Olympic Dreams

Let’s look back for a brief second, upon the news last month that squash is finally joining the Olympic Games. It had been the end of a long road: the first mention in the historical record was in June 1947 in Stockholm where squash pushed to join the 1952 Games award to Helsinki (five of the losing six cities bidding to host the Games were in the U.S.).

But the real effort started In 1986 when the IOC recognized squash as a sport, and national governing bodies around the world started joining their national Olympic committees. It will have been nine Games (Barcelona in 1992 to Paris in 2024) that squash failed to join before we see a squash ball in the air in Los Angeles in July 2028.

I thought of all the people who worked behind the scenes on those nine Games. Colleagues like Hazel and Tom Jones who led the push for a Pan American federation and inclusion in the Pan American Games, key steps along the way. (We saw the effects of that effort this week with the U.S. sweeping the women’s individual tournament at the 2023 Pan Am Games in Santiago.) And Mike Lee, the sports communications guru who squash hired in 2011 to get us into Tokyo 2020. Mike, ebullient and opinionated, sadly died in September 2018 at the age of sixty-one, and I am sure he would have been so pleased to see us finally triumph.

So what does the next five years look like? Here are some possibilities:

—The over-under on players switching nationalities is 9.5. With only two male and two female players allowed in the thirty-two player draws per country, players lower down the rankings perhaps will switch nations in order to qualify. Nation-switching has happened over the decades (see: Peter Nicol in 2001 from Scotland to England; Natalie Grinham in 2008 from Australia to the Netherlands; Mohamed ElShorbagy last year from Egypt to England), usually for reasons of money and support and sometimes because of a feud with a national federation. Now the switch will occur because a player wants to make LA28.

—Some might be from Egypt. Everyone is talking about how hard this will be for them, with twenty-one men and twenty-nine women ranked in the top hundred right now—if the Olympics were to occur today, only four of those fifty players would be there. But pity also those players from Great Britain. Although Team GB has been the norm since the modern Olympics began in 1896, in squash players typically compete for Wales or Scotland or England or Northern Ireland. Thus, Team GB has fifteen women and nineteen men ranked right now in the top hundred and they will have to scrabble over just four spots rather than sixteen.

—A lot of players now in their thirties spoke at the 2023 U.S. Open about hanging around for five more years in order to play in the Olympics. So expect a rash of retirements after the Games. The average retirement age for pro squash players has been in the mid-thirties. The Olympics will definitely push that back.

—At the same time, expect more players turning pro and joining the tour from less traditionally strong nations. Right now China and Russia have no one ranked in the top hundred—I’d be surprised if that is still the case in five years. Nations that have at least one player ranked in the top hundred are twenty-five for the men (including Team GB); and twenty-three for the women. About half of those countries have just one player ranked in the top hundred, and so LA28 might catalyze more funding to help those nations, especially formerly hegemonic powerhouses like Australia and Pakistan. More courts, more access, more tournaments, more coaches, more attention, more, more, more—all good for the game.

—There will be a fascinating scramble in the year leading up to the spring of 2028. Players will be trying to garner as many ranking points as possible, to either become one of the two highest-ranked players on the PSA tour from their country and/or to be ranked in the top one hundred (the cut-off for automatic qualification). Thus, both platinum and bronze-level tournaments will suddenly have an extra level of drama.

—It appears there might be qualifying tournaments for each continent in 2028 to help fill out the draws of thirty-two. It will be open to players ranked below one hundred. Those events will also be incredibly exciting.

U.S. Open 2023

A fabulous fiftieth United States Open just wrapped up. Here are some sudden thoughts and second thoughts:

—Brink of eliminations. Holy tension. In the quarters Nour El Sherbini was down 6-2 in the fourth, just five points away from a loss, before going on to win and eventually snag the only major trophy missing from her cabinet. Also in the quarters, Amanda Sobhy was down 6-1 in the fourth, also just five points away from a loss, before going to win. And Ali Farah saved a match point in the third game against Tarek Momen before taking the match in five.

—Best match? Probably Coll v. Farag in the men’s final: going into overtime in the fifth game of a Grand Slam? That is exciting.

