Briars Exit

Twenty-five Grover Clevelands. That is what safecracker Jimmy Willy walked away with on a rain-swept evening in Allston, Mass last weekend in the biggest legal heist in U.S. squash history. 

It was the finals of the Players Cup Championships, or as the marvelous mandarins of squash dubbed it, Tha Play-ahThe four-wall permanent glass court at Harvard’s Murr Center was intimately jammed, which was nice after attending some not-quite-sold-out finals in some other tournaments. James Willstrop v. David Palmer was a good, riveting match, though a bit too stroppy and churlish—but that was to be expected considering that $25,000 was on the line. (By the way, the $1,000 bill, which was last printed in 1945, did bear the beaming face of Buffalo’s great son Grover Cleveland. He was the last man to get married while in the White House, at the age forty-nine, she was twenty-one—that would have been a nice media feeding frenzy today.)

The 2008 McWil Courtwall Players Cup Championship might have been the last men’s pro singles event in the Hub for a while. It looks like the bean counters have perhaps run out of beans in Beantown. The city has hosted twenty-six of the now-defunct Boston Open, four Tournament of Champions, the U.S. Open from 1998 to 2006 and now this. Besides New York, no either city comes close to Boston’s support of men’s pro singles (Philadelphia comes in third, and it has hosted just a dozen pro events and only one portable court tournament. Just one portable court event in Philly v. seventeen in Boston. It is simply shocking.) Boston might be understandably a little tapped out.

The big gossip at the tournament was about Gawain Briars’ sudden dismissal after eight and a half years at the chief executive of the PSA. Retirement. Resignation. Retrenching. Whatever.

Gawain was not beloved, but he did have some startling yardstick numbers behind his PSA work: annual prize money from $1.5 million to $3.2 and the number of annual events from 100 to 371. I spent two hours talking with him one afternoon in Bermuda last December and found out that behind his lawyerly bluster—”I’m not paid to achieve harmony in the game”—there was a fascinating CV.

Gawain lived in Lagos from 1958 to 1968, when his father was the head of an international school there; he tried to organize a Nigerian Open tournament a few years ago. He was married four years ago to Susan, a medical doctor; they honeymooned in Rome. He was ranked as high as four in the world in the mid-1980s. Was it hard playing Jahangir? “Well, I’d rather play him today, that is for sure.”

And perhaps, most importantly, he shares the same birthday as I do. In fact he is just the second person I have ever met with my birthday. Different years, of course. We share the great day with such folks as Dorothea Dix, Maya Angelou, Heath Ledger and Robert Downey, Jr. Now that would be a harmonious party.

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Naval Academy

Two thousand three hundred and twenty-nine. That was how many people were clicked in as they filed into Halsey Field House at the United States Naval Academy to watch a squash match at the national intercollegiate individuals last weekend. It was a record crowd for a U.S. squash match. 

Nobody paid to get into the match. This was not the case at the half dozen Al-Ahram’s, the epic men’s pro tournament plopped in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza. The Al-Ahram boasted five thousand seats. And about two thousand of the people at the Navy match were not there on their own accord. Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, they were politely ordered to go in their uniforms and cheer for Tucker George, a Navy senior, who was facing Trinity’s sophomore Supreet Singh in the opening round of the 2008 intercollegiates. There were bagpipes and the singing of the Marine Corps anthem, “Semper Fidelis,” and a whole lot of cheering. When George won the opening game from an overawed Singh, a third of the crowd surged out of their seats—clearly thinking that the match was over (one game; wouldn’t that be nice?).

Willing or unwilling, knowledgable or just enthusiastic, the crowd was more than historic. It reminded everyone of the importance of the military academies in the American squash world—programs lost in the shuffle from hardball to softball. West Point squash disappeared after the 1988 season, and Navy squash sorely missed Army’s absence. Nothing inspires institutional support more than a rivalry and very little compares to Army v. Navy. But with a 2007 addition, Navy now has twelve courts, including two three-wall glass ones.

