February is the quiet month in American sports. Except for the squash community, when it is nuts, with two or three marquee events each weekend. Living in Washington, one tournament I like to catch is Baltimore’s famous—or rather infamous—BIDS.
Baltimore has a rich squash history and none more interesting than its fierce, sometimes absurd involvement with hardball doubles. There was the brothers tandem of Joe and Jim Lacy who won numerous state and club championships despite both being left-handed. The city’s first court appeared in 1937 at the now-defunct University Club, but the court was built not at the U Club’s clubhouse on Charles Street but in a hotel around the corner on West Madison Street (it disappeared in 1964). In 1939 the first Baltimore Invitational Doubles was held and it has occurred sporadically ever since; the 2008 edition was called the 65th, but in reality it was more like the 40th (war years; squabbling amongst Baltimore’s clubs; and they like to count the ten times the city has hosted the national doubles).
The highlight of this year’s BIDS was the action at Meadow Mill. Players got to watch an exhibition between Wade Johnstone and John White on Saturday afternoon, followed by dual match between Navy and Franklin & Marshall. This was one of the first (or the first?) on-purpose neutral-site college squash matches. The varsity were followed by Navy’s junior varsity playing against Meadow Mill; half of the JV were women—Navy is planning to add a women’s team in the fall.
The BIDS has a notorious reputation for fun. Players come from around the country. At the Saturday party, I talked to friends from Texas, California, a half dozen East Coast states and even a couple of guys from DC (we have no doubles court here). The BIDS program, compiled by John Voneiff, was packed with gossip, lists and history. Voneiff lovingly recounted a number of classic Southey Miles stories.
Miles, a BIDS bon vivant, was the head referee at the 1960 BIDS and the stress of the match and some of his bad calls led him to head to the bar after the fourth game to fortify himself with one of his trademark cold gin martinis; he never returned and, Voneiff says, no one saw him for five days. Two years later at the BIDS he received, Voneiff colorfully wrote, “a nasty spider bite while mistaking a giant flower arrangement in the foyer for a urinal.” Miles died in 1973 of a cerebral hemorrhage while on vacation in Austria at the age of fifty-two. His eponymous award, interestingly enough, has not been given out at the BIDS for nineteen years. Where have the spiders gone?
The 2008 BIDS added two more members to the Maryland State SRA’s squash hall of fame: Joe Fitzpatrick and Geoff Kennedy. They joined fourteen other Maryland greats (as well as four honorary members). Fitz was in rare form, parading around the party with a seven-week-old, perfectly composed, bow-tie clad grandson in his arms. Good to get them locked in early.