I’ve talked about many athletes from the early days of badminton who were great at more than one sport. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that playing two sports and excelling in one is already an impressive feat. But what if you get a badminton player who excelled equally in more than one racket sport? Well, such a player wouldn’t be called a “badminton player.” Such a person would go by the name of Margaret Varner Bloss!
Margaret Varner Bloss is a Texan-born badminton player who is one of the greatest multi-sport players in history. Margaret Varner Bloss was a multiple-time All-England champion and a two-time member of the U.S. Team who brought home the Uber Cup. Thanks to her achievements, Margaret Varner Bloss joined Judy Hashman and Ethell Marshall as the big three of American women’s badminton during the 50s and early 60s. Margaret Varner Bloss is also the only player in history to have represented the United States in badminton, tennis, and squash — and at the highest levels, at that!
Not many people can be great at many things. But if there’s a badminton pioneer who seems to be, it’s Margaret Varner Bloss. Let’s revisit the legendary Texan-born racket specialist whose versatility and skill remain unparalleled!
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Margaret Verner Bloss was born on October 4, 1927. She was born in El Paso, Texas, where she spent most of her youth and early athletic career.
Margaret Varner Bloss took to racket sports early. When she was only 13, she displayed talent in tennis. Once she turned 17, she bagged numerous junior tennis titles, including the National Girls’ 18 Doubles Championships.
Winning the National Girls’ 18 Doubles title twice in a row, Margaret Varner Bloss also bagged tennis titles during her first years as a university student at the University of Southern California. After a short stay in California, Margaret Varner Bloss moved back to Texas to attend Texas Women’s University, where she played collegiate tennis.
While there, she enjoyed multiple reigns as Texas State Women’s Champion and several other titles that cemented her national rankings. And what’s most impressive about these accomplishments was that she balanced her tennis career with her full-time studies!
Before graduation, she had already amassed numerous accolades as a tennis player. One day, she witnessed badminton for the first time. Immediately drawn to the sport, she tried it out. Little did she know that it was in this sport where she’d make waves that would ripple throughout American badminton history.
Early Badminton Career
Margaret Varner Bloss graduated with a B.A. and M.A. from Texas Women’s University in 1950. After graduating, Margaret Varner Bloss embarked on an athletic career which I can best describe as a balancing act between tennis and badminton.
Margaret Varner Bloss competed in local tennis and badminton competitions. While her tennis career remained stellar, she began to find her bearings on the badminton court. As she sharpened her badminton skills, Margaret Varner Bloss gained enough confidence to compete in her first national badminton tournament — the U.S. Open Badminton Championships.
Margaret Varner Bloss competed at the 1955 U.S. Open. There, she faced the country’s best, including Ethel Marshall and the great Judy Hashman.
Margaret Varner Bloss and Judy Hashman faced each other in the finals of the 1955 U.S. Open. At the tournament, Judy Hashman had already won the women’s doubles event with her sister. Varner Bloss and Hashman played in a thrilling match that saw Varner Bloss as the victor.
The victory was remarkable for two reasons. First, the triumph won the up-and-comer her first major title. And second, it made Margaret Varner Bloss the first badminton player to defeat Judy Hashman.
The victory gave Margaret Varner Bloss the psychological momentum to compete in more badminton tournaments.
Stellar All-England Performances
After the U.S. Open, Margaret Varner Bloss set her sights on the oldest and most prestigious tournament in badminton, the All-England Open. She began her All-England campaign almost immediately after her victory at the U.S. Open, competing in the women’s singles event of the 1955 edition.
At the 1955 All-England, Margaret Varner Bloss advanced as far as the finals. Awaiting her in the finals was the player she defeated at the U.S. Open, Judy Hashman.
The two players competed in a barn burner of a match. Narrowly, Judy Hashman won the first game 12 points to 9. The first-game loss did little to discourage Margaret Varner Bloss as she snatched a dominant 11-5 victory in the second game.
The third match revealed Margaret Varner Bloss’s racket experience and endurance. Showing Judy Hashman no corner, Margaret Varner Bloss dominated the third game. Varner Bloss chalked up a landslide 11-1 finish in the third game.
Defeating Judy Hashman in their second meeting, Margaret Varner Bloss won her first All-England title.
Beginner’s luck would certainly not apply to Margaret Varner Bloss. A year later, Margaret Varner Bloss sought to defend her women’s singles title. So she played at the 1956 All-England, facing Judy Hashman in the finals.
Margaret Varner Bloss’s confidence was palpable throughout the final match. As early as the first game, she showed Judy Hashman no corner, bagging the first game with 11 to eight.
The second game mimicked the first as Margaret Varner Bloss quickly dispatched her compatriot with an impressive 11-5 finish. Defeating Judy Hashman in straight sets, Margaret Varner Bloss successfully defended her All-England women’s singles title.
After her successful title defense, Margaret Varner Bloss would become a mainstay at All-England podiums for many years. As a singles competitor at the All-England, Margaret Varner Bloss bagged multiple runner-up finishes after stellar performances at the storied tournament, particularly in 1957 and 1958.