This was not the first time the men’s intercollegiates came to Annapolis; it had hosted the men in 1955 (Roger Campbell), 1966 (Howard Coonley), 1973 (Peter Briggs), 1977 (Mike Desaulniers), 1984 (Kenton Jernigan) and 1993 (Adrian Ezra). In fact, current Navy coach Craig Dawson easily recalled the 1973 edition, because as a senior playing #2 on the Navy squad, he managed to reach the semis before losing to Briggs. (West Point also hosted the men’s intercollegiates seven times.)

But it was the first time it has hosted both the men and the women and what a brilliant idea to try to break the U.S. squash crowd record. It had been around one thousand two hundred, but it was hardly official and with military precision, every person who entered the fieldhouse was counted. When you add in many of the CSA players and coaches who were already in the building, the total number was easily over twenty-four hundred.

The crowd renewed my appreciation for the Academies’ contribution to U.S. squash. Besides all the great players to come out of the Academies (everyone from Russ Ball, Sr. to Walter Oehrlein to Scott Ryan to Sunil Desai), great coaches (both Paul Assaiante and Satinder Bajwa coached at Army and Art Potter was the giant at Navy) and great teams (Navy won three national team titles, the only school besides Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Trinity to do so), they also have provided two necessary things:

For one, they threw a gritty, hardworking ball into the mainly-preppy squash court—Dawson told me that Potter held challenge matches every day, that practice always meant a challenge match. And they could access federal largese and support. Maybe if the Academies were stronger (whither Air Force?), we might get governmental money the way that the other major squash federations do? Or at least a court at the White House? Semper Fi.

Richmond 2008

Four years ago, there was just one thing that came to mind when you heard the phrase Richmond squash: the Price-Bullington Invitational. The PBI is a classic amateur tournament that features top college kids who are flown in from their campuses to the Country Club of Virginia for the weekend. (Started in 1970, it was originally the Holt Bullington, named in honor of the eponymous Richmond junior who died the year before.) Otherwise the Virginia SRA was molasses-slow world, with not a single twenty-one-foot court in Richmond and barely any league or junior play. Richmond’s main claim to fame was that it was the home of the good reverend, Bob Hetherington, who was a top amateur forty years ago. And then everything changed. 

Ted Price, the Old Dominion squash kingpin who now shares the honors of the PBI name, brought in journeyman teaching pro Gus Cook (France; Lakeshore Athletic in Chicago; Birmingham Athletic in Detroit; Meadow Mill in Baltimore), and Richmond squash blossomed. Cook started five days before Christmas in 2003 and a month later he had organized a pro squash tournament, the Virginia Open. Each winter Cook added a PSA star to the prize money level and increased the budget (from $19,000 in 2004 to $175,000 in 2008). After two years at the Country Club of Virginia, Cook moved the tournament down the road to the home of the Spiders, the University of Richmond. For the next two years, the tournament had a glass court plopped down in the Tyler Haynes Commons, UR’s student union which famously had fifty-foot high windows looking out on the a tree-banked pond.

While this was going on, Richmond squash exploded. The CCV put in three softball court and other clubs began the process of converting or adding courts. One intriguing new club is the Wood n Racket, which is a half hour outside Richmond on the way to Charlottesville. Besides some grass tennis courts, it has one squash doubles court and plans for a second one.

This week the Davenport Open, as the pro tournament is now called, is up the hill from the pond, at UR’s old Millhiser gym. It has a 400-seat capacity, cozy and slightly quaint with the worn brick and wooden rafters. With the huge draw (twelve of the top twenty in the world), it feels like just another big international tournament: The McWil truck (”Glass Court on World Tour”) is sitting outside; Martin Bronstein is interviewing the players as they leave the court after their match; local shutter babe Patricia Lyons is snapping shots; and Jean Delierre is tremendously busy fixing cameras and snaking cable lines for his television filming. Fans from as close as Norfolk and Chapel Hill and as far away as Baltimore and New York are coming into town.

