West Wing; McQueenie

Sojourning in the nation’s capital has made me slightly more attuned to the political, despite the quirky fact that because I live in the District of Columbia I do not have the right to vote. (This taxation without representation system is still happening at home two hundred and twenty-four years after the Boston Tea Party.) One thing I have seen closeup is that The West Wing was a very strong television show, at least because it covered squash.

Covered might be a little strong. There were three mentions. West Wing started seven years ago last month, and today is the four-year anniversary of the original airing of one of West Wing’s great episodes: “The Dogs of War.” It was season five, episode two. Ryan Pierce made his appearance as Josh Lyman’s intern. Pierce was played by Jesse Bradforda young actor most well-known for Steven Soderburgh’s King of the Hill from 1993 and Flags of Our Fathers from 2006 (he also appeared in Presumed Innocent in 1990 with both Bradley Whitford (Josh) and John Spencer (Leo), which is presumably how he made his way to West Wing a decade later).

Pierce tried to ingragiate himself with Josh by playing the name game from their mutual alma mater, Harvard. He mentioned Elliott Cabot and then Hamilton Pew. Ham Pew, he said, played on the squash team. “Ham’s squash team went 9-0 in ‘89. Ham was All Ivy three years in a row.” Josh said, “I wasn’t much into squash.”

Not to parse this too much, but Harvard, which lately has had the leanest schedule in college squash, usually has more than nine dual matches in a season (last year they played eleven matches; most teams play about thirteen or fourteen; Trinity plays more than twenty). In addition, the real kick is All American, as being All Ivy has never really been the resume headliner, especially in the past Trinity-dominated decade when it has been a serious consolation prize. And Harvard did not go undefeated in 1989, losing to Yale in a celebrated match at the nationals.

In two episodes from season six, squash reappeared. (In a October 2004 episode, there was a quick mention of squash in a much different context. When the White House was trying to get the Palestinian Authority president to arrest a terrorist named Nasan, Toby said: “He’s not going to punish Nasan. He’s rounded up terrorists before. He walks them past Al Jazerra for show and then puts them under house arrest in a palace with a squash court and high-speed internet access.”) In December 2004 a writer, Roger Grant approached Squash Magazine about getting squash lingo for a March 2005 episode. Amy Duchene, Will Carlin and I shoveled a truckload of verbiage, slang and nomenclature his way. Will even turned his offerings into one of his back-page columns for the magazine.

The episode, “A Good Day,” featured Mark Feuerstein (Princeton, ‘93) as Clifford Calley. Clifford and the Speaker of the House had a regular Thursday squash game. In the first scene, Clifford says “This won’t affect my serve. I’m going to slaughter you tomorrow—straight games.” A little clunky, but okay. (The Speaker replies, “Save it for the court, dude.” Now THAT is more typical.)

The second scene has Clifford and CJ laying out the plan to fool the Speaker. “This is where squash comes in,” says Clifford.

“The sport or the vegetable?” says CJ. (Is that joke old enough by now?)

“I punish the Speaker every Thursday in a standing match…I shut him out with my awesome forehand….Here’s how it will go: ‘Oh, nice nick’—squash talk.”

“He says, ‘thanks, let please,’—I played a little squash….Might work—going to have to let him win a game.”

“No mercy.”

Yes, funnelled from the great minds at Squash Magazine right into the first great show of our new century. Ah, squash talk.


Jim McQueenie

Jim McQueenie died last month at the age of seventy-four. Like Doug McLaggan, who died in April, McQueenie was another product of the Edinburgh Sports Club who worked as a squash pro at clubs around the U.S. and Canada. Born in Long Niddrey, Scotland, McQueenie ended up at the Indianapolis Athletic Club, one of the great Midwest clubs (it hosted both what is now the U.S. Open and the Tournament of Champions in the mid-1960s; it has struggled to overcome a 1992 fire).

McQueenie was a very good player (he was a top-ten professional on the hardball circuit for more than a decade), but he will be remembered more for his efforts in bridging the age-old divide between amateurs and pros. As president of the North American Professional Squash Racquets Association (which became the WPSA which amalgamated with the pro softball tour to become the PSA), he elected women members for the first time and helped secure the Bancroft contract for the USSRA in 1975, the first corporate sponsorship deal in the history of the USSRA. Most of all, he became the first pro to be elected to the USSRA executive, in 1979, a watershed moment for the American game.

2 Responses to “West Wing; McQueenie”

  1. John Nixon Says:
    Thanks for the mention of Jim McQueenie. It should be noted, however, that the Indianapolis Athletic Club is no longer struggling to overcome the effects of the fire – the IAC closed and its building sold to a developer several years ago. Most of the building has been converted into condominiums. Rumor has it that one, or at best two, squash courts may have survived the conversion, for use by residents, but no one seems to know for sure.
  2. Taylor Ricketts Says:
    Leave it to Zug to extract these excellent squash references from one of the most intelligent, relevant TV shows ever. I would love to see repeats of this from Seinfeld!

