2008 Gala

What a night. It was incredibly incredible. The U.S. Squash Hall of Fame Gala 2008 rocked. 

It was hard not to compare it to the last time the American squash community had gathered in our monkey suits at a posh Midtown Manhattan ballroom on an October evening. Statistically speaking, the USSRA centennial ball at the University Club in October 2004 was bigger: five hundred and seventy-six people v. three hundred and nineteen; $360,000 raised v. $100,000; fourteen USSRA presidents v. three; eleven Hall of Famers v. four. Worst of all, there were three people with a last name beginning with Z in 2004. This time, just moi.

One number that was close this time was the number of President Cup winners. Last time, there was seven; this time six, including the first winner, in 1966, Charlie Ufford.

But—and this is a huge but—the centennial celebration was a once-a-century party (note that no other national governing body has had their centennial yet) while this year’s gala was meant to be an annual event. You might not ever match up to the 2004 numbers. To do this well, especially with our economy freefalling into a depression and ticket prices actually higher than four years ago, was amazing.

And this one seemed much more forward-looking than the centennial gala. The poster board photos of the new Hall of Famers that greeted you as you walked in were joined by similar shots of our current national champions. The cover of the program depicted our 2008 gold-medal winning teams at the annual Pan-Am Fed Cup (not to be confused, as it often is, with the quadrennial Pan-Am Games). The music was loud; the videos were quick; the gift bag was hip (but sometimes odd—sunscreen for squash players?!).

The scene felt very very young—everyone seemed twenty-something, beautiful and happy. That afternoon I had played tennis with two of the leaders this new generation (Preston Quick and Noah Wimmer) and wondered if they would have a good time at the party, thinking it might be old and stodgy.

Instead, it was I who was antediluvian. I left at a quarter past midnight and headed to the New Jersey Turnpike to drive home to Washington. About an hour later I got a call from Lex Miron at the Whiskey Bar saying that a couple of dozen people had repaired there for a late-night refreshment. That’s young, considering that the gala itself had lasted nearly six hours.

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Betty Constable

News flies fast. We—seventy-odd squash guys—were out in Santa Fe for a squash weekend when we heard that Betty Constable had died.

It is hard to think of a more remote squash haven in the U.S. than Santa Fe: deep in the Southwest (you can spot the Rio Grande above town), hardly any direct flights to Albuquerque (a lot of pre-dawn flights from the East and a lot of red-eyes coming home) and then the hour drive north. But once you arrive on East Alameda Street and stroll past the McCune Foundation, you come to the home of one of the country’s endearing squash hotbeds: the Kiva Club.

A kiva is a room used by many pueblo peoples, both ancient and modern, for spiritual ceremonies. In other words, it is a church, and since 1959 the Kiva Club has been ministering to the needs of New Mexico’s squashers. The club has one of each: hardball, softball and doubles (there are twenty-two squash courts of various vintages in the state). Charlie Khan, scion of the famed dynasty, is the pro. The club is most known for its early December veterans doubles tournament, the Kiva Classic. Started in 1990, it is known for its delicious food (courtesy of expert caterer and club member Walter Burke), art gallery settings and very witty tee-shirts. Bones Jones, the good doctor, gave me one to wear for our doubles matches—those aren’t chili peppers there.

During the weekend, we heard that Betty had died. Betty was the greatest leftie woman in the history of U.S. squash. She retired at the top of her game in 1959 after winning her fourth straight title and fifth overall.

Betty lost twice in the finals. Once to Jane Austin Stauffer in 1951, 15-12 in the fifth and once, in a let-filled ordeal, to her sister Peggy in three games in 1953 (the only other time siblings have faced each other in the finals of a national singles tournament was in 1972 when another defending champion, Nina Moyer, beat another future Hall of Fame sister, Gretchen Spruance in another three-gamer).

SquashTalk’s obit had a couple of errors (Gig Griggs donated the Howe Cup, not Betty’s mother; Princeton’s record win streak was forty-three in a row not forty [remember when Trinity’s streak was at forty-three? It was in the previous millennium]) but it did capture Betty’s great legacy as the women’s coach at Princeton.

The Times obit referenced a Time magazine piece about the House of Howe, which has the famous quote about Constable: “She’s like a bulldog.”

In Santa Fe when we toasted Betty, we remembered that competitive spirit. Bulldog, tiger. She wanted to win.