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!

USQ HQ Move and Retreat; World’s Greatest Collection

This summer has been a one of transition for American squash. The USSRA moved its headquarters from Bala Cynwyd to New York. The association was founded in 1904 and yet until 1974 its official headquarters rotated every two years, to the home or office of the new president. HQ was in Buffalo in 1967-1969 when Seymour Knox was president; then it was in New York when Stew Brauns ran it in 1969-71; and then it was in Indianapolis when Lloyd Jacobs took over in 1971—three cities in three years. 

This hopscotching ended in early 1975 when the association hired its first executive director, Darwin Kingsley, who opened an office in the Bala Cynwyd suburb of Philadelphia. They were in a small house, above the offices for the Patrick Gallagher’s Sons Taxi of Bala Cynwyd. (The Gallagher brothers were a famous institution on the Main Line: Patrick and his identical brother Francis married two sisters, and the four of them and their fourteen children lived together in a six-bedroom house; their taxi company, founded in 1910, closed just last month after Patrick died.)

In 1989, after slowly expanding and gobbling up room after room in the Gallagher’s offices, the USSRA moved to a larger house at 23 Cynwyd Road. (The house was bought by monies largely donated by the Pierce family.) For eighteen years, the little nondescript clapboard was the fulcrum for a growing game. The executive director had his desk in one living room (Kingsley, Craig Brand, Palmer Page and now Kevin Klipstein, as well as acting executive director Mike Hymer). Anne Farrell commanded from her desk in the other living room and after 2000 Steve Gregg had a desk near hers. On the second floor, Jean McFeeley, Teresa Myers and Jeannie Shanahan (Farrell’s sister) kept track of members from Alaska to Florida.

23 Cynwyd was not the most luxuriously appointed office, to be sure. The first thing Page did when he moved in was rip up the rugs. The staff was not allowed to use the third floor (due to a local ordinance that limited the office space based on parking space, which was tiny and horribly tight—that hedge always seemed to be jumping out at me), so the staff snuck boxes up there for storage. I fondly remember climbing through a hole to get up the barricaded stairs and into the third floor to find some papers. The basement was the other treasure trove, where thirty-two years of extra tournament tee-shirts, forgotten plaques and Stew Braun’s famous squash necktie collection resided in a spectral gloom.

Now the USSRA is in hip, open-plan, bright digs on 38th and Eighth Avenue, just four blocks south of Times Square. Quite a different set of lunch options.

At the same time, the staff has completely revolved, with Conor O’Malley (formerly of Chicago and the founder of MetroSquash ) and Bill Buckingham (formerly of New Haven) now commuting to the Manhattan HQ. And the name has changed. It was the Philadelphia Association from 1904 to 1920; the United States Squash Racquets Association from 1920 to 2007; and now US Squash. Despite the grammatical error of no periods for the abbreviation, it is a long-overdue change.

US Squash Retreat

Last month I spent a weekend in the Hamptons with two dozen other squash folks to strategize for US Squash. It was a fascinating retreat, graciously hosted by Jim Marver and attended by people from the UK (Christian Leighton, the World Squash Federation CEO), Bermuda (Ross Triffitt, the tournament director for the 2007 men’s World Open ) and across the country. We brainstormed and debated metrics and argued about the squash ecosystem and contemplated stick rates and spotted some hedgehogs. We discussed facts like there are 51,103 courts in the world, including two in Belarus, one in Tonga and three in Panama (there are 3,315 courts in the U.S.) and that there are about 256,000 Americans who play the game each month or at least who read this blog.

The only time we emerged from behind the famous Hampton hedgerows was when we went to the Elmaleh-Stanton Squash Center in Southampton. The five-court complex (including the first hardball doubles court in eastern Long Island) just opened this summer. It is at the Southampton rec center, which meant that hundreds of kids shooting hoops or playing soccer on the other side of the glass wall could be exposed to our great game.

World’s Greatest Collection

Recently I was emailing with a colleague in Great Britain, Alan Chalmers, who runs the Tennis Bookshop, the world’s leading purveyor of rare books about squash (and other racquet sports). We were talking about Melbourne, Australia, and he wrote, “Well, of course, you have been to see Bert Armstrong’s museum?” and though I spent two weeks in Melbourne a few years ago, even dining in what used to be a squash court at Armstrong’s club, the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club , I had missed hearing about him.

