I just got back from nearly a month of traveling. I first went to Johannesburg and Cape Town for the South African Jesters’ fiftieth anniversary celebrations. Most the squash we played was softball doubles. In Joburg we even had the coincidence of having all four of the inventors of the game (in 1986 in England) on hand. There are now about ten softball doubles courts in South Africa, including a spanking-new four courts at the Country Club Johannesburg, and the game is catching on.
Hiddy Jahan came to one of the Jester parties. Jahan, the great Lahore-raised, London-based pro who reached a British Open final (in 1982, losing 9-2, 10-9, 9-3 to Jahangir), was in South Africa to play in Nicky Oppenheimer’s annual doubles tournament. It was a bit ironic, considering that Pakistan squash suspended Jahan for two and a half years after he went to apartheid South Africa in the mid-70s.
I was then in London and caught some of Sky TV’s late-night coverage of the quarters of the Canary Wharf tournament. It was pretty spectacular for an American: great interviews (story-lines established by guys like Peter Nicol); production (clear views); fresh (just two weeks old) and long (a full hour). So even if it started at 11pm, it still said, very clearly, that squash is television ready, that the small court is not a permanent hindrance to gripping idiot-box drama. Of course, it helped having some drama that night, with Willstrop beating his longtime stablemate Beachill for the first time in thirteen attempts, after being 2-1 down.
For all the caterwauling about the cons of the Trinity squash dynasty, one thing is for sure: college squash is growing and Trinity is partially to blame. Fifty-two men’s teams earned College Squash Association rankings (forty-one came to the men’s nationals) and thirty-two women’s teams came to the Howe Cup women’s nationals. These numbers are up nearly fifty percent from the hardball days fifteen years ago. There are a dozen good reasons for this, but certainly the higher standard of play and the attention Trinity receives has not hurt.
Under John Power, my alma mater, Dartmouth, came in eighth this year. For all those who bemoaned the lack of Americans on Trinity’s roster (none in the top nine), take note: all fourteen men on the Big Green varsity roster came from North America (including three from Canada and one from Bermuda). Power had a new assistant coach this year, Glen Wilson from New Zealand, who I first met at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester where he earned a gold medal in mixed softball doubles. Dartmouth said goodbye to former assistant David Heath, who had survived three bachelor winters up in Hanover. Heath moved to coach the national team of the greatest, per-square-mile squash country in the world: Liechtenstein.
Heath reports that there are five squash courts and one hundred and fifty players among the country’s thirty-five thousand citizens. He plays in the Swiss national league and says that after soccer, squash is one of the most popular sports in Liechtenstein and so articles often appear in the two national daily newspapers. Add in the hiking and skiing and the only thing that bothers Heath about life in the tiny Alpine principality is the scary fact that women only got the right to vote there in 1984.
CAN YOU KAZOO?
Earlier this year, Barbara Stewart appeared on Martha Stewart’s television show to play the kazoo. It was on her self-proclaimed National Kazoo Day. Stewart has been on with Conan O’Brien and the Tonight Show. She is campaigning to make the kazoo the national instrument. She leads the Kazoophony band. She flogs her book that came out last fall, The Complete How To Kazoo User’s Guide & Practitioner’s Manual (“Lesson #1: Hum, don’t blow.”) and her special tee-shirts on her website.
It is all hummingly over the top. The last time we bumped into Stewart, she was one of the founders of junior squash in the 1970s. From her home in Rochester, she helped create the USSRA’s junior committee and start the national girls’ championships in 1977. (She even claims that there were national girls championships before the first official one in 1977; anyone have something to add?) Stewart later worked on a project with Hashim Khan, trying to make a sequel to his classic 1967 tome Squash Racquets: The Khan Game. Stewart’s book and website are very cheeky; she mentions kazooing on a skidoo and while doing yoga, but she sadly does not refer to the true craft of kazooing while playing squash.