Only at times it is a sleepy scene, like when there was a fifteen-minute gap between matches on the first afternoon, and Ramy and Hesham Ashour got on court to hit. Ramy was about as casual as possible: in his socks, borrowing one of his brother’s racquets and his long sweats dragging underfoot. Yet he still looked, with his flicks and flips, like a magician.

The biggest excitement so far has been the opening round match of Patrick Chifunda v. Cam Pillay. Chifunda is now based at CCV and running junior clinics all over town and got enormous home-crowd ovations—at introductions, after the warmup, after some of his airborne swan dives and after his match.

2008 BIDS

 

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.

Trinity v. Princeton

Last week I spent eight hours in Ferris Athletic Center. Not much in the squash world is going to keep me in one place for that long, but this was no ordinary event. It was Princeton v. Trinity, which in the past couple of seasons has become the marquee squash day in the country. 

Atlas Lives. That was two years ago. The iconic Squash Magazine cover shot, taken by Dick Druckman, of Goose Detter in full Bjorn-Borg knees-to-the-ground exultation, barely summed up the historic nature of Trinity’s victory over Princeton: a freshman saving a match ball against arguably the greatest player in intercollegiate squash history to win a five-gamer and keep Trinity’s win streak alive.

One of the reasons college squash is so absurdly exciting is that this sort of nailbiting (or “down to the fourth knuckle” as Jack Barnaby used to say) 5-4 wins have been relatively commonplace. I spent nearly a whole page (141) in my squash book detailing 5-4 dual matches, everything from Harvard outlasting Princeton in 1953 to Yale breaking Harvard’s streak in 1990. But this 2006 match, given Trinity’s streak, Yasser El Halaby’s stature and the sheer size of the crowd (just how many people were at Hemenway in February 1953?) has to make it the most amazing dual match in history.

This year, 6-3 Trinity and as the matches came in there was never really any doubt about the eventual winner. (Trinity v. Princeton was really twenty-three matches, as both teams played full squads; Trinity won 19-4.) But the scene was pretty rich, with a huge crowd numbering probably around a thousand. Hundreds of texting undergraduates filled the seats. Nervous parents and siblings stood in the balcony. People flew in for the night, people flew in for the day. Much of the Dartmouth men’s team drove down from Hanover. The Yale men’s team, led by coach Dave Talbott, came up from New Haven—they arrived so early that they even slipped onto the courts and hit some. A raft of ex-Trinity players came up from New York.

The size and the energy of the match is unparalleled in American squash. And the level is pretty good. Baset Chaudhry is something special, of course, but so are two 5 foot 7 freshmen, Randy Lim and Parth Sharma, who are not on the team just because its nickname is Bantam. Watching Simbarashe Muhwati track down ball after ball is a delight. And he plays #9. And what team like Princeton right now has had three sets of twins on its roster?

So the Trinity streak is at 176. It is going to be very close to the magic 200 number when Princeton v. Trinity square off in the winter of 2009. With only one senior on each team’s top nine squad, it will probably still be a little bit interesting.

2008 ToC

This was my tenth Bear Stearns Tournament of Champions. Every year when I head to my first match I think that this is the year when I will be blasé about it, when I will ho-hum and snigger and, with an apathetic wave of my hand, write it off as a been-there, done-that affair long past its sell-by date. 

No way. I’m the only journalist to cover all ten of ToCs since the tournament restarted in Grand Central in 1999; I think the only person besides myself who has donned the ToC media pass each of those years has been the black-clad photographer Steve Line . So it is my job to look for the new and scorn the old. Sure, the ToC is obviously on any serious squasher’s top ten Bucket List of things to see (I ask you: what is on your list?). But ten years in a row?