It turns out that Armstrong probably has the greatest collection of squash memorabilia in the world. About twenty years ago (he is sixty-six) he started collecting old racquets from friends who played on the squash court he built at his house. Today he owns about eight hundred racquets. There are nearly two hundred different brand names from twenty-four countries. His earliest bat dates from 1890 (a Salter Aldershot). He owns racquets made of ash, bamboo, willow, cane, graphite, steel, aluminum, composite and kevlar; dozens are brand-new, mint-condition, still in wrapping. One not in wrapping is Geoff Hunt’s Stellar, which he used to win the 1981 British Open, arguably the most thrilling British Open in history.

He owns just about everything to do with squash: first-day cover stamps, tankards, banners, neckties (bet Armstrong wants Stew Braun’s collection!), mirrors, postcards, videos, posters, money clips, badges, spoons, a racquet photograph frame, a 1907 trophy. He owns a handwritten, signed letter from Sir Donald Bradman, cricket’s Barry Bonds (without steroids or a helmet), telling how he won the 1939 South Australian squash championship.

Bert owns books. Browsing at Ebay, flea markets, antique shops and the occasional visit to book towns like Hay-on-Wye, Armstrong has amassed nearly two hundred books (nearly half were published in the 1970s). He has the 1901 Eustace Miles, both the British and U.S. editions; he has a signed leather-bound book of Heather McKay that was produced in an edition of eight. He has every book by Jonah Barrington’s (our game’s most prolific champion-turned-author). He even bought a copy of the galley to my book on Ebay.

The usual questions are: what does your wife think (Jo is also a collector, or porcelain, sewing implements, etc. and a squash player, so she understands the collecting yen) and what is the longterm future of the collection (there is a faint hope that there might be a squash museum at Kooyong).

Next time I am Down Under, Bert, I am there.

One Response to “HQ Move; US Squash Retreat; World’s Greatest Collection”

  1. Guy Cipriano Says:
    Jimbo- interesting stuff as always.
    What happened to the stuff in Treddy Ketcham’s apartment? Who has it and who’s in charge of getting it all catalogued? I was only there once and I remember that the man had absolutely everything saved about squash for maybe 50 years. I surely hope that somebody with a love of the game like you or maybe even the USSRA gets that material and treats it with kid gloves for posterity. The Hall of Fame would probably be the right repository archive.
    God Bless Tredwell. He’s missed. One of the finest men I ever met.

Pan Am Games; John Friel; Episcopal Academy

Ho-hum. Another Pan American Games. More medals for American squash players. From all the desultory coverage in the mainstream American media, you probably missed it. I was in Manchester for the 2002 Commonwealth Games and Great Britain was agog—front-page, above-the-fold, top-of-the-hour, breaking-news coverage. People were lusting after my press pass. The Queen came for a squash match.

Here: nothing. Forty-two nations, five thousand athletes and nothing until C-7. 

The Pan Am Games were first held in Buenos Aires in 1951. Squash became a medal sport in the 1995 Mar del Plata, Argentina Games (silver for Demer Holleran and silver for the women’s team); and subsequently in Winnipeg in ‘99 (Power’s last-minute withdrawal, Marty Clark’s infamous meltdown and silver again for Demer and for the women); and Santo Domingo, DR in 2003 (Latasha Khan getting gold, as did the women’s team and Preston Quick getting bronze).

Last month the XV Rio Games brought in the best individual haul for U.S. squash: gold for Natalie Grainger and silver for Julian Illingworth (who, by the way, is now ranked 55 in the world). But there was more disappointment in the teams (silver for the defending champion women and no medal, for the fourth straight time, for the men).

Guadalajara, Mexico will be the site of the XVI Games in 2011. Will anyone in the U.S. care? If the Pan Am Games are supposed to be, like the Commonwealth Games, a key stepping stone to getting into the Olympics, maybe we should try a different river, because this one is pretty dry.

