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Teen served, and conquered

Eugene girl's 1971 table tennis matches thawed U.S.-China relations
by: COURTESY OF JUDY HOARFROST, Shortly after a 1971 visit to China — as part of the first group of Americans allowed entry there since 1949 — the then-Judy Bochenski shows members of a Eugene business club moves she used against the Chinese.

The Oregon Sports Hall of Fame has members from various sports, from auto racing to fencing to wrestling.

On Tuesday, someone will be inducted who could have her own category: Pingpong Diplomat.

Armed with only a table tennis paddle, Judy Bochenski Hoarfrost's role in the world's cultural revolution made her famous in 1971.

At age 15, she was part of the U.S. table tennis team's historic visit to China, a year before President Nixon's journey there. The team members were the first Americans allowed into China since the communist takeover in 1949.

'I believe the U.S. and China would have begun diplomatic relations no matter what happened, but it's really wonderful that table tennis was the beginning of that,' Hoarfrost said this week from her home in Southwest Portland.

Hoarfrost will be inducted into the Oregon sports hall along with former NBA star Terrell Brandon, ex-major league pitcher Wayne Twitchell, longtime PSU baseball coach and Athletic Director Roy Love, sportscaster Doug LaMear and the 1965-66 Oregon State men's basketball team that won the Pac-8 title.

Hoarfrost, 51, and her brother, Michael, operate the Paddle Palace in Multnomah Village, selling table tennis equipment locally and around the world.

She retired from competition in her early 40s, after winning three U.S. over-40 titles. She still plays for fun, and occasionally against son Ryan, who was the Portland Interscholastic League player of the year at shortstop and pitcher (the same position his mom played in softball) for state champion Wilson High this year.

'He would be really excited if he could ever beat me,' Judy Hoarfrost says.

Have paddle, will travel

Hoarfrost's first major title came shortly after she took up the sport at age 10. She won the U.S. under-12 crown, and a couple of years later her father, Lou Bochenski, moved to Eugene, where she attended Sheldon High.

In China, she shook the hand of Premier Zhou Enlai (the photo ran in Life magazine), saw the Great Wall and played in three exhibitions against the supremely talented but gracious Chinese. The media in China followed her every move. 'I remember spilling my drink at a dinner and all these cameras were clicking away,' she says.

She was mobbed by American media upon her return. She was a guest on the 'Today Show' with Barbara Walters and on game shows 'What's My Line' and 'To Tell the Truth,' wrote an article for Seventeen magazine and appeared on the cover of Time.

There was a Judy Bochenski Day in Oregon, she played a makeshift match against Gov. Tom McCall on his office desk and she served as grand marshal of the Rose Festival Parade.

Hoarfrost spent a couple of summers on the road, doing exhibitions in shopping centers and the like. 'They would advertise it as 'Challenge Judy,' and I'd take on all challengers, all these guys who thought they could beat me,' she says.

She played in four world championships, held every other year, during the 1970s, and in the Pan-American Games in Puerto Rico. Table tennis had yet to be made an Olympic sport, so she missed out on that experience.

China visits mark milestones

She graduated from Stanford with a degree in psychology, taught elementary education, coached a year of soccer at Grant High and in 1980 married Dan Hoarfrost, a Portland attorney. They have three children - Ryan (a freshman at Mt. Hood Community College), Megan (a senior at Stanford) and Adrienne (a senior at Wilson).

In 1996, Judy Hoarfrost returned to China for the 25th anniversary of her pingpong diplomacy. In March this year, she went back for the 35th anniversary.

'Seven of us from the diplomacy team went, and it was a really big deal in China,' she says. 'We had a lot of press and public appearances. They really remember us, and table tennis is one of their biggest sports. In Shanghai, some women who played with us in 1971 came out and showed us their pictures, pointing out who was who in the photos.'

Hall of Fame induction ceremony

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday (reception at 5:30 p.m.)

Where: Multnomah Athletic Club

Cost: $65 (table of eight, $500), 503-227-7466