—Team USA did well. Two American women (Amanda Sobhy and Olivia Fietcher) reached the semis for the first time ever and an American man (Timmy Brownell) made in the quarters for the first time since Houston in 1986 when both Ned Edwards and Mark Talbott reached the quarters. Brownell’s run propelled him to world No.40 in the rankings and for the first time heading the list of American men on the pro tour.

—Good crowds. It was the twelfth time at Drexel, third at the Specter Center. A lot of people there for early round day matches and a vibrant atmosphere every night. Nearly four hundred people came for the annual celebration of SquashSmarts; hometown, tee-shirt wearing support for Fietcher; and a boisterous group came to honor Berwyn which is officially marking its fiftieth anniversary this weekend—as the first and now lone mega-club left in the country, it is a remarkable milestone.

—The Open is a crossroads and one person courtside for the first time in a long time was Paul Price. It had been a decade since we had last seen Price. The former world No.4 in singles and dominant hardball doubles player had departed from Toronto to return to his native Australia. He’s now working with a number of players on the mental side of the game.

—Oh, and the thing that came at the beginning or end of almost every single conversation at the U.S. Open? Squash getting into the Olympics. More on that next time.

Seixas at One Hundred

A follow-up about Vic Seixas. A few days after Vic’s 100th birthday, I got a wonderful message from Walter Oehrlein.

Walter, like Vic, is a great athlete in both tennis and squash. While at West Point, he won the 1965 National Intercollegiates in squash; in tennis, Walter won his first round match at Forest Hills in the 1966 U.S. Championships for tennis and in 1967 he lost in a first-round five-setter. For years Walter coached squash and tennis at the Birmingham Athletic Club in Detroit.

He first met Vic in the 1960s at a squash tournament. In June 1973 Walter invited Vic to put on a tennis exhibition at Birmingham. Serving first in the match, Walter pulled out a squash ball and hit that rather than a tennis ball.

They stayed in touch. Vic arranged for Walter to look at becoming a head pro at Greenbrier, the West Virginia resort where Vic had long been the resident tennis director (Walter decided to stay in Detroit). A few years later, Walter and Vic did a squash exhibition at Regency, the fitness club outside of Washington, DC.

They resumed their friendship in February 2021. The death of Tony Trabert, one of Vic’s Davis Cup teammates and a fellow Grand Slam champion, triggered a condolence phone call that Walter placed to Vic. At the end of the call, Vic said, “Let’s talk more.” So a few weeks later Walter called again and soon they were talking regularly, reminiscing about squash and tennis days of yore.

This year Vic’s daughter Victoria invited Walter to come out to San Francisco to celebrate Vic’s 100th birthday at the end of August: two old stalwarts after sixty years of friendship on and off the court.

Newt & Vic

These past few days have been a rich celebration of two of squash’s legends, the centenarians Newt Meade and Vic Seixas.

The September episode of Outside The Glass, out on the first day of the month per usual, features Newt. We spoke two days after he turned a hundred; yesterday Vic turned a hundred. Quite a pair. I should say that I wasn’t channeling Carter Fergusson when I said on the pod Vic’s full name—Carter had an inimitable way of rolling it out: Elias Victor Seixas, Jr. 


Earlier this month, Freddy Ramirez, an old racquet sports colleague, took me to Juniper Valley Park to play paddleball.

The game, a one-wall racquet sport, is deeply New York. It was invented in the city by Irish immigrants and for a century has been a mainstay in parks in all five boroughs. There is a sixteen-foot-high wall, a small paddle and a ball similar to a racquetball ball and you have to hit it on the front wall above the ground. Simple and complicated.

Juniper is in the Middle Village neighborhood in Queens. It was mid-afternoon on a summer Monday and the park was crowded: a band was testing the sound on a bandstand and some older people were playing shuffleboard. The long handball wall was busy: a young girl was practicing her tennis on one side and on the other was four paddleball courts, three of which were busy with play.

Freddy and I played a couple of matches against some park regulars; we lost 21-9 and 21-14—mostly because I kept hitting the ball wide or letting it go past me thinking it would bounce out. The trash-talking was rich and variegated , the sun hot and the scene was as much about the community as it was about paddleball. It was a fantastic peek into another racquet-sport culture.