Friel

A few months ago I got an enormous box in the mail from the great granddaughter of John F. Friel. It contained a treasure trove of material about the first great American-born squash pro.

In 1899 at age seventeen Friel joined the Racquet Club of Philadelphia and when they opened a squash court the following year, he became the pro. He worked there till he retired in February 1951. Friel coached national champions like John Miskey, William Freeland and Stan Pearson, Sr. The “lank, langorous” Friel, as the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin called him, played in the first pro squash tournament in the country, in 1905 Huntingdon Valley Country Club, where he lost to Alfred Ellis in the finals 12-15, 15-11, 15-12, 18-17. (There were five in the draw; a dozen amateurs played in an accompanying draw; Ellis got $45, Friel got $30.)

A few tidbits emerged from a tattered scrapbook. More than three hundred people came to watch the finals of a Pennsylvania state singles tournament at the RCOP (Stan Pearson outlasting Danny Hutchinson in five; Hutchinson contested a let, which scandalized the crowd: it was, one newspaper reported, “most unusual. One constantly hears between opponents in squash racquets, ‘I was in your way that time; take a let on it,’ and invariably the reply, ‘No, not at all; I could not have played the ball; good shot.’”). The Cynwyd Club won a Philadelphia league title in one division or another from 1914 into the 1940s, a remarkable run. The original trophy for the national professional championship (now called the Tournament of Champions) was the Harry Passon. (The only thing I could find on Passon was that he was a Jewish basketball player in the 1920s in Philadelphia.). Friel also moonlighted in 1917-18 at the Racquet Club of St. Louis. A ticket in the dedans for the 16 March 1914 world championship court tennis match of George Covey v. Jay Gould cost $30 (about $625 today). That winter a woman, Judith Lytton of England (Sir Neville’s wife), broke the gender barrier at the RCOP when she slipped in to play a court tennis match. (She beat her opponent, the same Danny Hutchinson, 6-0, 6-4.). Lytton was quite a woman—she also scandalized France by playing in men-only court tennis clubs there too.

Barring women was not the only rule at the RCOP. At the first national squash championships, held in October 1907 at the RCOP, reporters were, as was traditional, banned from the clubhouse. That was fine, one newspaperman wrote, but the club would not even telephone in the results. So he had to persuade one of the trainers in the athletic department to call him about the semifinals. This was most unusual, he wrote: “The members of the various cricket clubs are most considerate in their treatment of reporters, who are in quest of news, and often go to considerable trouble to make sure that the correct reports are secured.” The reporter gladly added that John Miskey won by default over F.H. Bates and C.B. Jennings beat H. Atlee 15-4, 18-14.

Episcopal

Speaking of Philadelphia squash, an article of mine appeared in Connections, the magazine of  Episcopal Academy. It was a history of EA’s vaunted squash program. The boys’ team began in the fall of 1930; the girls got a varsity team in 1988. Just this spring the girls won the national high school championships and for the first time in history, the current national junior boys and girls champions, Todd Harrity and Logan Greer, go to the same school.

The boys can claim to be the greatest high school squash program in the country. They’ve won twenty-four Inter-Ac league tiles (arguably the hardest interscholastic league) and six boys have won the national junior title. In addition, five alums so far have gone on to win the national singles title. Doubles-wise, it is not such a bad record, with five later national title winners. Add in pros (and pro tournament directors) like Maurice Heckscher, ‘60 and John Nimick ‘77 and Tom Page ‘77; former U.S. Squash CEO Palmer Page ‘68; and former big-name coaches: Tom Poor, Darwin Kingsley, Diehl Mateer, ‘46 and Demer Holleran.

Is there another school that can match up for sustained greatness? For comparison, Haverford School, my alma mater and Episcopal’s traditional rival, has had thirty-seven Inter-Ac titles, five national junior champions, four future national singles champions and four future national doubles champions. A half dozen prep schools in New England have solid records. But since there was no official national team championship until four years ago, all those unofficial national titles that EA and Haverford claimed (and Choate Invitational wins and victories over colleges at the national five-man) are perhaps too vague to count. So individual national junior titles might be the only barometer and EA has eight, which for now is the best: Jim Zug, Sr., ‘58, Billy Morris, ‘61 (who beat Maurice Heckscher ‘60 in the finals), Gil Mateer, ‘73, Dave McNeely, ‘96, Louisa Hall, ‘00, Trevor McGuinness, ‘06, Logan Greer, ‘07 and Todd Harrity, ‘09.