Absolutely. One thing that is stupendously unique about the ToC is the random passerby. No other tournament I have been to has its proximity to the real world. Most of the time, we are sequestered at a club, private or public; for the rare portable court tournaments, we are usually even more isolated, stuck in parking lots, soulless sports complexes, theatres, nightclubs, ice rinks or more squash clubs. It means that we are shut away from the ebb and flow of humanity. If you aren’t there for the squash, you aren’t there.

Only at the ToC do you get people walking by who don’t know about squash, let alone the tournament. Each day hundreds of thousands gaze at the forty-foot posters in the main hall and pass through Vanderbilt Hall on their way from 42nd Street to the main hall or vice-versa. And many of them stop and linger. I was courtside at 8am last week and a couple of people were staring at the court like it was a UFO and peering at the oversized drawsheet like it was Sanskrit poetry.

One night this year I was talking with Natalie Grainger in the midway and this kind-faced British man was walking through the station. He approached us and asked if this was a squash tournament. I said yes. He said, “Oh, my cousin runs pro tournaments in Europe.” Natalie asked who it was. He said, “oh, you probably haven’t heard of him—Andrew Shelley.”

We cracked up. Shelley, the director of WISPA , does more than run tournaments in Europe—WISPA is famous for its global reach and for playing on the northernmost and southernmost courts in the world (Norway and Argentina, wasn’t it?) and Natalie, as WISPA president, talks with him almost every day. Natalie said, “Oh, Andrew is right over there.” I thought to rush over to Andrew to warn him, so he could come up with an excuse for not telling his cousin that he was going to be in New York, but I hate to get in the middle of family.

The ToC also produces the non-random passerby, which makes for a disconcerting twist to the normal, head-down commuting pose. The ToC is the only tournament I know where there is no clear dividing line between the place where you will probably know no one and the place where you are sure to bump into someone familiar. At other tournaments, it is the parking lot or the front door to the gym. In New York, you normally never run into a friend. But, at ToC time, in swirling, hurly-burly of the subway or on Park Avenue, you serendipitously bump into a squash friend gliding past on his way to the matches.

One Response to “Serendipity”

  1. Guy Cipriano Says:
    In London when they used to run tournaments at Broadgate Oval it was a big open arena but they had the court screened off so random people couldn’t see play without paying. The PSA would probably have been wiser to let every passer-by watch , but from a distance, to promote interest.

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Bermuda

Nothing like a little sunshine with which to start the new year. A few weeks ago I sailed to Bermuda for the 2007 World Open. 

Bermuda had changed a lot from when I was last there in 1985. Tourists have stopped coming (Trimingham’s is gone from Front Street), with reinsurance minions taking their place. The black majority (descendants of slaves; emancipation came in 1834 but until the 1970s Bermuda was a segregated island) had gained power, in 1998. I took a ferry from Hamilton to one end of the island and the couple next to me were speaking Portuguese—they were a part of various twentieth-century migrations that brought families from the Azores and the Caribbean to Bermuda.

When not talking squash, the island was focusing on the 18 December general election . One spicy undercurrent was the ruling party’s undisguised hope of unilaterally declaring independence from Great Britain.

Besides the politics, it was fantastic to be back on the quaint, pink-beached, mossy-stoned island. I stayed with my fifth cousin once removed’s ex-wife (she was the only Zug in the BDA phone book) in her lovely old family place in Tucker’s Town. It was right on the third tee of the Mid-Ocean golf club and in the mornings when I would wheel my scooter down the gravel path, I’d see a couple of white dimpled balls glistening in the garden. The scooter was great. Top-speed was 35 mph, which was about as fast as you wanted to go on the curving, narrow lanes and by-ways.

