Assaiante Retires

Last month Coach Paul Assaiante retired after a forty-nine year journey in the squash world. He and I sat down for an Outside The Glass interview, which went up a few days later:

Episode eighty-nine was not the first time he was on OTG. We did an interview, at the U.S. Open at Drexel, that went up nearly three years ago:

And so the record-breaking run is over. His record at Trinity was 511-34 (a .937 winning percentage), giving him an overall career record (along with his eleven years at Army and two at Williams) of 622-98. There is a slight discrepancy with Trinity’s records—they list his Bantam record at 507-29. This stems from his first three years at Trinity when the sports information department didn’t count Trinity’s results at the national intercollegiate team championships, the new playoff system that had come into existence only a few years earlier.

Some of Coach’s records will be broken. He and Jack Barnaby coached seventeen teams to a national title—Mike Way already has fourteen. Someone could possibly win 253 consecutive dual matches. But will any coach accumulate 622 collegiate wins again? That number seems imperishable.

Haverford Hall of Fame

Recently I attended a dinner for Haverford School’s sixteenth Athletic Hall of Fame.

Three squash players were inducted. They followed in the path of a dozen other illustrious squash players and coaches: (in order of induction) Ralph Howe, Fred Thornton, the 1982-83 team, Carter Fergusson, Bill MacCoy, Ed Mack, Steve Vehslage, Sam Howe, Mike Mayock, the 1976-77 team, Bill Prizer, Russ Ball, the 1978-79 team, Rick Campbell and Ed Garno.

This year’s was poignant, as two of the inductees were no longer with us.
Tanny Sargent was an early pioneer of squash in Philadelphia and the best player to come out of Haverford before the Second World War. Sargent was twice captain of the Haverford team. At Harvard, captained the freshman team and then the varsity. In 1934, his sophomore year he reached the finals of the National Intercollegiates to face his teammate and classmate Germain Gladden. Sargent went up 2-1, Glidden grabbed the fourth and then Sargent, in an unprecedented flurry, bageled Glidden 15-0 in the fifth. This was an extraordinary result—Glidden was a giant and a future U.S. Squash Hall of Fame.

Sargent went on to reach the semis of the National Singles in 1935, losing a tight five-gamer to the defending champion, and Sargent & Glidden won the Canadian National Doubles that year, one of the rare times that collegiate players have done that. Lincoln Werden of the New York Times wrote after Sargent appeared at the 1934 Gold Racquets at Rockaway Hunt Club: “Although his cannonading serve was perhaps one of the outstanding phases of his game, Sargent’s anticipation of shots and his excellent racquet work earned him the praise of the onlookers.”

Sargent suffered an ankle injury that put him out of his senior year at Harvard, and then soon after college he had a heart condition diagnosed which put an end to his short but brilliant career.

Another player lost far too soon was Colin Campbell. Colin played on the varsity at Haverford for five seasons (a remarkable achievement considering that the team was the strongest in the country). His senior year he captained the team to a 19-1 record, the only loss coming at the hands of Princeton’s junior varsity. Like Sargent, Campbell went on to play at Harvard, where his team won two national titles. He died of cancer in September 2013 at the age of forty-three.

The third squash inductee was Morris Clothier. Like Campbell, he played on the varsity for five seasons and was captain his senior year. Clothier had one of the greatest scholastic careers in U.S. squash history, going 90-6 in those five years, often playing at #1, with the six losses coming to college players. Clothier went on to be a four-time All American at Franklin & Marshall, a nine-time winner of the National Doubles, a chair of the US Squash Doubles Committee and winner of the 2008 President’s Cup.

18 February 1923

Today was the day that collegiate squash started a century ago. The men’s squash teams of Harvard and Yale played each other in February 1923 at the Racquet & Tennis Club. This is the global start of university squash—the annual varsity match between Oxford and Cambridge began in December 1925.