I talked to a couple of older alums, including Has Griffin, ‘39 and Charley Brinton, ‘37. The first thing Charley (note his preferred spelling) said to me when I told him I wanted to talk about EA squash was that now I finally learned where he had gone to high school (on p. 101 of the book I mistakenly said he went to Penn Charter). Brinton told me his nickname was “Pee-Wee” at EA, since he was tiny as a youngster. In one match against Penn Charter he was over a foot shooter and a hundred pounds lighter than his opponent. Brinton played number one and was captain all four years he was in high school, something unequalled in American squash history. (How many times is a freshman the captain?) It was not always a cakewalk: his sophomore year he was down 10-3 in the fifth game of the finals of the school tournament against Al Freund, ‘35, before winning twelve of the last fourteen points.

I contacted every coach of the teams I could find. Fitz Dixon, the iconic EA figure who coached the team for a decade, died the week I was planning to call him. I did track down the son of Stuyvesant Barry, who coached the team for a single season, in 1942-43. Barry had St. Paul’s and Harvard on his resume, so he knew squash, but ice hockey was his passion. He went on to become principal of Buckingham Friends School for twenty years and he too died, at age ninety-seven, just months before I called.

I also talked with a number of younger alums and coaches, whose first words on EA squash were almost always “Terror Dome.” In the past two decades, while all other league teams (EA plays not only in the Inter-Ac but a more inclusive Mid-Atlantic Squash Association, a league Tim Kent and Wendell Chestnut founded more than a dozen years ago) have built new softball courts, EA has continued to play on their four old hardball courts. The galleries are so small and the staircase so narrow, that coaching in between games is impossible if there is a sizable crowd. “I spent a ton of effort trying to get students to come to big matches and support the team,” Kent told me “but when that would happen, I had no way of getting from the front of the gallery and down the stairs to coach any player in between games.” The brutal chill in the courts ha been a problem for decades. In 1994 water flooded into two of the courts and then froze, badly damaging the floor and walls (earning the courts the nickname the “Terror Dome” from the 1995 film Welcome II the Terrordome.)

Episcopal is moving to a new campus in Newtown Square in September 2008. Ten singles courts are planned for their new squash facility there, finally giving perhaps the country’s best high school program the country’s best high school facility.

2 Responses to “Pan Am Games; John Friel; Episcopal Academy”

  1. Nancy Borrell Says:
    Hello Jim, I am a great grandaughter of John Friel and I really enjoyed your article. Thank you so much, my family and I sure do appreciate reading about our beloved grandfather pertaining to the sport he loved so much! Blessings, Nancy Borrell
  2. anne love hall Says:
    Hi Jim, I’m Anne Hall, mother of Louisa Hall and Colby Hall. Louisa was the GU19 National Champion her last three years at Episcopal (ages 15, 16, and 17…1998, 1999, and 2000). I believe Dave McNeely was the BU19 National Champion during at least one of those years, wasn’t he? 1998? [No, Dave is an old man—he was national junior champion in 1994-96) And wasn’t Dave the National Champion in 1999 or 2000 [1999]? If so, Episcopal had two national champions in one year that year too. Loved the article in Connections! Best, Anne

The Bash; Louisville; Saturday—the novel

It was impossible not to be blown away by the CitySquash’s 4th annual, gawking, gossiping and greening Bash in June in New York. It raised $350,000. It was historic to get Jahangir Khan and Mark Talbott on court together again, more than twenty years after their watershed encounters on the WPSA hardball tour. It was just a lot of people, seven hundred and fifty-eight officially. That was eight more than the fire code limits of the Racquet & Tennis Club. There were ten year-olds, kids from CitySquash and kids from Greenwich, all dressed up, and the swishy twenty-somethings who had not been born when Jake and Mark squared off at the 1984 Boston Open and a few of the older generations who were debating, as midnight rolled past, about whether to lurch on to the after party.