The weather predictions in BDA are rather British (partly cloudy, chance of rain showers, patches of sunlight), and one afternoon coming through Flatts I ran into a serious squall. After plowing through the slanting rain for a few minutes, I pulled off, turned off the engine, parked, took off my helmet and put on my 2007 BIDS golf jacket. All this took a couple of harried minutes. I got on and drove about ten feet around a corner and there was my destination, the Bermuda SRA’s squash courts. I ducked inside. The only club in the country, the Devonshire four courts & bar offer more than shelter from the storm.

Bermuda squash is pretty good for having just sixty-odd thousand citizens and just a half dozen courts. Their national men’s team came in 26th out of 29 in the 2007 World Teams. They were anchored by a thirty-two year-old named Chase Toogood. A tennis player, Chase picked up squash his senior year at Trinity, playing #9 for the team; he then married a classmate, three-time All-American Carolyn Young. She is serious Bermudian. Both sides of her family go back to the 1630s and she was the first Young to marry a non-Bermudian in four centuries.

It was at the Devonshire courts that so many hardballing Americans encountered their first softball court. They came for the Bermuda Invitational, a hugely popular tourney jammed with legendary off-court antics and a fascinating list of winners. With the success of the World Open, perhaps they should revive it?

Bermuda Invitational Winners:

1969 Henri Salaun
1970 Colin Adair
1971 Anil Nayer
1972 Dinny Adams
1974 Colin Adair
1975 Peter Briggs
1976 Jug Walia
1977 Johan Stockenberg
1978 Jug Walia
1979 Ham Peterson
1980 Ron Beck
1981 Gordon Anderson
1982 John Frederick
1983 Alan Grant
1984 Gordon Anderson
1985 John MacRury
1986 John MacRury
1987 Satinder Bajwa
1988 Dominic Hughes
1989 Neil Stonewill
1991 Rich Sheppard

One Response to “Bermuda”

  1. David Powell Says:
    The other two courts are at the Coral Beach Club. Perfectly nice, but no air conditioning, and a little hard to keep the sand off the floors. The CBC, I understand, has just been purchased from the Wardman family, along with Horizons which they also owned, by a resort chain, so I wonder what the fate of those courts will be.

Doubles Turns 100; Squash Mag Turns 10; Media Watch

Last month the Racquet Club of Philadelphia celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of their lovely clubhouse on South Sixteenth Street. A couple of years ago we spent a lot of time on conference calls trying to come up with a way to properly acknowledge this fact, as it was also necessarily the centennial of the invention of squash doubles. 

When the RCOP built their new clubhouse in October 1907, the head professional, Fred Tompkins was stuck with a random space, forty-five by twenty-five feet, on the fourth floor: too large for a squash singles court and too small for a third racquets court. So Tompkins plastered the walls, gave his members a hard, bouncy ball and told them to go smack it.

The RCOP had its usual Jimmy Dunn weekend in mid-November, with a Tiffany cocktail party and a black-tie dinner dance to celebrate the clubhouse centennial. But nary a word about dubs. Our US Squash conference calls came to naught and now the infinitely greater game moves into its second century with no acknowledgement of the last one hundred years. And even no recognition of Tompkins. Dunn, Jock Soutar—they have their tournaments at the RCOP each fall. But Tompkins is not a name to be found.

Squash Mag Turns Ten

Ninety years behind is Squash Magazine. The Seattle rag first appeared in October 1997 and in this month’s issue celebrated both its tenth birthday and its one hundredth issue. There is a lot to praise, for Squash Mag is clearly the world’s best squash publication.

I get asked a lot of the “Where Are They Now?” questions about squash people and for Squash Mag’s longtime art director and gonzo journalist Randall Scott, the journey has been pretty interesting. He and his family moved from Washington state to Washington city and a year ago he set up his own art gallery on 14th Street near Logan Circle. No more Monkey Squash or Hardball Revolution, for Randall Scott is a pretty highfalutin’, chardonnay-sippin’, hipster scene.