Harvard beat Yale 4-1. The only Eli to win was Luke Williams, then the national intercollegiate tennis champion. Crimson winners included Palmer Dixon, future National Singles champion and Carroll Harrington, who I wrote about here a dozen years ago:

https://squashword.ussquash.com/?m=201104

There is some confusion about whether this historic match was played on Saturday the 17th or Sunday the 18th. The New York Times reported on Monday the 19th that they played on the 18th:

https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1923/02/19/100819372.pdf?pdf_redirect=true&ip=0

The Crimson, the Harvard school newspaper, also published a piece on the match on Monday the 19th. They said that it occurred on Saturday the 17th:

https://www.thecrimson.com/article/1923/2/19/squash-team-wins-two-matches-in/

Today, on the exact day—or perhaps a day late—I went to New York to quietly celebrate the centennial. The R&T courts used by Dixon and Williams have long been renovated out of recognition. But I could hear a squash ball being thumped on a court, echoing down long passageways, and I thought this is enough: the sound of a ball hitting a wall, the squeak of sneakers, the call of the score.

Those ten men in February 1923 didn’t know it, but their matches were the start of one of the greatest stories in all of squash.

ToC 1993

The Tournament of Champions is on right now in Grand Central. It is the twenty-fifth time it has been held there. Thirty years ago, the ToC was also in New York, just a few miles down the island of Manhattan from Grand Central—the tournament was at the Winter Garden, the palm-tree studded atrium at the World Trade Center. The cover of the 1993 hardcopy tournament program, not findable with a QR code, featured a gorgeous painting.

Will Davies painted it. Davies was a legendary Ontario illustrator and painter, famous for stamps, ads, posters, book covers (he illustrated five hundred romance novel covers) and magazine illustrations. He died in September 2016 at the age of ninety-two.

In 1991, the men’s North American pro tour, just before the merger with the men’s international pro tour, commissioned Davies to create an illustration from a photograph (now unknown, possibly taken by Hugh McClean?). Thirty years later, the painting evokes an earlier era, with the hardball service lines and both men wearing Action Eyes goggles.

The Hall of Fame subjects were Ned Edwards in the background and Kenton Jernigan about to strike the ball. Ned jokes that “unless Kenton hit a very soft, highish roll corner, it looks like I’m in quite a bad spot.”

What of the original painting? For decades it hung in the Dallas home of  Tom Plaskett. The CEO of Continental Airlines, Pan Am Airlines and Greyhound, Plaskett was a friend of Jack Herrick and a supporter of the ToC when it was in the Winter Garden. Plaskett died in June 2021 at the age of seventy-seven.

The Crown & Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Twice this fall I’ve come across tiny squash scenes on television.

The Crown—season five, episode two (“The System”)—has a brief squash scene with Andrew Morton and James Colthurst. Both people in real life knew about squash: Morton went to the University of Sussex; Colthurst to Eton.

The scene opens with a delightful shot of a glass door with the two men playing on the court behind it (only a few courts have a plaster back wall but a glass door). Then it moves on court. Both players are all in white, small-headed racquets. It only lasts for a couple of seconds and ends with one player sprawled on the floor, racquet flung to the tin. Then a quick moment half a minute later, more slashing at the ball.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine has a squash scene dripping with sarcasm. It aired on 5 December 2015, in season three, episode nine (“The Swedes”), the one where Neil deGrasse Tyson guest stars.

Holt and Kevin have established “a squash doubles dynasty” at the Park Slope Racquet Club, winning a tournament two years in a row. Kevin can’t make it this year, so can Boyle sub in? Boyle, it turns out, was a three-time intramural champion at Sarah Lawrence. The school newspaper dubbed him “squash’s unhinged lunatic” with a record of 27-0.

Boyle is nervous about playing with his boss. “Squash brings out my competitive side, breaking racquets, cursing, excessive mooning,” Boyle tells Terry. Once to psych out an opponent, Boyle locked eyes and ate a squash ball.

At the Park Slope Racquet Club, the matches occur. They are on a glass-back, converted racquetball court, lined for both squash and racquetball. The side-walls have ads (for Sparkle Mist energy drink and a sporting goods store). The door is on the side but there is a large gallery behind the glass back wall. Holt and Boyle are in all whites.

The first point of the first match starts with Boyle serving to the right-wall side, with Holt standing right next to him. Boyle serves the ball out and then complains vigorously to his opponent.

