I am proud to inform you that I am the manager of the world champion Ping-Pong ball popper. My client has popped a Ping-Pong ball 731 consecutive times while standing and also holds the sitting-down record, which is 253 times. We demand recognition for these outstanding feats."
Letters about outstanding feats by unknowns in sport come by the score each week to FACES IN THE CROWD (page 97). Few are as offbeat as the one described above, although staff members who have handled FACES over the years have a rich collection of favorites. Among them are a blueberry-pie-eating champion (14 in less than one hour), a marathon Bolo paddle whacker (nonstop for 84 hours) and a 57-year-old hand-mowing champ (cutting a 40-by-8-foot swath of grass in 111 seconds).
Most of the letters are not about pie eaters or grass cutters but about genuinely talented athletes who deserve recognition. Choosing six of them each week from the stack of nominations—during football and basketball seasons we receive more than 100 such letters a week—requires a cool, impartial eye. This is sometimes difficult to achieve. One SI writer took the letters home, read them to her husband and asked his opinion on which people she ought to select. He listened carefully and said they all should be included.
Obviously, there is no absolute standard, no set formula. We have had FACES from Pee Wee hockey to octogenarian track and field. In one issue we featured ANIMALS IN THE CROWD, which included a racing lobster who was eaten after his victory.
Currently selecting and writing FACES (and FOR THE RECORD) is Reporter Susan Adams, who might well have been a candidate herself a few years back when she competed in the 18-and-under National Girls tennis championships. What Susie remembers best about the 1968 tournament was the impressive style of a 13-year-old named Chris Evert, although she admits, "I thought she was a great kid player but I never thought she'd amount to anything as a woman pro."
Susie's judgment has improved in the years since, but in picking FACES she often finds her emotions stirred by letters from loving grandpas, proud coaches and humble teammates. Many such letters include the request, "Please don't mention that I wrote this to you,"
Most of the people who appear remain local heroes, big frogs in fairly small ponds, although some now-famous stars of sport were once FACES IN THE CROWD: Arthur Ashe, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bob Beamon, Terry Bradshaw, Calvin Murphy, Jim McDaniels and, yes. Chris Evert, who made it while Susie Adams was still an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. Then again, we turned down a running back from City College of San Francisco named O. J. Simpson.
But spotting people who someday will be big is not really what FACES is about. It is for the unheralded competitor from next door who never gets but richly deserves recognition. For one writer the greatest satisfaction came in a letter from a youngster, painstakingly written in pencil on school notebook paper, which said, "Thank you very, very much for putting me in your FACES IN THE CROWD. I will never forget it as long as I live."