I left at a quarter to twelve, in time to swing my horse out of the Seagram building before it closed, and headed south and galloped into my house at quarter past three in the morning, still wired from such an amazing evening.

Louisville

“The home of fast horses, beautiful women, excellent bourbon and tired but eager squash players.” That was the mantra of Louisville squash in the 1960s.

Jim Martin just sent me a nicely-printed history of Louisville squash, published in December 2000. Squash came to Louisville in 1930. The Wynn-Stay built two courts, both narrower than regulation (squash tennis courts?), while the Pendennis Club allowed a member to convert one of their handball courts into a squash court. The Louisville district association was founded in 1959; it hosted the Tournament of Champions in 1961 (Al Chassard won it) and the North American Open in 1972 (Sharif); and the Louisville Boat Club opened its doubles court in 1992. The history lists the winners of the Kentucky state championship, which started in 1932 and wasn’t played again until 1960 (too much bourbon or too many beautiful women?).

Fun fact: Louisville mayor Harvey Sloane (1973-77, 82-86; he narrowly lost to our favorite Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, in a 1990 senatorial race) won the state title five times

In 1963 Louisville helped create the Joe Hahn Cup, an annual inter-city match between Cincinnati, Louisville and Indianapolis. It was just singles (with a B and C divisions added in the 1970s) until a doubles match was started in 1989. The 45th annual was played this past February. I talked to a friend who played in it and it was the usual fun. Cincinnati has dominated, winning the Hahn Cup more than the other two cities combined, but it doesn’t have the fast horses, now does it?

Saturday

Ian McEwan’s new novel, On Chesil Beach, was published a couple of weeks ago in New York, and so I thought it might be time to revisit his last novel, Saturday from 2005.

As literate squash players know, Saturday has a squash match. Henry Perowne, a neurosurgeon, plays a morning game with a colleague. McEwan evidently did a ton of research about neurosurgery, as he acknowledged at the end six surgeons for allowing him to watch them in action over two years.

But McEwan thanks no squash players. It can only be because he plays himself.

Perowne’s gear is typical: permanent sweat patches on the blue shorts; grey T-shirt; squash shoes which “have a sharp smell, blending the synthetic with the animal”—or is that just a smelly sneaker? He keeps his racquet in a closet in his laundry room.

His club is on Huntley Street in Camden, in a converted nurses’ home

He plays the same guy, Jay Strauss, an American in his forties (who probably grew up on hardball one assumes) each Saturday morning. A lot of guys do that, have the weekly or biweekly game with the same person, year after year, the endemic intimacy of squash heightened even further by the familiarity each has with the other, the groove shots, the rituals, the fear of losing, the hollowness of victory.

It is casual. They leave their wallets, keys, phones up front, near the tin—no lockers and locks. They chat between games. They don’t shower afterwards.

In the first game, Strauss goes up 6-0, Perowne reels off seven straight points, but falters and Strauss wins 9-7. Strauss takes the second game 9-3, though there was a bit of a tetchy moment with a let at 8-3. After a titanic opening rally in the third game, Perowne wins the third 9-0 and the fourth 9-7.

Before the fifth, Strauss says “no pasaran” under his breath, Spanish for they shall not pass, the 1936-39 siege of Madrid. Nice touch.

At 8-7, Perowne hits a cross-court drive for a winner; Strauss wants a stroke, and Perowne thinks there wasn’t even a let there. After a discussion fraught with anger, they replay the point. Perowne loses it and the next three points.

The writing is great. McEwan nails the psychology of squash. For instance, he describes how you can go into a game drained, lacking desire, but after one point, you suddenly want to win. And he has a true passage on the game as metaphor:

“Why has he volunteered for, even anticipated with pleasure, this humiliation, this torture? It’s at moments like these in a game that the essentials of his character are exposed: narrow, ineffectual, stupid—and morally so. The game becomes an extended metaphor of character defect. Every error he makes is so profoundly, so irritatingly typical of himself, instantly familiar, like a signature, like a tissue scar or some defomation in a private place. As intimate and self-evident as the feel of his tongue in his mouth.”