Media Watch IV: CCQ

I just got a copy of the newest issue of Country Club Quarterly, a new glossy magazine published in Westchester, NY. It is a whip-smart, not-so-little mag, one hundred and fourteen pages (Bernie Williams on the cover; Bill Murray on the back page) and loaded with ads and Chi Chi Ubina, an old NYC pal, snappin’ a bunch of photos.

The main point of CCQ is that Georgetta Lordi Morque penned a long piece on squash and paddle tennis (platform tennis). Morque is the daughter of the great Joe Lordi, the old squash tennis and New York Athletic Club giant for whom the memorial squash invitational was named. Her article quotes me, so you know it is good, but it also had sweet shots of Julian Illingworth by Jay Prince and Jonathan Power by Ben nCollier  and a vintage paddle photo from thirty years ago that has more than a hundred people watching the match. Ah, paddle in the winter sun. Those were the days.

2007 U.S. Open; Whippanong; SquashSmarts; Media Watch

The United States Open rocked New York. Again. Literally. Twenty years ago, Tom and Hazel Jones hosted the Open at the Palladium, a night club on 14th Street. Now the Open was back in Gotham, kicking it live at the Roseland Ballroom. 

Roseland Ballroom is a classic rock-and-roll venue, up on 52nd Street, just off Broadway and a few blinking blocks above Times Square. Originally built as an ice-skating rink in 1922, Rosalind was converted in 1956 into a ballroom. In the cavernous lobby, you can see a list in bronze of the hundreds of married couples who first met at a Roseland dance. Christopher Walken starred in a 1977 Merchant & Ivory film set there. But it also has been the site of some serious rock and roll: the B52s were playing there a few weeks after the Open.

Roseland is a battered, funky hulk of a place. Ben Collier, one of the official photographers for the Open, and I wandered behind the glass court and found a lot of long, ghostly corridors leading nowhere. One bartender who had worked there for seventeen years told me about all the parties and shows; his best tip was a $100 one at a Nirvana show. Just like with the Palladium, it was pretty cool to see the word “squash” up in the marquee.

The 2007 Open had a rough-hewn, if hip feel. The Printing House, the West Village boxing-gym-cum-squash-club hosted the early rounds, with construction on a fifth Gordie Anderson court going on during matches next door. (They should have put the glass court on the Printing House’s amazing rooftop.) The players boarded at a hotel in the Lower East Side. The hotel was owned by an Egyptian but his extra care did not help, as two Pommies, James Willstrop and Nick Matthew bounced out Karim Darwish and Ramy Ashour in the sold-out semis. Matthew took the final. Makes you want to dance.

Whip It, Farmer

My old friend and avid reader of this column, Gaetano P. Cipriano, just opened the first hardball doubles office court in the country. The Whippanong Club, using a commonly-used Ramapo Indian word, is in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey, just off the confluence of Interstates 80 and 287. In 1963 Cipriano’s father Peter bought a rice farm (believe it or not) there and converted it into an enormous office park. One building, put up in 1970 and added onto six years later, housed a medical supplies warehouse. Last year, the warehouse emptied and Cipriano took the opportunity to raise the roof and drop in a doubles court. It is a beautiful Anderson court, though Cipriano forgot to figure out a way to reach it from his offices on the other side of the building and he’s go to go outside and around.

Still, it was pretty cool to see the facility on its opening night. There was some mean firepower on the court (Briggs, Clothier, Anderson, White and Cipriano’s son, the reigning intercollegiate doubles champ Peter) and great conversation off court. I talked with Don Tansey, a Yalie who played on both the tennis and squash teams for all four years of college in the early 1970s and yet his coach for both sports, the legendary John Skillman, still didn’t know his name. It was, as for everyone else, “Farmer.”