USQ HQ Move and Retreat; World’s Greatest Collection

This summer has been a one of transition for American squash. The USSRA moved its headquarters from Bala Cynwyd to New York. The association was founded in 1904 and yet until 1974 its official headquarters rotated every two years, to the home or office of the new president. HQ was in Buffalo in 1967-1969 when Seymour Knox was president; then it was in New York when Stew Brauns ran it in 1969-71; and then it was in Indianapolis when Lloyd Jacobs took over in 1971—three cities in three years. 

This hopscotching ended in early 1975 when the association hired its first executive director, Darwin Kingsley, who opened an office in the Bala Cynwyd suburb of Philadelphia. They were in a small house, above the offices for the Patrick Gallagher’s Sons Taxi of Bala Cynwyd. (The Gallagher brothers were a famous institution on the Main Line: Patrick and his identical brother Francis married two sisters, and the four of them and their fourteen children lived together in a six-bedroom house; their taxi company, founded in 1910, closed just last month after Patrick died.)

In 1989, after slowly expanding and gobbling up room after room in the Gallagher’s offices, the USSRA moved to a larger house at 23 Cynwyd Road. (The house was bought by monies largely donated by the Pierce family.) For eighteen years, the little nondescript clapboard was the fulcrum for a growing game. The executive director had his desk in one living room (Kingsley, Craig Brand, Palmer Page and now Kevin Klipstein, as well as acting executive director Mike Hymer). Anne Farrell commanded from her desk in the other living room and after 2000 Steve Gregg had a desk near hers. On the second floor, Jean McFeeley, Teresa Myers and Jeannie Shanahan (Farrell’s sister) kept track of members from Alaska to Florida.

23 Cynwyd was not the most luxuriously appointed office, to be sure. The first thing Page did when he moved in was rip up the rugs. The staff was not allowed to use the third floor (due to a local ordinance that limited the office space based on parking space, which was tiny and horribly tight—that hedge always seemed to be jumping out at me), so the staff snuck boxes up there for storage. I fondly remember climbing through a hole to get up the barricaded stairs and into the third floor to find some papers. The basement was the other treasure trove, where thirty-two years of extra tournament tee-shirts, forgotten plaques and Stew Braun’s famous squash necktie collection resided in a spectral gloom.

Now the USSRA is in hip, open-plan, bright digs on 38th and Eighth Avenue, just four blocks south of Times Square. Quite a different set of lunch options.

At the same time, the staff has completely revolved, with Conor O’Malley (formerly of Chicago and the founder of MetroSquash ) and Bill Buckingham (formerly of New Haven) now commuting to the Manhattan HQ. And the name has changed. It was the Philadelphia Association from 1904 to 1920; the United States Squash Racquets Association from 1920 to 2007; and now US Squash. Despite the grammatical error of no periods for the abbreviation, it is a long-overdue change.

US Squash Retreat

Last month I spent a weekend in the Hamptons with two dozen other squash folks to strategize for US Squash. It was a fascinating retreat, graciously hosted by Jim Marver and attended by people from the UK (Christian Leighton, the World Squash Federation CEO), Bermuda (Ross Triffitt, the tournament director for the 2007 men’s World Open ) and across the country. We brainstormed and debated metrics and argued about the squash ecosystem and contemplated stick rates and spotted some hedgehogs. We discussed facts like there are 51,103 courts in the world, including two in Belarus, one in Tonga and three in Panama (there are 3,315 courts in the U.S.) and that there are about 256,000 Americans who play the game each month or at least who read this blog.

The only time we emerged from behind the famous Hampton hedgerows was when we went to the Elmaleh-Stanton Squash Center in Southampton. The five-court complex (including the first hardball doubles court in eastern Long Island) just opened this summer. It is at the Southampton rec center, which meant that hundreds of kids shooting hoops or playing soccer on the other side of the glass wall could be exposed to our great game.

World’s Greatest Collection

Recently I was emailing with a colleague in Great Britain, Alan Chalmers, who runs the Tennis Bookshop, the world’s leading purveyor of rare books about squash (and other racquet sports). We were talking about Melbourne, Australia, and he wrote, “Well, of course, you have been to see Bert Armstrong’s museum?” and though I spent two weeks in Melbourne a few years ago, even dining in what used to be a squash court at Armstrong’s club, the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club , I had missed hearing about him.

It turns out that Armstrong probably has the greatest collection of squash memorabilia in the world. About twenty years ago (he is sixty-six) he started collecting old racquets from friends who played on the squash court he built at his house. Today he owns about eight hundred racquets. There are nearly two hundred different brand names from twenty-four countries. His earliest bat dates from 1890 (a Salter Aldershot). He owns racquets made of ash, bamboo, willow, cane, graphite, steel, aluminum, composite and kevlar; dozens are brand-new, mint-condition, still in wrapping. One not in wrapping is Geoff Hunt’s Stellar, which he used to win the 1981 British Open, arguably the most thrilling British Open in history.

He owns just about everything to do with squash: first-day cover stamps, tankards, banners, neckties (bet Armstrong wants Stew Braun’s collection!), mirrors, postcards, videos, posters, money clips, badges, spoons, a racquet photograph frame, a 1907 trophy. He owns a handwritten, signed letter from Sir Donald Bradman, cricket’s Barry Bonds (without steroids or a helmet), telling how he won the 1939 South Australian squash championship.