Hyder, Doug McLaggan, the SWPHI

The Hyder was just played in New York again. It is the oldest continuously-held softball tournament in the country. Last September in San Francisco I saw the finalists from the first men’s draw in 1969, Graham Sharman and Dave O’Loughlin, and both men are surprised as I am about how the Hyder has grown to be a major pro event. 

Sharman and O’Loughlin were doing quite well, almost forty years after their match, and the worst physical ailment seemed to be a blister on Dave’s foot that attacked him as we left a Giants baseball game.

This year both Hyder finalists, Wael El Hindi and Shahier Razik are ranked in the top twenty-five in the world. El Hindi won 11-9 in the fifth; Razik won last year’s final in five games. When you add in past winners like U.S. Squash Hall of Famers Mo Khan and Ned Edwards and guys like Jonathon Power and Martin Heath, and you realize what quality the Hyder has attracted.

A few weeks ago I got a letter from the Met SRA , which runs the Hyder (I was on the Met SRA board for about fifteen minutes a few years ago before I moved to Washington). They listed all the annual awards that the association, one of the oldest and certainly the largest, gives out. They have nine of them, which is about a half dozen more than most district associations. One, the Ned Bigelow, even hails back to 1928, only four years after the Met SRA was founded. It has got to be the oldest squash award in the country?

McLaggan Bows Out

Doug McLaggan died at the end of April. The hard-nosed Scot bounced around as a pro at some of the top clubs in North America for thirty-odd years before retiring to Vermont. He also was a very good player and reached two Tournament of Champions finals and three Canadian Open semis. He was most known for appearing in the first live-action photographs ever published taken from the front of a court, when Life magazine did an article on Hashim Khan and the first U.S. Open in 1954 and Ralph Morris stuck his camera up by the tin.

We had a couple of fascinating telephone conversations while I was writing my history of squash.  McLaggan was interested in the history of the game and how to teach it. He co-wrote, with Laura Torbet, one of the most underrated and under-exposed books on the game,Squash: How to Play, How to Win. Sorbet by the way, is still going strong in California and has written books on everything from macrame to mopeds.

Published by Doubleday in 1978, Squash: How to Play, How to Win is a poorly-designed but magnificently-conceived book. Torbet and McLaggan interviewed two dozen of the top players and then reprinted the interviews, verbatim, as they progressed through the various aspects of the game.

A bucket load of revealing gems appear throughout the book. Charlie Ufford talked about not sleeping, because of nerves, the night before the finals of the 1951 intercollegiates (he lost). Peter Briggs hinted he might write a novel about squash, especially about the 1975 North American Open tournament held in Mexico. Diehl Mateer gave a wonderful anecdote about trick shots and Neil Sullivan from the old Atlantic Coast Championships in the 1940s. It is especially interesting because Sullivan told Mateer to not hit trick shots, to only hit rails and cross-courts, and yet a decade before Sullivan was the master of bizarre shots and was credited as the first person to perfect what is now called the Philadelphia shot.

Beyond that, there is a big appendix of champions; a long glossary (”length: used to describe a ball hit down the line or cross court that makes its second bounce and dies near the bottom of the backwall”); and a quirky scoring technique developed by Ned Bigelow. Also, the photography is excellent and probably unmatched for breadth and depth of any American book published before the portable glass court: Barbara Maltby wiping her hand on the wall, Stu Goldstein volleying, the Manhattan Squash Club being built. Though I am not sure I needed that shot of Vic Niederhoffer’s knee.

Stan Pearson Invitational

The second annual Stanley W. Pearson Hardball Invitational came off last month in Philadelphia. Run by the brothers Pearson, Eric & Duncan, it again featured a couple of dozen twenty and thirty-somethings reliving their hardball childhoods on the narrow courts at Philadelphia Cricket Club (amazing how strong hardball was just twenty years ago). The matches are serious but so is the socializing in bad plaid. Above all, the amount of nostalgic referencing is enormous—guys pulling their SX7 racquets and Merco balls out of their closets.