BestShotBall

I missed Cipriano hosting a dinner after the Whippanong Club opening, as I flew down the Turnpike to North Philly to go to the SquashSmarts celebration opening the new Lenfest Center. I had been there a few weeks before, but to see the startling, glass and steel building, 52,000 square feet, $10 million, eight squash courts lit up at night was pretty spectacular. Everything was oversized: the ceiling in the basketball court, the sunflowers on each table, the video screen on the wall, the Moroccan chicken with pomegranate emulsion and the crowd—hundreds and hundreds of supporters of the country’s second urban squash program to get its own clubhouse. With StreetSquash’s coming on line in Harlem in ten months, we’ll have three and this idea is not even a dozen years old.

Media Watch III—New Yorker and Wall Street Journal

John Cassidy did a major profile of Victor Niederhoffer in the New Yorker last month. Accompanied by a very purple, full-page portrait of Niederhoffer, the piece ran through the usual, now famous litany of his eclectic collections in his Wilton, Conn. home (folk art paintings) and goofy habits (shoeless in the home, not reading newspapers). It also had the oft-told stories of Niederhoffer’s start with squash at Harvard and had a rare photo of a pasty Vic holding what looks like the old Mass SRA state singles trophy (which he won in 1963 and 1964). Cassidy evidently had read my squash book but he also dug out a lot from old issues of Sports Illustrated and the New York Times Magazine, as well as correspondence with executives at SI and Time (there were hints of suits being filed).

What Cassidy did not probably see is an article that was exactly the same as this one that I wrote in 1998 for Icon Thoughtstyle magazine, a short-lived New York rag started by a Princeton ‘94. They contracted with me to pay $3,000 for a profile of Niederhoffer (and ended never paying and then going under a year after it ran). Like Cassidy, I ran through Vic’s eccentricities and his squash career and ended with his latest (1997) flameout. The New Yorker piece coincided with news of another collapse. Niederhoffer has made and lost a half dozen fortunes. There is no doubt Vic will return.

Dan Ackman, a freelance journalist, has written another piece about squash in the Wall Street Journal. This time it was about all the Egyptians who have been lately dominating the men’s pro tour. It totally missed the fact that the reason Egypt has so many good players today is that it always has had good players (Amr Bey in the 1930s, Mahmoud el Karim in the 1940s, Abou Taleb in the 1960s and most obviously Ahmed Barrada in the 1990s). The first three won a total of thirteen British Opens and Barrada was an electrifying, shoe-tongue-adjusting, Great Pyramid-rocking superstar. Ackman says Egypt is “not known for its sporting traditions.” Well, in squash that just isn’t true.

2 Responses to “Roseland; Whippanong; SquashSmarts; Media Watch III”

  1. jgibbons Says:
    nice read….what happened to Denver’s Gates Rubber dubs court?
  2. Ted Marmor Says:
    A varied and engaging piece, Jim, Jr. I sometimes find the USSRA stuff about credit cards and such a boor but your blog engages.

West Wing; McQueenie

Sojourning in the nation’s capital has made me slightly more attuned to the political, despite the quirky fact that because I live in the District of Columbia I do not have the right to vote. (This taxation without representation system is still happening at home two hundred and twenty-four years after the Boston Tea Party.) One thing I have seen closeup is that The West Wing was a very strong television show, at least because it covered squash.

Covered might be a little strong. There were three mentions. West Wing started seven years ago last month, and today is the four-year anniversary of the original airing of one of West Wing’s great episodes: “The Dogs of War.” It was season five, episode two. Ryan Pierce made his appearance as Josh Lyman’s intern. Pierce was played by Jesse Bradforda young actor most well-known for Steven Soderburgh’s King of the Hill from 1993 and Flags of Our Fathers from 2006 (he also appeared in Presumed Innocent in 1990 with both Bradley Whitford (Josh) and John Spencer (Leo), which is presumably how he made his way to West Wing a decade later).

Pierce tried to ingragiate himself with Josh by playing the name game from their mutual alma mater, Harvard. He mentioned Elliott Cabot and then Hamilton Pew. Ham Pew, he said, played on the squash team. “Ham’s squash team went 9-0 in ‘89. Ham was All Ivy three years in a row.” Josh said, “I wasn’t much into squash.”

