The Skunk at the World Squash Awards

People are still talking about last month’s dinner at the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions. The word you kept hearing was “glittering.”

The sixth annual 2010 World Squash Awards finally came across the pond. Peter Nicol and Tim Garner, through their sports marketing firm, Eventis, started the WSA in 2005 with a black-tie dinner at the Royal Automobile Club. After three more years at the RAC, they switched to Manchester for the 2009 World Open and this year came to the Tournament of Champions.

It was a star-studded evening. One hundred and sixty people (just six under the maximum capacity allowed by the Grand Central security staff) sat down at the courtside affair and tucked into butternut squash polenta, porcini mushrooms chicken with a roasted shallot sauce and Tuscan panzanella salad. Most WISPA and PSA stars were in attendance—Eventis flies in potential winners. Nour El Tayeb dropped in from Cairo just for the weekend. “I didn’t even bring my squash kit,” the seventeen year old told me as she spoke between media interviews.

Presented by Lexington Partners and Brent Nicklas, it was a nicely inclusive ceremony, with North America getting into the act for the first time: the ISDA was a part of the ceremonies and two special recognitions went to Frank Stella and Mark Talbott. The crowd included Hazel & Tom Jones from North Carolina and Doug Talbott from Atlanta and David Carr from Washington and a slew of other well-wishers.

The elder Talbott sported a blazer with a nifty RAC emblem sewn onto the pocket. Was this a reference to the World Squash Awards dinners at the RAC? Oh, no. I saw the skunk below the RAC—it was the Runnymeade Athletic Club, the court that the Talbotts had down in the Florida Keys. Now gone, it was always dubbed “the southernmost squash court in the U.S.”

People stayed after the dinner until almost the stroke of midnight—so many old and new friends talking—that it looked more like a college reunion than the night before the start of the 78th annual ToC.

The Times

Two articles in last Sunday’s New York Times recently caught my eye.

One was the big spread in the Magazine about Paul Assaiante and the Trinity squash streak. Paul Wachter, the writer, spent some time with the 2010-11 team, traveling to a couple of matches. I met him when Yale came to Trinity.

Two Times photographers flew in from LA to spend a full twenty-four hours on the team. One was originally from Sweden. Where? I asked when they got to the squash courts. Malmo, he said, it is a city in…. I know, I said and grabbed Johan Detter, a Malmo native who was twenty feet away and said, this guy’s from Malmo and in a second they were chatting about neighborhoods and bridges and women legally swimming topless in city pools.

The other photographer told me he was from Paris. Sorry, I said, I can’t hook you up—twenty nations from around the world and yet Trinity never had a Frenchman on the squash team.

The piece isn’t perfect: it quotes passages from Run to the Roar without attribution and has a couple of tiny errors (it was 1998 not 1999 when Trinity first beat Harvard in a dual match, and Harvard had won five national titles in a row, not eight, when Trinity ended their streak in 1999). But it is a good story and well told and has a cool Scandanavian/Gaullic photograph at the front. As the saying goes, any publicity is good publicity.


The other piece was another Christopher Gray gem in the real estate section, about the fact that a squash tennis court (no need for a hyphen, Grey Lady) was built on what was the fifteenth floor of an apartment house at 160 East 72nd Street. It was built by Kingdon Gould, Jay Gould’s brother. Jay Gould, who was known to play a lot of squash tennis in the 1920s after his court tennis career began to wane, surely played on the court. There are a number of these old squash tennis courts still haunting buildings around Manhattan. A piece I did in the Atlantic a decade ago lead off with another one of these ghostly remnants. But in an apartment, that is a rarity.







At the forefront of the coverage of events in Egypt last week was this fact: the departure of Hosni Mubarak meant the loss of our most famous squash-playing head of state.

A keen squash player, he got on court almost every day at the Air Force base, across the street from his presidential palace. (He wouldn’t just stroll out and wait at the light to cross, though—there was a tunnel connecting the two complexes.) He was a pretty good player. Last Friday, as we watched the news from Tahrir Square, Khaled Sobhy told me some Mubarak stories. A a top-ranked Egyptian in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Sobhy was one of the many national team members called in to spar with the president.

Mubarak sometimes came to the pro tournaments at the pyramids, driving across the desert to Giza in a motorcade that left a trailing cloud of dust.

A joke that went around Cairo the last year or two went like this: Mubarak calls up the sheikh of Al-Azhar, the highest Sunni Muslim cleric in Egypt, to ask if there are squash courts in heaven. The sheikh asks for a couple of days to consult the Almighty. Two days later, he calls Mubarak back. “There’s good news and bad news,” he says.

“Give me the good news,”  Mubarak barks.

“Well,” says the sheikh, “there are lots of squash courts in heaven.”

“And the bad news?” asks the president.

“You’ve a match scheduled there in two weeks.”