Margaret Varner Bloss also tried her hand at women’s doubles badminton in the 1958 edition of the All-England. At the 1958 All-England, Margaret Varner Bloss teamed up with Heather Ward, winning the women’s doubles event.
At the 1960 All-England, Margaret Varner Bloss returned to singles competition, reaching the finals again. Awaiting her in the finals once again was Judy Hashman. By their fourth meeting at the 1960 All-England, both players are level in terms of wins against each other.
In straight sets, Judy Hashman got the better of Margaret Varner Bloss. With the loss, Margaret Varner Bloss had to settle for another runner-up finish. However, her multiple trips to the All-England podium remained an impressive feat, especially with the competitiveness of the tournament at the time.
With several All-England titles and medals in her list of achievements, Margaret Varner Bloss became one of the most successful players in American badminton history.
Uber Cup Outings
Besides her accomplishments locally and at the All-England, Margaret Varner Bloss’s other accolades include her contributions to the U.S. National Badminton Team. More specifically, I’m talking about her time as part of the National Team that brought the Uber Cup stateside!
The 1957 Uber Cup
Margaret Varner Bloss was a crucial member of the National Team, particularly in the women’s singles events during the inaugural Uber Cup. At the 1957 Uber Cup, Margaret Varner Bloss played alongside Ethell Marshal and Judy Hashman.
Together, the “Big Three” of American women’s badminton enabled the U.S. team to chalk up a streak in all events.
The contributions and skills of Margaret Varner Bloss and her compatriots proved pivotal in shifting the winds of dominance toward American soil. The team’s undefeated run at the tournament allowed the U.S. to beat Canada in the qualifying rounds. Advancing to the finals, the U.S. team with Varner Bloss, Hashman, and Marshal bested the Danish team to win the first-ever Uber Cup!
The 1960 Uber Cup
The U.S. Team set out to defend its title at the next edition of the Uber Cup. So, once again, Margaret Varner Bloss became one of the go-to selections for the 1960 Uber Cup team.
The 1960 Uber Cup was a special moment for the U.S Team as it would take place on home soil. With Varner Bloss and Hashman in the lineup, the U.S. Team had the homecourt advantage and confidence in their favor.
At the 1960 Uber Cup, Margaret Varner Bloss competed in the singles events. Her performances at the tournament, followed by Hashman’s dominance in the doubles events, which tightened the U.S. Team’s grip on the Uber Cup.
By the end of the tournament, the 1960 Uber Cup was a successful campaign for the U.S. team. And they had Margaret Varner Bloss, Judy Hashman, and Susan Peard to thank for their successful defense!
After her performance at the 1960 Uber Cup, Margaret Varner Bloss announced her retirement from international and local competition. For her contributions at the Uber Cup, Margaret Varner Bloss became a member of the U.S. Badminton Walk of Fame.
Margaret Varner Bloss’s Life After Badminton: Squash, “Badminton,” and Horse Breeding
Even after announcing her retirement in 1960, Margaret Varner Bloss continued her involvement with badminton — albeit as a recreational player and author. Nevertheless, she retired with one hand still holding a racket, so to speak — a squash racket, that is.
As an author, she wrote several books on the game. One of her masterpieces was Badminton, a book she dedicated to badminton players and enthusiasts.
In the book, Margaret Varner Bloss detailed various techniques for different badminton styles. If you read the book, you’ll see how specific techniques would work in club badminton and backyard badminton (which we now call AirBadminton).
Margaret Varner Bloss explored her prowess in squash between 1960 and 1963. In three short years, she established herself as one of the best squash players in the country, winning four national squash titles. She also won the prestigious Wolfe-Noel Cup in 1963.
Margaret Varner Bloss also pursued her teaching career in her hometown of El Paso. She became a physical education teacher, teaching badminton and other racket sports.
Margaret Varner Bloss also found her passion for horses after retirement. After her marriage to Gerald Bloss in 1968, she began caring for racehorses. Shortly after the passing of her husband, Varner Bloss founded a horse stable in El Paso. To the surprise of nobody, she named all the horses with terms from various racket sports.
Hall of Fame Inductions
Margaret Varner Bloss was a force to be reckoned with in every racket sport she played. Her multi-sport dominance resulted in multiple inductions into halls of fame.
Her first induction came in 1965. Margaret Varner Bloss joined the U.S. Badminton Hall of Fame for her achievements in the All-England and the Uber Cup. 34 years later, she became part of the World Badminton Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Judy Hashman and David Freeman.
For her achievements in tennis, Margaret Varner Bloss also became an inductee into the Texas Hall of Fame in 1985. Her achievements in tennis and badminton also got her into the Texas University Hall of Fame in 1994.
Despite her short stint as a squash player, she achieved more than enough to warrant her place in the sport’s hall of fame. In 2000, U.S. Squash inducted Margaret Varner Bloss into the Squash Hall of Fame.
Dominant Wherever a Racket Was
Margaret Varner Bloss will forever be one of the few multi-sport talents badminton offers. Her accomplishments in badminton and many other sports make her a true rarity in — not just badminton — but sports.
Indeed, Margaret Varner Bloss excelled wherever and whenever a racket was involved. Time will tell if the badminton world will ever experience such a talent.
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