The tournament honors great-great uncle Stan, Sr. who won six national singles titles, a record still unbroken seventy-five years later; and great-uncle Stan, Jr., who won the 1948 singles, thus making them remarkably the only father-son duo to both win the national singles.

The SWPHI has a nice ring to it and is a fantastic idea. I just wish the Pearsons put the tournament on wide courts. Hardball on a softball court is a glorious game. With the extra two and a half feet, the crosscourt is a knife to the gut, serving is fun again and oh la la, here is my old mistress, the sweet but dangerous double boast. The hardball tour guys knew this, which is why they designed their portable glass court in the 1980s to be twenty-feet wide, rather than the traditional eighteen and a half. On wide courts, you can still wield your wooden racquet and Hunter Lott circa 1983 tournament tee-shirt, but you don’t have to worry about Philly Cricket tiring of their remaining hardball courts and tearing them down.

5 Responses to “Hyder; Doug McLaggan; SWPHI”

  1. Jim Domenick Says:
    Jim,

    Good stuff. I’m sure you probably know this, but for the first 5 years after the USSRA was organized, all the national singles champions played out of the Germantown Cricket Club in Philadelphia. And of the first 15 champions, 12 were Germantown members, including Stanley W. Pearson.

    Jim Domenick

  2. Guy Cipriano Says:
    Jimb- great articles and great insight, as always. However I think you’re dead wrong when you say that hardball on a softball court is a great game. Frankly it’s a dreadful waste of time because the ball moves too fast and you can’t retrieve even a routine cross court. Maybe Mark Talbott and Gary Waite can, but 51 year olds who are blind in one eye can’t. The rallies are too short and you can get injured trying to retrieve the unretrievable.
    Too bad hardball singles is on life support- it was a great game but unlike the Bon Jovi song, you really CAN”T go back .

    GUY CIPRIANO

  3. Eric Pearson Says:
    I appreciate the commentary on the SWPHI. Through only in its second year, it truly is becoming a fantastic event, with a loyal and almost cult-like following of players from coast to coast. Some participants have even suggested that the SWPHI is more of a lifestyle than a tournament. With regard to the notion that the tournament be played on the wide court, I cannot disagree more strongly. The game was not designed to be played on the wide court and is thus a bastardization of a once great game. There still remain today more traditional hardball courts in the US than softball courts (this was true a couple of years ago, so I might have to refresh my stats) so it is the opionion of the board of directors of the SWPHI that the tournament be played on the true court for as long as possible. We recognize the reality that some day hardball courts may cease to exist, at which point we would shift to the softball court by necessity. However, until that day comes we will play the game as it is traditionally meant to be played. We are not looking for progressive measures or compromises. We are not looking to take another step to make our beloved game more like the international game, which all but extincted the game of hardball. We are taking a bold step, that nobody else in the United States seems willing to take, to preserve what just 15 years ago was the standard. I am not knocking the merits of harball on the wide court. I have recently learned that it is a good game and I look forward to competing in my first tournament on the wide court in next month’s Woodruff Nee, but for as long as I am the director of the SWPHI it will be an invitational event contested on the narrow court. And for that matter, as long as I am on the board of the Hardball Association I will insist that the national championship continue to be played on the proper court. Lets not render our existing real estate valuless by failing to utilize it for its stated purpose.
  4. Wilford Smith Says:
    I’m almost a year late here, but hardly a day goes by without me thinking of Doug McLaggan.

    I met him at the University Club in the 70’s. He taught me to play, and for a long stretch of time back then, I would take two lessons a week from Doug. It always was the highlight of my day. The squash was wonderful to be sure, but the stories were better. In all that has been written about Doug, no one has mentioned what a great storyteller he was.

    One of the best, as I recall, was about Doug in the Royal Marines in Sicily during World War II. Doug’s platoon was ambushed and totally wiped out, except for Doug. He had been left for dead and woke up two hours later underneath three bodies. Hearing him tell the story made you shiver.

  5. Ian Douglas McLaggan Says:
    How wonderful it is to read great things about my dad. Thanks Bill for the story. I have wonderful memories of The University Club where I spent a number of years watching the master. He was a true gentleman.

The Inside Word on the Game of Squash