Kenfield & Hawthorn

Two great college squash coaches died recently. They showed that there is more than one way to be an effective leader.

John F. Kenfield, Jr. died in October 2010 at the age of eighty-nine. He coached the Dartmouth men from 1966 to 1983.

Kenfield came from North Carolina. He had grown up in coaching: his father, John, Sr., was the tennis coach at UNC and John, Jr. played for him in college. After graduation, he served as a pilot during the Second World War and then became the men’s tennis coach at NC State. He came to Hanover at the age of forty-five.

Just the fourth coach in Dartmouth’s history (the team was started in 1937), Kenfield didn’t know anything about squash before taking the job. But he worked hard, converted tennis players and maintained a top ten program while coaching three All Americans. His best year was in 1981-82 when the team went 10-5; his overall record was 89-119.

Kenfield was known as Gentleman John. He always wore a coat and tie at matches and calmly road a bike from his home on Rip Road to the gym. He taught his players about the primacy of sportsmanship, as Robert Sullivan’s piece about Kenfield in Sports Illustrated in 1984 explained.



Bob Hawthorn died in March 2011 at the age of eighty. He coached the Fordham men from 1956 to 2010.

Hawthorn was the opposite of Kenfield in some ways. He cared little for the trappings of his position. He demanded that his players call him Bob rather than Coach. He was famously salty, with a sarcastic, irreverent tone, always competitive and a natural teacher.

Hawthorn was a registered nurse, a full-time math teacher at Fordham Prep, the Fordham men’s tennis coach; all seven of his children attended Fordham, as he had.

He coached a college squash team for fifty-four years. It is a record, easily beating Jack Barnaby’s forty-two seasons, and something that probably will never be broken.






One of the effects of the world juniors coming to the States will be on Harvard squash. Princeton, after hosting in 1998, benefited from the exposure overseas, not only as boys who played in the tournament later came to the Tigers (like Yasser El Halaby) but in name recognition.

Ironically, the issue of recruiting has been playing out in the pages of Harvard Magazine this winter.

In the January-February issue, there was a side-bar on the Crimson’s new coach, Mike Way. After talking about Way’s kiteboarding obsession, classical guitar playing and his four coaching DVDs, this sentence appeared: “For years, college squash’s juggernaut has been Trinity College, where recruiting and admissions policies, and other guidelines, differ drastically from the Ivy League’s.”

In the March-April issue, two letters to the editor appeared because of that sentence. One was from Tom Lips (who went to Dartmouth undergrad and Harvard Law School) and one was from Al Gordon, the father of Chris Gordon and a well-known squash gadfly. Both letters pointed to the harshness of the word “drastically.”

Craig Lambert, who probably wrote the piece on Way (he mentioned my history of squash book when it came out in 2003) then responded to the letters. He said that all the Ivy League rules about athletic scholarships, defined off-seasons, and the famous Academic Index for recruits, “need not impinge on Trinity’s modus operandi.”

Odd phrasing. Of course, it need not, as they are not in the Ivy League. But they are in the NESCAC and the NESCAC has similar rules and regulations that Trinity adheres to. In fact, it is arguable whether NESCAC rules are actually more stringent than the Ivy’s rules. Is Lambert suggesting that the NESCAC’s rules are radically looser than the Ivy’s or that Trinity is a lone wolf that follows no rules at all?

Lambert then pointed to one part of the Bantam’s m.o., as it were, that Trinity has January admittance. They still do, but in the past two years Trinity independently of other NESCAC schools has stopped allowing January admits to play on the squash team. (Lambert suggests that Jan admits must be a huge advantage for Trinity, but actually it was more of a disadvantage because of the disruption to the team’s chemistry and the problems that arose when a January admit was suddenly in a pressure situation and the coach and fellow players barely knew him.)

In addition, because Trinity is a Division III school, it follows a different set of regulations about gap years than the Division I Ivy League schools do, in that it is obligated to hold the player out for a season if he took a gap year after high school. 

The main issue with college squash is that with the mish-mash of conference rules (Rochester and F&M, for instance, are not in a conference), Division I and III rules and NCAA rules (most schools follow NCAA rules even though squash is not a NCAA sport), ahtletic directors and coaches are making a myriad of choices when faced with the same issue, whether large or small. For years, I have been saying the CSA must issue a set of minimum guidelines that all CSA teams follow. That is the only way to clear the confusion. 

Lastly, there have always been recruiting stories in college squash—they were rife when I was at Dartmouth twenty years ago—about who got in and/or rejected where. But Lips and Gordon were right to point out the inappropriateness of the word “drastically” because while it might often be easier to get into Trinity than an Ivy, sometimes it is not. Two current and top Ivy League players were accepted at Yale but were rejected by Trinity.

It isn’t admission policies or athletic guidelines that are making Trinity so successful. Trinity’s “strategy of achieving dominance in squash,” as Lambert describes it, comes primarily from coaching. That is the whole of  Run to the Roar. How else do you explain the unprecedented number of 5-4 wins? If it was recruiting, Trinity would be winning 9-0 and 8-1 every time.




World Juniors Coming to America

In early February I spent the night at Khaled Sobhy’s house in Sea Cliff, outside New York. For a couple of hours we sat and watched on television the massive demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Sobhy’s hometown. We talked how the upheaval might affect the women’s world juniors, which were scheduled for Cairo in July. Sobhy said that he was going to email U.S. Squash and suggest they offer an alternative here in the States. Perhaps Harvard or Yale could host?