Not to parse this too much, but Harvard, which lately has had the leanest schedule in college squash, usually has more than nine dual matches in a season (last year they played eleven matches; most teams play about thirteen or fourteen; Trinity plays more than twenty). In addition, the real kick is All American, as being All Ivy has never really been the resume headliner, especially in the past Trinity-dominated decade when it has been a serious consolation prize. And Harvard did not go undefeated in 1989, losing to Yale in a celebrated match at the nationals.

In two episodes from season six, squash reappeared. (In a October 2004 episode, there was a quick mention of squash in a much different context. When the White House was trying to get the Palestinian Authority president to arrest a terrorist named Nasan, Toby said: “He’s not going to punish Nasan. He’s rounded up terrorists before. He walks them past Al Jazerra for show and then puts them under house arrest in a palace with a squash court and high-speed internet access.”) In December 2004 a writer, Roger Grant approached Squash Magazine about getting squash lingo for a March 2005 episode. Amy Duchene, Will Carlin and I shoveled a truckload of verbiage, slang and nomenclature his way. Will even turned his offerings into one of his back-page columns for the magazine.

The episode, “A Good Day,” featured Mark Feuerstein (Princeton, ‘93) as Clifford Calley. Clifford and the Speaker of the House had a regular Thursday squash game. In the first scene, Clifford says “This won’t affect my serve. I’m going to slaughter you tomorrow—straight games.” A little clunky, but okay. (The Speaker replies, “Save it for the court, dude.” Now THAT is more typical.)

The second scene has Clifford and CJ laying out the plan to fool the Speaker. “This is where squash comes in,” says Clifford.

“The sport or the vegetable?” says CJ. (Is that joke old enough by now?)

“I punish the Speaker every Thursday in a standing match…I shut him out with my awesome forehand….Here’s how it will go: ‘Oh, nice nick’—squash talk.”

“He says, ‘thanks, let please,’—I played a little squash….Might work—going to have to let him win a game.”

“No mercy.”

Yes, funnelled from the great minds at Squash Magazine right into the first great show of our new century. Ah, squash talk.

 

Jim McQueenie

Jim McQueenie died last month at the age of seventy-four. Like Doug McLaggan, who died in April, McQueenie was another product of the Edinburgh Sports Club who worked as a squash pro at clubs around the U.S. and Canada. Born in Long Niddrey, Scotland, McQueenie ended up at the Indianapolis Athletic Club, one of the great Midwest clubs (it hosted both what is now the U.S. Open and the Tournament of Champions in the mid-1960s; it has struggled to overcome a 1992 fire).

McQueenie was a very good player (he was a top-ten professional on the hardball circuit for more than a decade), but he will be remembered more for his efforts in bridging the age-old divide between amateurs and pros. As president of the North American Professional Squash Racquets Association (which became the WPSA which amalgamated with the pro softball tour to become the PSA), he elected women members for the first time and helped secure the Bancroft contract for the USSRA in 1975, the first corporate sponsorship deal in the history of the USSRA. Most of all, he became the first pro to be elected to the USSRA executive, in 1979, a watershed moment for the American game.

2 Responses to “West Wing; McQueenie”

  1. John Nixon Says:
    Thanks for the mention of Jim McQueenie. It should be noted, however, that the Indianapolis Athletic Club is no longer struggling to overcome the effects of the fire – the IAC closed and its building sold to a developer several years ago. Most of the building has been converted into condominiums. Rumor has it that one, or at best two, squash courts may have survived the conversion, for use by residents, but no one seems to know for sure.
  2. Taylor Ricketts Says:
    Leave it to Zug to extract these excellent squash references from one of the most intelligent, relevant TV shows ever. I would love to see repeats of this from Seinfeld!

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