Margaret Bloss née Varner was born in El Paso, Texas, USA, on October 4, 1927. According to Pat Davis, she was a superbly built athlete with rich auburn hair and a languorous Southern drawl. Varner had her first taste of sporting success in tennis as a teenager. She was the two-time consecutive Southwestern Tennis Association Singles champion in both 1944 and 1945. In 1944, she was the Southwestern Tennis Association Doubles champion as well. In addition to those titles, she won the US Girls’ 18 Hard Court Doubles title in 1944 and 1945 with Jean Doyle. Varner pursued her studies at the Texas Women’s University and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in 1949 and a Master’s degree in 1950.
Five years after receiving her master’s degree, Varner achieved one of the highest honours possible in the world of badminton. At the 1955 All England, she was run through the gauntlet by the All England badminton royalty beginning with the 1950 & 1952 All England champion, Tonny Ahm, in the quarterfinals and then the 1954 All England finalist, Iris Cooley, in the semi-finals. In the final, Varner defeated the defending All England champion and compatriot, Judy Devlin Hashman, with the scores of 9-11, 11-5, 11-1 to win her first All England Women’s Singles title.
At that time, the badminton season consisted of only a handful of tournaments spanning over a course of several months. Varner started 1956 with a Women’s Doubles title at the World Invitation Tournament with Lois Alston. For the next three years, Varner would win the Women’s Doubles title with Alston in 1956 and 1957 and with Heather Ward in 1958 before heading to the All England. Her title at the 1956 World Invitation Tournament was a great start for Varner as she had an even stronger showing the following week at the All England where she only gave away a total of 12 points to her first three opponents before encountering Devlin again in the final. Varner was down 7-1 in the first game but chased back to finish on top with the scores of 11-8, 11-5. In 1957, she was unable to win the All England for a third consecutive time as Devlin refused to settle for another silver and toppled Varner 11–2, 11–7.
Later that year, Varner was the captain of Team USA at the first edition of the Uber Cup in 1957. Team USA defeated India to face off Denmark in the final. Varner scored a tie point in the favor of USA by defeating Aase Schiøtt Jacobsen 11-7, 11-1, which was the most decisive score of the tie. USA defeated Denmark 6-1 to win the inaugural Uber Cup. Hall of famer and fellow multiple All England title holder, Delvin, was also part of that inaugural gold medal team.
At the 1958 All England, Varner and Devlin faced off for their 4th consecutive showdown in the final round of the Women’s Singles. Once again, Devlin prevailed over Varner with the scores of 11–7, 12–10. Varner failed add another All England title in Women’s Singles to her resume that year but she was determined not to go home empty handed. Her partnership with Heather Ward earned the pair an All England title in Women’s Doubles which was their second double title in two weeks. Varner and Devlin met once again in the final for a fifth and final time in the 1960 All England but Devlin had her number and Varner went down 1-11, 9-11.
In 1958, three months later in the same city where she won her All England Women’s Doubles, Varner came close to winning another doubles title but this time in tennis at the Wimbledon Championship. At the prestigious tournament, Varner fell in the second round for singles but her partnership with her lifelong friend, Margaret Osborne duPont, made it all the way to the final round. In the finals, they encountered the legendary Athea Gibson – the first Black lady to win a Grand Slam title – and Maria Bueno and lost 3-6, 5-7.
At the 1960 Uber Cup, the USA team made another bid for the gold against Denmark in the final tie. This time, Varner was sent out to play three matches for her team. She won her singles match against Hanne Jensen, but lost her two doubles matches with Dorothy O’Neill. The USA team successfully defended their Uber Cup title with the tie score of 5-2 over Denmark.
Wanting to master another racket sport, the multi-talented American began playing squash at the age of 31. Training in Philadelphia, she quickly reached her nation’s highest skies and reached the quarter-final of her first national championship (and first tournament ever!) in 1959. The following year, she won her first national title in squash and began her four-year reign from 1960 to 1963. In 1961, she also reached the finals in Women’s Doubles. Author James Zug described her four-year streak as one in which she won “…with ease, rarely losing a game as she shellacked the ball with unusual vigor.”
Varner who was no stranger to team tournaments in other racket sports, also represented the USA at the Wolfe-Noel competitions in 1959 and 1963. From 1959 to 1963, Varner helped Philadelphia win the gold medal at the Howe Cup. In 1967, she co-wrote a book on squash, thus making her the first American woman to write a book on the sport. In the same year, the queen of racket sports also co-authored a book about table tennis.
Despite her shift in focus to squash, Varner did not stop competing at a high level in tennis. She was a member of the winning USA team at the 1962 Wightman Cup. Varner and duPont won their doubles match in the final tie. Three years later, Varner captained the victorious 1965 USA team.
After retiring from play, Varner was the captain of the USA 1969 Uber Cup team in which the Americans were beaten 3-6 by Canada in the final round of the Pan-American zone. In 1971, she wrote a tutorial book on badminton – a classic ‘how to play’ book manual. However, in a chapter called “Unwritten Rules”, she shared her personal ethics of the sport. Among various quotes, we would like to share the following:
-“Members (of clubs) should be prompt in paying dues, attend meetings regularly, and assist in putting up and taking down the nets.”
-“In every club there are one or two players who always appear without shuttles or with ones of inferior quality.”
-“In mixed doubles the man can demonstrate good manners in many ways. The lady usually serves first, and is consulted when any decisions are to be made.”
-“A player should find out whom he is to play and should introduce himself to his opponent if they have not previously met.”
-“… careless play is an insult to your opponent.”
-“the final obligation of a gracious tournament player is to write thank-you notes to the tournament of school officials and to the people who have shown special courtesies such as supplying housing and meals.”
Varner was the only American to have ever represented the USA in international competition for three racket sports – badminton (Uber Cup), tennis (Wightman Cup) and squash (Wolfe-Noel Cup).
After her life as an athlete, Varner gave clinics on tennis and badminton at Wellesley College, University of Maryland, University of Delaware, University of Utah and Texas Woman’s University. She also lectured on physical education at Louisiana State University, Mount Holyoke College, Boston University, University of Delaware and University of Texas.
In the late 1960s, she married a horse trainer, Gerald Bloss, and they had a son named Leigh in 1971. After her lecturing career, Varner Bloss and duPont, partnered off of the tennis court to become serious racehorse breeders. They gifted their horses with badminton related names such as Wembley Blue, Half Smash, Super Set, Tie Breaker and Service Over. They were successful and The Thoroughbred Times ranked them in the Top 20 owners of 1996.
Margaret Varner Bloss was inducted into various Hall of Fames of all three racket sports that she competed in. She was inducted in the formerly known International Badminton Federation Hall of Fame in 1999.
She has now retired and lives in El Paso, Texas.
INDIVIDUAL AWARDS (in order by year)
1965 – USA Badminton Walk of Fame
1985 – Texas Tennis Museum & Hall of Fame
1994 – Texas Women’s University Hall of Fame
1995 – USTA Southwest Tennis Hall of Fame
1996 – The Intercollegiate Tennis Association Hall of Fame
1999 – IBF Hall of Fame
2000 – United States Squash Hall of Fame
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
Badminton (Margaret Varner Bloss)
Badminton: The Complete Practical Guide (Pat Davis)
El Paso Times (28 June 1998)
Encyclopaedia of Badminton (Pat Davis)
Guinness Book of Badminton (Pat Davis)
International Badminton … the first 75 years (BWF)
Squash: A History of the Games (James Zug)
The Straits Times (19 November 1954)
-- By Yves Lacroix