It would be good for our development—we’ve only hosted two world championships before, the 1998 men’s juniors and the 1999 women’s open—and good for Sobhy’s daughter, Amanda, the defending world junior champion, who would much rather play in her home country than in Cairo where her chief rivals live (though she trains every summer in Cairo).


Sobhy fired off some emails and discovered that U.S. Squash was already working on it with the World Squash Federation. At that point, it was wait and see. Well, at the end of July Harvard will be hosting the women’s world juniors.

This will be an enormous boon to the U.S. squash community. Unlike in 1998 or 1999, we’ll have an American who is likely to go far in the tournament if not win it, so the marketing campaign is much easier. In 1998 for instance, only four boys—out of seventeen—managed to win a match (Eric Pearson, Peter Kelly, Rich Repetto and Peter Karlen) and none won more than one. A typical result was Dylan Patterson, a very good American player, and yet he lost to future world champion Nick Matthew 1, 0, 0.

At the women’s world open in 1999 in Seattle, only two Americans made it into the main draw, and both, the Khan sisters Shabana and Latasha, lost in the first round.

No American was seeded in 1998 or 1999; Sobhy will likely be seeded number one.

It is also a mammoth event. The 1998 event at Princeton had a budget of $280,000.



Carpe Frosty

Last month I was involved in two nationals squash tournaments that showed how sustaining the game is.


The first was the high school nationals. It had one hundred and forty-one teams (about a thousand players on site) at four sites in central Connecticut. I churned through a tank of gas shuttling from Wesleyan to Choate to Trinity to Yale to Trinity—and that was just in the first thirty hours of the weekend.

I was helping with the St. Andrews School’s boys and girls. I had been an assistant coach at SAS for the winter, coming down once or twice a week to work with the fifty kids that make up Delaware’s only high school squash program. (One day while stretching in the gym, surrounded by state championship banners, I joked that they get the school to put some up for squash—a state title is a state title.) It was wonderful working with such great kids, drilling, hitting and playing knock-knock. However, I am still waiting to go on a Frosty run to the Friendly’s in Middletown (the school’s motto right now seems to be Carpe Frosty, a play on the film that was shot at the school, Dead Poet’s Society).

When I got to the nationals, I discovered that I was not alone. Dozens of people like me who have full-time jobs (or the equivalent in my case) spent their winters helping high school squash teams. I ran into Duncan Pearson (Springside), Carole Grunberg (Potomac), John Musto (Chapin), Rich Sheppard (Springside). St. Andrews faced off against Chapin (an eighth grader for Chapin clawed back from a 0-2 deficit to win her match in five and clinch a 4-3 win over us), and there was Musto and I, coaching against each other, after having worked at a squash camp together twenty years earlier. (To be fair, John has now taken on a full-time job running the squash program at CityView in New York.)

More than one person asked me if I ran into any contemporaries who were there not because they were coaches but because they were parents, and yes, just one (David Ganek) but one was enough to make me feel old.

The other tournament was the century doubles in New York. I played with my father in the 70+ division. Overall, the century had eighty-six teams in five divisions. A plane-load came down from Toronto (both our matches were against Toronto teams), a dozen from Louisville, including a couple who were not playing but just came for the party. (see p. 156 of my history of U.S. squash book for the Louisville’s motto) and even one came from Sweden. It was even more obvious to me that squash is a lifetime sport, as the century necessarily had a lot of older guys, including many in their eighties.

Four guys not there were the four that played in the 80+ division at the hardball nationals in Boston in February: Charlie Baker, Charlie Butt, Henri Salaun and Bill Wilson. (Butt was coming down to the century but got the flu.) That is a murderers row of great players and much fanfare should go to Goose Wilson, the defending champion, who survived a five-gamer against Butt to win the title again.


Trinity won its thirteenth national title and two hundred and forty-fourth dual match in a row last weekend in dramatic fashion. It was the seventh time since the streak started in February 1998 that they’ve escaped with a 5-4 victory (2004 v. Harvard at the nationals; 2006 v. Princeton in the regular season [Atlas Lives] and the nationals; 2007 v. Harvard in the regular season; 2009 v. Princeton in the regular season and the nationals [Run to the Roar])

For a brief report on the previous nailbiters, see Vanity Fair: ( and for a full report, read the book:

Anyway, this time they won behind Chris Binnie. It is not because he is a total frickin’ rock star from Mars. No, the senior from Jamaica had just improved. When he came to Trinity, he was not the mentally toughest competitor out there, but Paul Assaiante mentored and lead him to discover a vast reservoir of emotional calm and confidence.

Unlike most 4-4 dual matches, at Harvard last weekend Binnie and Ricky Dodd went on court to warm-up knowing that their match would be the decisive one. Talk about pressure—winner take all. But in his last team match, Binnie toughed it out. The last time they faced each other, Binnie had beaten Dodd at the 2010 nationals, but it was a brutal five-gamer 12-14, 11-9, 11-8, 11-13, 11-9. Who had improved more in the past three hundred and sixty days?

Binnie won in four.

Then he had the courtesy to allow Dodd to exit before the traditional storming of the court.

This match, this sportsmanship, this leadership is coaching at it finest 


Watch the conclusion at: (