By Michael Wetzel Southeastern Longtimers Reunion
August 23, 1997 HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Seventeen Southeastern table tennis players from the 1960s and '70s circuit had plenty to talk about when they got together to hit a few balls in Huntsville on Aug. 23. There was Hugh Lax, seven weeks removed from hip replacement surgery, telling Lance Rosemore and Mitch Stephens about his budding acting career. "Yes, I've been in a couple of movies," the left-handed Lax said between fun tournaments. "I played a judge in the Larry Flynt movie." There were Pete May and Jim McQueen parading around in their fake nose and glasses. Pete's polka-dotted outfit brought out the laughs, too. There was Wendell Dillon showing the guys he can still swing a pretty good hardbat despite having troubled knees. The Southeastern Longtimers Reunion was put together by Huntsville's Ralph Kissel. Danny Hill of Clemmons, N.C., gave him the idea of honoring 16-time Alabama champion Don Gaither. Kissel contacted about 80 regular players from 20 years ago for the get-together. For Gaither, it was a surprise. When he walked into the Brahan Spring Recreation Center on the morning of the reunion, he was greeted by "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" led by Atlanta's Carl Golden. Kissel organized a sanctioned tournament (won by McQueen); a non-sanctioned tournament (won by Homer Brown); a doubles event (won by May and Brown); a three-point game (won by Rosemore); and hard-bat singles (won by Brown). During a pizza lunch break, the group watched some old videos from some of May's mall tournaments. The guys then presented Gaither with a racket he used during the 1970s signed by each of them. Kissel read letters from John Quick, Bobby Keel, Jim Liggett and Allen Barth, whom each sent Gaither their fond memories of the old days. Kissel, McQueen, May, Jerry Johnson, Phil Thompson and Michael Wetzel each gave short speeches lauding Gaither. After some more fun at the table in the afternoon, the group met at a restaurant that evening for more stories from days gone by. "It appears this kind of reunion will take place across the Southeast every three or four years," Kissel said. "I had a lot of older players tell me they would like to see this become a regular thing." The longtime players attending the reunion were Don Gaither of Hazel Green, Ala., Ralph Kissel and Jerry Johnson of Huntsville, Ala., Homer Brown of Birmingham, Ala., Red Wilder and Tom Alexy of Anniston, Ala., Pete May of Augusta, Ga., Wendell Dillon, Carl Golden, Jim Holcombe, from the Atlanta area, Jim McQueen of Raleigh, N.C., Lance Rosemore of Dallas, Texas, Bernie Tucker and Mitch Stephens from the Nashville area, Dwaine Kitchell and Bill Neely of Knoxville and Hugh Lax of Memphis. Others helping organize the event were Ed Watts, Phil Thompson and Michael Wetzel. Sponsors for the event were the City of Huntsville Parks and Recreation, Papa John's Pizza, Buffalo Rock-Pepsi of Huntsville and the Huntsville Table Tennis Club.