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Sean O’Neill, 12, could barely see over the table the first time he picked up a Ping-Pong paddle six years ago. “But even then,” recalls his mother, Kathleen, a telephone company representative, “he could put a top spin on the ball.” Today, at 5′ even and 83 pounds, Sean is the U.S. champ in the 13-and-under division. He learned the game from his Realtor father, Patrick, who was himself nationally ranked in his youth. Now, claims Sean, “I beat my dad 60 percent of the time.” The boy’s main inspiration and mentor, though, has been Thailand star Chuchai Chan, who stayed at the O’Neills’ Vienna, Va. home while competing in a Maryland tournament in 1976. Chan helped his protégé develop stamina by making him run two to three miles a day carrying a two-pound training paddle. Now Sean has played around the world, including Sweden—the dominant table tennis power in the West—and suffered his share of defeats. Beaten by archrival Scott Butler in the U.S. finals in Las Vegas two years ago, Sean posted a sign in his bedroom: “Run today—beat Butler tomorrow.” The intense training paid off when Sean finally whipped Butler for the title last December. “They say,” boasts his mother, “that Sean may be the top 12-year-old anywhere, and now the U.S. has a hope of producing a world champ.”

Patty Grubman is becoming a box office name on Broadway at 24, but from the other side of the footlights. She co-produced the long-running Bob Fosse musical Dancin’ and this season’s stunner Bent—the drama about homosexuals in a Nazi concentration camp starring Richard Gere. Grubman has also been involved in one major floperoo: a musical adaptation of the Alan Bates cult film King of Hearts, which closed after six weeks last year with a loss of more than $1.5 million. Still, Bent’s success has enabled Grubman to open up her own production office in Manhattan. The daughter of an L.A. paper goods manufacturer and a housewife, Patty graduated from Beverly Hills High at 16 (“All my friends were children of celebrities”) and went to nine colleges before dropping out for good—”short about one class for a degree.” Grubman was broken in on Broadway by family friend Nan Pearlman, associate producer of Godspell and The Magic Show. A producer doesn’t necessarily have to be rich, and indeed one of Grubman’s primary responsibilities is cajoling money from “angels.” When she isn’t reading scripts, Patty plays racquetball or hops a plane for Aspen, where she bought a house. Ultimately Grubman wants to make it as a movie producer too—but never as a performer. “I hate being in front of crowds,” she shudders. “I’d shake to death.”