Bad Bad Badminton

I am sure that all of you are following the story of badminton at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, with the finals of the various tournaments scheduled to start today. No? 

For more than twenty years, the World Squash Federation and its predecessor the International Squash Rackets Federation have pursued with a relentless focus the goal of getting squash into the Olympics. The push really began in the early 1980s and accelerated after the IOC recognized squash in 1986—the 1992 Barcelona Games were the first real effort. Ever since then, squash bodies nationally and internationally have clutched at the five tantalizingly close golden rings as we wheel around on the carousel of squash administration.

The Olympics is a worthy goal, and the corporate support, USOC cash and public attention will all be welcomed, but it has taken up too much of our collective time.

Just look at badminton. It is a huge sport. Everyone has heard of the shuttlecock, most people have played it in their backyards and no one confuses it with a vegetable. More than two million people play competitive badminton at least once a month—many more than the 250,000 who play squash. Badminton is the same age as squash (it was invented in England in the 1870s). The International Badminton Federation has 164 member countries (45 sent teams to Beijing); the WSF has either 124 or 118, depending on how you count. As far as making it bigtime, in Barcelona in 1992, it became an Olympic sport (it was a demonstration sport in Munich in 1972; it has been in every Commonwealth Games since 1966 in Kingston).

Yet, let’s look closer. After five Olympic Games,  our national badminton association has about 2,700 members, about a fifth of what U.S. Squash has. The worldwide pro tour is worth about $1 million, about a third of our PSA tour. Badminton celebrities? Badminton on television? Badminton in the newspapers and magazines? Badminton in Grand Central?

The analogy is not perfect, but it seems close enough to give credence to the argument that the Olympics is not the golden goose that will instantly transform squash. The Olympics would be a good thing, but it would have a much smaller effect than many people have assumed. So sit back and enjoy watching the shuttlecock fly about at 180 miles per hour across the Beijing University of Technology gym. Oh, you can’t find any coverage on television? Oh, it is on Bravo at three in the morning. Mmmmmm.

Journey of a Thousand Miles

George Haines, one of the most successful if unheralded high school squash coaches in the country, died last month at the age of sixty-four. 

George taught middle school math and coached six sports at Haverford School. George’s true love was golf. A scratch golfer, he had won two New Jersey state amateurs and qualified for the 1968 U.S. Open at Oak Hill (where he shot a respectable 78-76 before missing the cut). He wrote for numerous golf publications and played in amateur tournaments around the world (including twenty Canadian and seven British amateurs). His life list of played golf courses totaled over four hundred, which is about three hundred and seventy more than me. His golf teams at Haverford won five league titles.

He was George E. Haines, Jr. in print, as he was sometime confused with another legendary coach, George F. Haines,  a swim coach in California.

But squash was where George had a lasting impact on a generation of squash champions. George coached the Haverford School varsity from 1978 through 1989. Haverford, which had been a perennial also-ran to Episcopal, instantly captured the Inter-Ac league title that 78-79 season (the toughest league in the country). Haines’ teams subsequently never lost a match to a fellow high school team. Haines issued out dozens of top-flight junior, collegiate and amateur players including Andy Ball, Rusty Ball (national U16 junior champion), Teddy Bruenner (only player ever to win the national juniors in softball, hardball and doubles), Scott Brehman, Beau Buford, Colin Campbell, Ricky Campbell, Bob Clothier, Morris Clothier, Dan Cornwell, Alex Cuthbert, Bernie Halfpenny, Tom Harrity, Bruce Hauptfuhrer, Bobby Hobbs, Bruce Hopper, Dan Hutchinson, George Krall, Steve Loughran, Alex Marx, Austy Murray, Matt Olgesby (national U16 junior champion), John Pruett, Rodolfo Rodriquez (two-time national junior champion), the Spahr boys (Chris, Terry and Wes), Bob White and Wistar Wood. Nine members of the 1982-83 squad captained their college team (some, ahem, Cuthbert, even wore clothes for team photos); six from 1986-87 captained their college team.

And you can toss me in that list, as someone who played #7 senior year, when Haverford beat Amherst and Dartmouth in the national five-man teams—Amherst ended up 12th and Dartmouth 8th in the intercollegiates. It was odd going to Dartmouth the following fall and knowing that my high school team was better than my new college team.

George was a huge help with my squash book, supplying me with hours of conversation and materials relating to the origins of the game and his grandfather Rowlie Haines.

Many of the Haverford players trained at Merion Cricket Club down the street, so George never got the full credit he was due as a mentor. Having had brain surgery as a young man, we were never sure of the source of his quirkiness. On the first day of practice each fall, he would have us hit only drop shots, using a golf analogy that we should work on our putting first before our drives. But he was a leader, and his results are still unmatched for any high school coach for any ten-year period.

I recall the oh-so-true line from Confucius that teenagers are so apt to ignore. George wrote it every year on the sheet that announced the squad for our first varsity match: “A journey of a thousand miles beings with a single step.”

One Response to “A Journey of a Thousand Miles”

  1. Guy Cipriano Says:
    Truly a class act. He’ll be missed. A gentleman of the old school.