The death of Charley Brinton reminded me of a conversation I had last winter with Hal Baker.
Harvard class of 1942 and still a full-time working lawyer, Hal had lent me some files, and I went to his office in Manhattan to return them. We got to talking about old tournaments, and he described how he used to come home for the Christmas holidays.
By day he would play in the annual intercollegiate tournament held at the University Club and by night he went out to black-tie debutante parties and balls that were the social fare at the time for many an undergraduate.
After being out all night, Hal would come in to the club, play a match and then, with George Cumming’s permission, take a long nap in the training room off to the side of the pro shop. This routine worked well and Hal ran through the draw of the 1942 tournament. In the semis he managed to outlast the great Charley Brinton. This was a huge victory, beating the national champion. But the toll of the social and squash whirlwind caught up and Hal lost in the finals.
The World Doubles was held again last month, this time in Toronto. The biennial tournament, which has been held on and off since 1981, featured a whiz-bang final. Damien Mudge & Ben Gould came back from 1-2 down to win in five over John Russell & Clive Leach. Mudge & Gould thus went undefeated this season, despite a few scares.
Afterwards, I emailed with Clive Caldwell and Bob French about the World Dubs. They helped start the original one in Toronto in 1981 (Clive won it with Mo Khan—now that is a team with personality). It was sponsored by Bata and had nifty posters.
Speaking of posters, for something to look forward to for the 2011-12 ISDA season, how about a pro tournament in Europe? For the first time ever, a proper pro squash doubles tournament will be held overseas. In late September the Scottish Cup will be at the Edinburgh Sports Club, where a regulation hardball court was built in the mid-1930s (two other standard ones and one non-standard were built in London at the same time, but these fell victim to Second World War bombings). Organized by Peter Nicol with a eye-catching poster, this promises to open a new chapter in the century-old history of squash doubles.
Feels good just writing that.
On Friday morning I had breakfast with Harry Sheehy, the new athletic director at Dartmouth. We talked about the Big Green squash program and about how there is renewed interest in athletic excellence at the College—the benchmark being winning the Ivy League title.
But over the weekend, Harry got a bit more than an Ivy title. The men won the 2011 USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship. I got to watch it on NBC yesterday. Pretty cool.
There are many ways to think about rugby sevens and how to learn from its meteoric rise in popularity around the country and world in the past couple of years. The Olympics, I think, is as much an example of that popularity rather than a catalyst.
Two things strike me: one is the ease of the game compared to regular rugby, less rules, great flow. It makes sense—my wife, who had never watched rugby before, understood what was happening.
Two is the endemic sportsmanship and socializing that goes with rugby. It is just fun off the field. I mean, what other sport would you have the Princeton women’s rugby team, having clearly lost a bet, standing in the stands throughout another match clad only in their sports bras? See: http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/123210078.html
The National League Finals just came off in Boston. I helped originate the idea a few years ago and was glad to see it finally come to fruition. Not enough teams this inaugural year, but it will come. I was disappointed that none of the teams from my old squash league in Washington made it—for years I was a part of a spirited scene down there that was very competitive on-court and social off.
League now for me is squash doubles. My doubles team at the Racquet Club of Philadelphia managed to win the Philadelphia SRA’s Super B league this past winter. Even though no one has adequately explained why there are B and a Super B leagues (I am guessing that it has do with bruised egos of former A players), the league was great fun. Doubles is inherently more social that singles, and a bunch of RCOP guys drove all the way down from Philly to Wilmington to watch our side take on Vicmead in the finals.
Now if only there were more districts than Philly and New York that had doubles leagues, we could start a National League Final doubles tournament. Maybe we should try that out anyway, with Toronto and Vancouver? Not sure there are any other cities that have bonafide leagues (Greenwich/Rye?) but four is enough to start.