In the next match, Boyle unleashes the beast, wearing all-black: headband, elbow pads, knee pads, socks and a black glove on his playing hand. He bursts on court and says, “you butternuts ready to get squashed?” At one point, Boyle snaps his racquet in two and then slams the two pieces onto the floor.

Later, they FaceTime with Kevin and show him a nice squash trophy. But they can’t go for No.4 next year because they’ve been banned for life: Boyle snapped the second-place trophy over his knee and threw it in a urinal.

PBI

A few weeks ago I was down in Richmond for the Price-Bullington Invitational’s golden anniversary.

The PBI is one of the great under-sung squash institutions in the U.S. Founded in 1970 by Salty Hawkins and originally named the A. Holt Bullington Invitational, the event’s name also includes Ted Price who has presided for a half century. I wrote about the PBI last year, when it celebrated its fiftieth:

But the grand party was cancelled in 2020 and, due to the pandemic, the tournament in 2021 was necessarily subdued, so this year the celebration finally occurred. A fantastic contingent from around the world came to town. On the Friday night there was a special dinner hosted on two long tables out in a gorgeous garden. There was an all-star roster in attendance: current and former college coaches including Mark Allen, Wendy Bartlett, Wendy Lawrence, Steve Pitch and Gail Ramsay and multiple winners of the PBI like John Nimick, Reeham Sedky and the Ezra brothers, Adrian and Daniel.

It is hard to overstate what a bombshell the Ezras were in the 1990s. The boys from Bombay flashed across the American scene, crushing everyone in both hardball and softball. Adrian won three national intercollegiate individual titles (losing in the finals in the fourth) and Daniel took one title, losing three other times in the finals. They presided over a tremendous team run— with them at the top, Harvard captured every men’ s national title from 1991 through 1997 except when Princeton upset them in 1993.

At the PBI, Adrian won in 1991, 1992 and 1993 (and lost in the 1994 finals) while Daniel won in 1995 and 1996. Now living in New York and London, the brothers are playing more padel than squash but it was great to see them again after a quarter of a century.

Jack Herrick

Jack Herrick passed away this week at eighty-four.

The morning he died, I wrote up three different obits—Jack was a legendary leader in three distinct squash bailiwicks (US Squash, Jesters and Dartmouth Squash). Jack was an abiding friend, collaborator and predecessor for me in those realms and beyond. I was close with his children while in college and close with Jack ever since. Year after year, we would end up in long conversations at tournaments around the U.S. (Jack always had a box at the Tournament of Champions that was always filled with squash luminaries) and around the world. I got to stay at his house in Cleveland. I got to spend time with an absolute gem of a guy.

His death now closes a chapter on one enduring, if entirely unimportant mystery: who was he in college? Jack was a class of 1960 at Dartmouth, a member of the tennis and squash team. He was also a member of Alpha Delta Phi. When he was a senior, a freshman named Chris Miller joined the fraternity. A decade and a half later, Miller wrote articles in National Lampoon and then co-wrote the screenplay for Animal House. The articles and the film were based on Miller’s days at Dartmouth and his AD brothers. There was a real Otter, a real Flounder, a real Bluto (but he was in another fraternity); Miller’s nickname was Pinto. An AD named Turnip was the one who originally showed up at a women’s college pretending to be the fiancé of a recently deceased student. There was also guys nicknamed Doberman, Seal, Rat, Hardbar, Dumptruck, Hydrant, Giraffe, Magpie, Coyote, Abby, Rhesus Monkey, Froggie, Poz, Hardbar, Huck Doody, Moses, Doberman, Gazork and Mouse.

Who was Jack? He never bragged about being portrayed in Animal House but he admitted that he—or something he had done—had made it directly into the film. Chris Miller surely mentions Jack in his 2006 memoir of AD, The Real Animal House: The Awesomely Depraved Saga of the Fraternity That Inspired the Movie. But now we’ll never know which one he was. It is a good mystery to have as we say farewell to our old friend.

Sam Howe

Our good friend Sam Howe died earlier this month at the age of eighty-four.https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/inquirer/name/samuel-howe-obituary?id=36539373

I grew up with Sam and long ago got used to long, fruitful, historically rich conversations with him. “At any rate,” was his stock conversation filler.

