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.