And one that is slightly threatened, like so many others, by the arrival of pickleball. In one corner of Juniper, away from the paddleball, two pickleball courts were up and in use. Three days after my visit, the New York Times ran an interesting article about the conflict between paddleball and pickleball playing out in New York City parks:


Alex Robertson

Today was the memorial service for Alex Robertson. A victim like Bob Callahan of glioblastoma, he died two weeks ago at the age of fifty-four.

Alex and I were two of the eight members of the largest class of letter winners in the history of Dartmouth’s men’s squash program: Nick Billings, James Bragg, Doug Henry, Raman Narayanan, Jose Suarez and Ben Willwerth.

Alex was the best of the lot. He was ranked eleven in the nation as a senior in high school, in the BU18s. He moved incredibly well for being a big guy—I am not sure when he became “Big Al” but that was probably soon after arriving on campus—and was always gliding around the court seemingly undisturbed by any shot you hit. He had an open stance, a liquid smooth swing and subtle power. As John McPhee wrote, he seemed less tense than a length of string.

He had an eye-crinkling smile. We loved the long van rides, stuffed in the way back as underclassmen, hemmed in by squash bags, going along on winter roads in the dark talking about matters large and small, everyone telling stories. Alex was a leader in those conversations and always tossing in a dose of humor to take the edge off when someone got too serious.

Alex played four and five on the ladder freshman year (going 8-6) and sophomore year (4-4). We were sad when he left to devote himself to Dartmouth’s lacrosse team. In the years since, I was lucky to spend time with Alex, as a roommate in England and at two summer communities.

Now that he’s been taken from us, I miss him terribly.

John Greco

Recently I was lucky to join an eighty-fifth birthday party in New York for Johnny Greco. His wife, Kathleen Sharkey, hosted a celebratory lunch at Il Corso, a great Italian restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. Held the day after he turned eighty-five, this was a vintage gathering of the New York squash tribe, as you can see from the group photograph taken by Andreas Hofweber.

Johnny has a unique teaching professional resume of just Manhattan squash clubs: City Athletic Club, 1959-1962;University Club of New York, 1962-1978; Broad Street Squash Club, 1978-1982; Harvard Club of New York, 1982-1985; Park Place Squash Club, 1985-1988; Le Parker Meridien Hotel, 1985-1988; Colony Club, 2001-2008; and River Club, 2004-2008. (He also worked for years teaching tennis in Connecticut.) In 2017 he was honored with the Carter Fergusson Grand Master Award.

An inspiring poster child for resilience. Johnny was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2008, but he has continued to play squash, entering the National Singles eight times since the diagnosis, playing in dozens of local hardball and softball events and avidly attending pro tournaments (and giving advice to the players).

An inveterate storyteller, Johnny told great stories at the party about playing minor league baseball in Delaware, about exploits during the O’Reilly pro-am at the University Club and about how the Bigelow Cup, an iconic New York club trophy, mysteriously ended up residing for some time above the bar at Elaine’s.

(l-r) front row: Amy Bigerna, Grace Bigerna, Kathleen Sharkey, John Greco, Mary Todd, Nancy Brenner; second row: Stanley Stairs, Kit Tatum, Cindy Cosmi; third row: Courtney Fuller, Jay Nelson, Charles Maytays, John Cosmi; back row: Lior Grinberg, Scott Fuller, John Beaman, Ned Monaghan, Lance Mald, Jerry Todd, Richard Chin, Valerie Monaghan, Jim Rucinski, Paula Foley, Andrew Foley, Jim Zug.

Assaiante Retires

Last month Coach Paul Assaiante retired after a forty-nine year journey in the squash world. He and I sat down for an Outside The Glass interview, which went up a few days later:

Episode eighty-nine was not the first time he was on OTG. We did an interview, at the U.S. Open at Drexel, that went up nearly three years ago:

And so the record-breaking run is over. His record at Trinity was 511-34 (a .937 winning percentage), giving him an overall career record (along with his eleven years at Army and two at Williams) of 622-98. There is a slight discrepancy with Trinity’s records—they list his Bantam record at 507-29. This stems from his first three years at Trinity when the sports information department didn’t count Trinity’s results at the national intercollegiate team championships, the new playoff system that had come into existence only a few years earlier.