This morning Mubarak’s squash game came up on Philadelphia radio. Arlen Specter called into 610WIP to talk with Angelo Cataldi about the Phillies (if as Henry James wrote, the two most beautiful words in the Engligh language were “summer afternoon,” the most precious words annually might be “pitchers and catchers report”—which they did today).

After the usual chit-chat about the Phil’s rotation, Cataldi asked the former senator about Mubarak, and Specter said a couple of amazing things. He mentioned that they first met in 1982 in Washington and that Specter said, “I hear you play squash, let’s have a game “and Mubarak told him, “yes, and if I beat you, you give me an extra $100 million.”

Turns out they didn’t get around to playing that time. In fact Specter said that he actually never got to play squash with Mubarak, that he’d call him when he was in Egypt but it never happened. We know Dick Rumsfeld played squash with Mubarak (and boasted, incorrectly, about beating him) but never Specter. The reason why Mubarak avoided the match, Specter speculated this morning, was that he was Jewish.

(For the squash joke, see:…“>…)

(For the Rumsfeld story, see:  



Ball’s In—Remembering Hurley, Welsh and Stewart

Three recent deaths just after Christmas, all within hours of each other, have highlighted the backbone of squash: ordinary guys who just love the game, who play with passion and humor, who help at the local level. Two might have not been the most well-known guys in the nation, but they had a huge impact in their clubs and cities. And the third was at the heart of the game internationally in the 1970s and 1980s.

Drew Hurley died on 26 December 2010 of a heart attack. He was forty-nine. He played at the University Club of Boston. He was an avid left-wall doubles player. He steamed before he played, ran sprints to warm up, pointed to spots on the front wall like Babe Ruth calling a home run and to start every game, as his friend Brian McGrory said at his funeral, “he’d hold the ball high in the air between his thumb and index finger and declare, ‘Ball’s in’ as if he was letting the thousands of people know who were following us on TV.”

He had a nickname for everyone. He played all the time. He was a board member for the Massachusetts Squash Association. He won the 1992 and 1998 U Club’s C/D singles; with Doug Lifford, he won the club’s 2002, 2003 and 2009 A/B doubles.

“The wind has been taken out of Boston’s squash sails,” said Ed Serues in an email to me after Hurley’s passing.



In Philadelphia, people were likewise shocked by the death of Dick Welsh. Just one day after Hurley, Welsh died of colon cancer at the age of sixty-nine. Like Hurley, Welsh was a legendary figure at the Racquet Club of Philadelphia.

He was full of what came to be called “Welshism,” classic lines he’s utter at any and all times. When departing company, he would, like a true Marine, say, “post and orders remain the same.” After a tough match, he’d head to get a beer with the line, “How about a little sugar for your horse.”




We also lost a third person at the same time. On 26 December, just eight days after his eighty-sixth birthday, Ian Stewart died in Toronto. He was a former president of Squash Canada and of the Badminton & Racquet Club in Toronto. He also was a vice-chair of the World Squash Federation and thus far and away the most influential Canadian in the history of international squash administration. An early proponent of softball, he helped bring the U.S. and Canada into the international fold.…


Eye on the Roar

Last night we had a very special evening on the Main Line: a book & film mega-event at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, which was a cool old (1926) theater when I was a kid and now is a super hip and trendy non-profit cinema. It attracted 275 people. (see:>

The Trinity Club of Philadelphia hosted Paul and I. We signed about ninety copies of Run to the Roar—it was at a rate of a book a minute. We talked with dozens of old old friends, met a lot of new people and told a few colorful stories about steam room mishaps. 

Then we went into the theater and watched a screening of Keep Eye on Ball, the must-see documentary about Hashim Khan. Afterwards, Beth Rasin, the film’s producer, regaled us with stories about traveling with the great old man in Pakistan back in 2005. (see:

The Dragons

Drexel is very much in the squash news these days. 

The Dragons, who along with the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs have the coolest nickname in collegiate sports, have hosted SquashSmarts, the urban youth enrichment program, since it was founded ten years ago. They even sacrificed one of their old hardball courts to make SquashSmarts’ original office. (See:

Both of the Drexel teams are club rather than varsity, but not for long. They have two new softball courts to go along with their four old hardball ones. Drexel’s president, John Fry, is an avid squash player who was very supportive of the program when he was president of F&M. The teams, like many club teams, make a huge effort to train and get better, even without the help of a full-time coach. Two weeks ago the men flew to Atlanta to play in a six-team round robin. (See:…

And last week, we hosted the men and women teams at the Racquet Club of Philadelphia, for a squash match and a chance to get out on the court tennis court. (See:…

But the biggest news was the United States Open is coming to Drexel in October. This will be just the second time in history that Philadelphia has held a glass-court squash tournament. The first was in 1986 when Penn plopped a small pro tournament on its hockey rink (the court was near the blue line). Now a quarter century later, Penn’s neighbor is hosting a $175,000 tournament, with both the men and women pros competing. It will surely be a huge boost for squash in Philadelphia and for Drexel. (See: