College Nickname Bracketology

This very minute is the start of the greatest forty hours of the year. It is the first day of spring and March Madness begins at noon today. Almost all of the thirty-two first-round games that are played today and tomorrow are not in primetime, but rather in the middle of the day. The start of the Big Dance is the last major televised sporting event to still occur midday midweek. It is the World Series in 1951. It is calling in sick. It is going to the pub at three in the afternoon. It is great.

The NCAAs also remind us, year after year, that not all institutions of higher learning have bland, common nicknames. One guy counted up college nicknames and found seventy-four schools that field Eagles, forty-six Tigers and thirty-nine Bulldogs. But the NCAAs bring out those inventive, iconoclastic names. This year’s choice is probably Kent State: the Golden Flashes.

But intercollegiate squash, although for some quirk of administration not an official NCAA sport, does match up very well with any college sport in its wealth of nicknames. So in honor of March Madness, I have devised a crude, twenty-four team bracket of the best of college squash nicknames (the NCAAs were a twenty-four team draw until 1974….):

First Round—
Bowdoin Polar Bears v. Colby Mules
For this in-state derby, you gotta go with Da Bears.

Conn College Camels v. Drexel Dragons
As our son likes to say, a one-hump camel poops a one-hump poop. And dragons are scary.

F&M Diplomats v. Haverford Black Squirrels
Black squirrels are the nice kind, right?

Amherst Lord Jeffs v. Kenyon Lords
Hoi polloi.

Harvard Crimson v. Stanford Cardinal v. Denison Big Red v. Cornell Big Red
Red is not red.

Vassar Brewers v. Wesleyan Cardinals
No more partying in Pougkeepsie.

Tufts Jumbos v. Tulane Green Wave
Fat Tuesday.

UVM Catamounts v. Georgetown Hoyas
No one really knows what a Hoya is.

Columbia Lions v. Mount Holyoke Lyons

NYU Violets v. Trinity Bantams

Wellesley Blue v. Dartmouth Big Green
Size does matter.

William Smith Herons v. Hobart Statesmen
Can’t they all just get together and love one another right now up at the College of the Senecas?

Second Round—
Polar Bears v. Camels
Global warming is a killer.

Black Squirrels v. Lord Jeffs
Haverford has the country’s only varsity cricket team—take that M’ Lord.

Cardinal v. Cardinals

Green Wave v. Catamounts

Lions v. Bantams
Why did the chicken cross the road?

Big Green v. Herons
Hate to dis my alma mater, but the big, gawky bird gets it.

Camels v. Black Squirrels
A camel gets you across the desert; a squirrel eats your bulbs.

Cardinal v. Green Wave
Is that then a yellow tide?

Bantams v. Herons
Trinity has won too much lately, right?

Camels v. Green Wave
Tulane’s former nickname was the Greenbacks.

Herons get a bye since I did the draw. They have a hit with the Bard Raptors.

Camels v. Herons.
We are talking some serious squash history being made. Best college squash team nickname of 2008. Well, with a coach called Fishback, it seems they are taking their nickname seriously up in Geneva. Let’s take the William Smith Herons.

3 Responses to “College Nickname Bracket”

  1. voodoochild Says:
    You hurt Rocky’s feelings by missing the Rochester Yellowjackets! :(
  2. Bob Burton Says:
    Jim, missed you at the Nationals which was a good time. Like your column, especially since I fathered a Colby Mule and a F&M Diplomat (go Dips?) and even though you crushed both in the first round.

    A Hoya comes from the Georgetown cry Saxa Hoya, which means, I think What Rocks! or Big Stones! or something equally suspect. But then, you knew that, didn’t you.

    See you soon,

    Bob Burton

  3. Carl Cummings Says:
    Late to this party but surprised not to have seen the Banana Slugs of UC Santa Cruz ( They could have been matched up in the first round against the Boll Weevils of the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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.