He was always well turned out. I loved his stripey socks, jaunty hats and his many needlepointed belts and cummerbunds (courtesy of Dodi Fordham, his wife). He loved talking history. I recently went through a photo album of his from the 1964 National Doubles which were held in Minneapolis. The names were sometimes legendary and, to me, sometimes obscure, but Sam had a funny story about each one.

He had fun. Years ago he gave me a framed newspaper, the Montclair Monitor. Dated April 1st, 1961, it was an April Fools paper with the tagline: “All the Dirt That’s Fit to Sweep.” (“Cost: Only Your Self-Respect”). Some squash guys had gotten together to produce it. There was a lot of insidery ribbing and joking. One article declared that Howe was getting demoted to the third division of the Philadelphia district because of poor play (highlighted by losing to his college-age brother Ralph).

At any rate, we will miss him.

What Nathan Saw

This summer I got a copy of Nathan Clarke’s second book of photograph: Behind the Glass II: Inside the PSA World Tour 2020/21. It was published in 2021 by the PSA Foundation.

There are hundreds of incredible photographs in the book, well beyond the standard action photo from behind the front wall. Close-ups of tattoos, scars, a drop of sweat just leaving Hania El Hammamy’s chin; shots of family members; aerial shots; multiple-exposure and slow-shutter speed shots. The cover features Lisa Aitken at the Black Ball Open with a stunning double shadow.

The book highlights how strange that season was, with the pandemic at full-throttle, and how perceptive and captivating Clarke’s eye is.

Copies are available:https://www.ebay.com/itm/384736121694?hash=item59940f535e:g:XEAAAOSw-U5iC369&amdata=enc%3AAQAHAAAAsOebT6Xf%2BvxkJdMIMqBm%2F8hKXhqMel5cFZU50p4hsGIT%2F2squaVRuF2dyhQnNVwQi7AwnSNIHqKqhsD%2FIBF%2Fx6SyIbxzx0yFkstuMzxUWzdQAv0WkyK1OWAd%2BLA14XbxAkzu4PR8bulwiNvvozIVXpldjECIMPA67uNcPlMWQ8X72Njk%2FYDyx3pHJDX59U9sTVc17j9B6gNEuu32c5v7sBBBgqNPFK9bPrSgz%2FyHbkwG%7Ctkp%3ABk9SR8jE-YTwYA

Pete Bostwick

Earlier this month, George H. Bostwick, Jr. died at the age of eighty-seven.

Arguably, Pete was, along with his younger brother Jimmy, the greatest American male amateur athlete of the twentieth century. He was an outstanding golfer and tennis player. He remains one of just three men to play in both sports’ U.S. national championship: in the 1959 U.S. Open at Winged Foot he missed the cut by just three strokes; in 1952 he lost in the first round at the U.S. tennis nationals at Forest Hills. He twice won the U.S. Open in racquets. In court tennis he twice captured the world championship and won six U.S. Open titles. In ice hockey he tried out for the 1960 Olympic team and from 1958 to 1983 captained the St. Nicholas squad.

Squash was a sidelight amidst all this competition (and scheduling—Pete was famous for driving or flying all over the East Coast to be able to squeeze in a St. Nick’s game during a tournament weekend). But he naturally was very good and worked hard at it. He first played at St. Paul’s, but it wasn’t until his late thirties that he picked up a racquet in the winters. Still he won the men’s national 40+in 1975, 45+ in 1980 and 70+ in 2005.

I’ve received dozens of emails about Pete in the days since he died. He was not just an outstanding player but a gentleman, gracious, thoughtful, a perceptive mentor to me and dozens of other younger players.

One correspondent mentioned an incident in the finals of the 40+ in 1976 at Penn’s Ringe courts in Philadelphia. As defending champion, Pete had just beaten Hall of Fame Diehl Mateer in a close, five-game semifinal and now was locked in a tough battle against Dick Radloff in the finals. Midway through, Bostwick got hit in the forehead from a Radloff swing. Blood everywhere. A doctor came down to the court and stitched up his forehead. Ever the tough hockey player, Bostwick resumed playing.

He lost 15-13 in the fifth, but he gained the admiration of the gallery, as he did throughout his unprecedented career.

The Inside Word on the Game of Squash