Some of Coach’s records will be broken. He and Jack Barnaby coached seventeen teams to a national title—Mike Way already has fourteen. Someone could possibly win 253 consecutive dual matches. But will any coach accumulate 622 collegiate wins again? That number seems imperishable.

Haverford Hall of Fame

Recently I attended a dinner for Haverford School’s sixteenth Athletic Hall of Fame.

Three squash players were inducted. They followed in the path of a dozen other illustrious squash players and coaches: (in order of induction) Ralph Howe, Fred Thornton, the 1982-83 team, Carter Fergusson, Bill MacCoy, Ed Mack, Steve Vehslage, Sam Howe, Mike Mayock, the 1976-77 team, Bill Prizer, Russ Ball, the 1978-79 team, Rick Campbell and Ed Garno.

This year’s was poignant, as two of the inductees were no longer with us.
Tanny Sargent was an early pioneer of squash in Philadelphia and the best player to come out of Haverford before the Second World War. Sargent was twice captain of the Haverford team. At Harvard, captained the freshman team and then the varsity. In 1934, his sophomore year he reached the finals of the National Intercollegiates to face his teammate and classmate Germain Gladden. Sargent went up 2-1, Glidden grabbed the fourth and then Sargent, in an unprecedented flurry, bageled Glidden 15-0 in the fifth. This was an extraordinary result—Glidden was a giant and a future U.S. Squash Hall of Fame.

Sargent went on to reach the semis of the National Singles in 1935, losing a tight five-gamer to the defending champion, and Sargent & Glidden won the Canadian National Doubles that year, one of the rare times that collegiate players have done that. Lincoln Werden of the New York Times wrote after Sargent appeared at the 1934 Gold Racquets at Rockaway Hunt Club: “Although his cannonading serve was perhaps one of the outstanding phases of his game, Sargent’s anticipation of shots and his excellent racquet work earned him the praise of the onlookers.”

Sargent suffered an ankle injury that put him out of his senior year at Harvard, and then soon after college he had a heart condition diagnosed which put an end to his short but brilliant career.

Another player lost far too soon was Colin Campbell. Colin played on the varsity at Haverford for five seasons (a remarkable achievement considering that the team was the strongest in the country). His senior year he captained the team to a 19-1 record, the only loss coming at the hands of Princeton’s junior varsity. Like Sargent, Campbell went on to play at Harvard, where his team won two national titles. He died of cancer in September 2013 at the age of forty-three.

The third squash inductee was Morris Clothier. Like Campbell, he played on the varsity for five seasons and was captain his senior year. Clothier had one of the greatest scholastic careers in U.S. squash history, going 90-6 in those five years, often playing at #1, with the six losses coming to college players. Clothier went on to be a four-time All American at Franklin & Marshall, a nine-time winner of the National Doubles, a chair of the US Squash Doubles Committee and winner of the 2008 President’s Cup.

18 February 1923

Today was the day that collegiate squash started a century ago. The men’s squash teams of Harvard and Yale played each other in February 1923 at the Racquet & Tennis Club. This is the global start of university squash—the annual varsity match between Oxford and Cambridge began in December 1925.

Harvard beat Yale 4-1. The only Eli to win was Luke Williams, then the national intercollegiate tennis champion. Crimson winners included Palmer Dixon, future National Singles champion and Carroll Harrington, who I wrote about here a dozen years ago:


There is some confusion about whether this historic match was played on Saturday the 17th or Sunday the 18th. The New York Times reported on Monday the 19th that they played on the 18th:


The Crimson, the Harvard school newspaper, also published a piece on the match on Monday the 19th. They said that it occurred on Saturday the 17th:


Today, on the exact day—or perhaps a day late—I went to New York to quietly celebrate the centennial. The R&T courts used by Dixon and Williams have long been renovated out of recognition. But I could hear a squash ball being thumped on a court, echoing down long passageways, and I thought this is enough: the sound of a ball hitting a wall, the squeak of sneakers, the call of the score.

Those ten men in February 1923 didn’t know it, but their matches were the start of one of the greatest stories in all of squash.

The Inside Word on the Game of Squash