who was grateful enough to tag along with this writer. We met Schoorman at an apartment in Mount Lavinia. Schoorman, an octogenarian, was more than glad to go down memory lane to the times when he was the national singles champion.
Schoorman had his education at Royal College, but despite the school’s rich sporting culture, his feats in the sport played with the racket and ping pong ball weren’t witnessed till he bid adieu to his alma mater. “I followed the sport with interest and learned the game by reading books,” is how he began the interview. Listening to the legend speak, one doesn’t take much time to understand that he was a perfectionist when it came to preparing as a player.
“We trained very hard and gave a lot of emphasis to fitness. All the table tennis activities were centered around the Colombo YMCA,” said Schoorman.
He was good in his chosen sport, too good at times that jealous individuals refused to be his sparring partner. He didn’t carry grudges and the solution he found to the problem came in the form of changing his playing style.
“It was a selfish sport at times,” he said looking through the window of his apartment and into the distance. He probably visualized some of those unsporty contemporary players staring at him like gremlins. He however, recalled the names of a handful of individuals who shared the same vision as he; which was to represent the country at international tournaments. “My contemporaries in the sport were Pesi Pestonji, Chris Guneratne, Naro Udeshi, Colvin Ratnayake and L.M. Lakdawela. We had our moments representing the country at the All-India Tournament,” reminisced Schoorman who now resides in Australia.
His biggest achievement in the sport is reaching the semi-finals of the All-India tournament hosted by Sri Lanka in 1957. He was rated 10th in the men’s singles event in that tournament. He was king of table tennis at home and crowned himself national singles champion in the years 1952, 1954, 1957 and 1958.
During the interview, he took breaks to exchange pleasantries with Priyantha, who was the national singles champion from 1988-90. He showed a keen interest to know the developments in the game in Sri Lanka and what type of rubbers the islanders were using.
“To grant us a meeting despite his busy schedule shows the interest he still has for table tennis. It’s a great honour to know that he (Schoorman) knew me by name and wanted to meet me when he came down to Sri Lanka,” said Priyantha.
Priyantha said Schoorman and his fellow teammates should have reached a high standard to make the semi-finals in a top tournament like the All-India tournament. “When we compare that era with the present, we are struggling against India,” he said.
Schoorman gave up playing table tennis at age 27 when he was at his peak. He continued to work as a government servant, but decided to migrate to Australia when he was forced to consider the future of his children.
He still plays table tennis in Australia. “Win or lose, I still enjoy the game,” he said.
When asked to comment on the game now, he had this to say, “Players today are depending too much on spin. There are very few rallies.”
The meeting this writer had with two legends in the sport was memorable. What makes it unforgettable is a legend in the sport like Priyantha giving every indication that achievements of players like Schoorman should be considered mighty because the equipment used by players at the time was at a primitive level.