Bert owns books. Browsing at Ebay, flea markets, antique shops and the occasional visit to book towns like Hay-on-Wye, Armstrong has amassed nearly two hundred books (nearly half were published in the 1970s). He has the 1901 Eustace Miles, both the British and U.S. editions; he has a signed leather-bound book of Heather McKay that was produced in an edition of eight. He has every book by Jonah Barrington’s (our game’s most prolific champion-turned-author). He even bought a copy of the galley to my book on Ebay.

The usual questions are: what does your wife think (Jo is also a collector, or porcelain, sewing implements, etc. and a squash player, so she understands the collecting yen) and what is the longterm future of the collection (there is a faint hope that there might be a squash museum at Kooyong).

Next time I am Down Under, Bert, I am there.

One Response to “HQ Move; US Squash Retreat; World’s Greatest Collection”

  1. Guy Cipriano Says:
    Jimbo- interesting stuff as always.
    What happened to the stuff in Treddy Ketcham’s apartment? Who has it and who’s in charge of getting it all catalogued? I was only there once and I remember that the man had absolutely everything saved about squash for maybe 50 years. I surely hope that somebody with a love of the game like you or maybe even the USSRA gets that material and treats it with kid gloves for posterity. The Hall of Fame would probably be the right repository archive.
    God Bless Tredwell. He’s missed. One of the finest men I ever met.

Pan Am Games; John Friel; Episcopal Academy

Ho-hum. Another Pan American Games. More medals for American squash players. From all the desultory coverage in the mainstream American media, you probably missed it. I was in Manchester for the 2002 Commonwealth Games and Great Britain was agog—front-page, above-the-fold, top-of-the-hour, breaking-news coverage. People were lusting after my press pass. The Queen came for a squash match.

Here: nothing. Forty-two nations, five thousand athletes and nothing until C-7. 

The Pan Am Games were first held in Buenos Aires in 1951. Squash became a medal sport in the 1995 Mar del Plata, Argentina Games (silver for Demer Holleran and silver for the women’s team); and subsequently in Winnipeg in ‘99 (Power’s last-minute withdrawal, Marty Clark’s infamous meltdown and silver again for Demer and for the women); and Santo Domingo, DR in 2003 (Latasha Khan getting gold, as did the women’s team and Preston Quick getting bronze).

Last month the XV Rio Games brought in the best individual haul for U.S. squash: gold for Natalie Grainger and silver for Julian Illingworth (who, by the way, is now ranked 55 in the world). But there was more disappointment in the teams (silver for the defending champion women and no medal, for the fourth straight time, for the men).

Guadalajara, Mexico will be the site of the XVI Games in 2011. Will anyone in the U.S. care? If the Pan Am Games are supposed to be, like the Commonwealth Games, a key stepping stone to getting into the Olympics, maybe we should try a different river, because this one is pretty dry.


A few months ago I got an enormous box in the mail from the great granddaughter of John F. Friel. It contained a treasure trove of material about the first great American-born squash pro.

In 1899 at age seventeen Friel joined the Racquet Club of Philadelphia and when they opened a squash court the following year, he became the pro. He worked there till he retired in February 1951. Friel coached national champions like John Miskey, William Freeland and Stan Pearson, Sr. The “lank, langorous” Friel, as the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin called him, played in the first pro squash tournament in the country, in 1905 Huntingdon Valley Country Club, where he lost to Alfred Ellis in the finals 12-15, 15-11, 15-12, 18-17. (There were five in the draw; a dozen amateurs played in an accompanying draw; Ellis got $45, Friel got $30.)

A few tidbits emerged from a tattered scrapbook. More than three hundred people came to watch the finals of a Pennsylvania state singles tournament at the RCOP (Stan Pearson outlasting Danny Hutchinson in five; Hutchinson contested a let, which scandalized the crowd: it was, one newspaper reported, “most unusual. One constantly hears between opponents in squash racquets, ‘I was in your way that time; take a let on it,’ and invariably the reply, ‘No, not at all; I could not have played the ball; good shot.’”). The Cynwyd Club won a Philadelphia league title in one division or another from 1914 into the 1940s, a remarkable run. The original trophy for the national professional championship (now called the Tournament of Champions) was the Harry Passon. (The only thing I could find on Passon was that he was a Jewish basketball player in the 1920s in Philadelphia.). Friel also moonlighted in 1917-18 at the Racquet Club of St. Louis. A ticket in the dedans for the 16 March 1914 world championship court tennis match of George Covey v. Jay Gould cost $30 (about $625 today). That winter a woman, Judith Lytton of England (Sir Neville’s wife), broke the gender barrier at the RCOP when she slipped in to play a court tennis match. (She beat her opponent, the same Danny Hutchinson, 6-0, 6-4.). Lytton was quite a woman—she also scandalized France by playing in men-only court tennis clubs there too.

Barring women was not the only rule at the RCOP. At the first national squash championships, held in October 1907 at the RCOP, reporters were, as was traditional, banned from the clubhouse. That was fine, one newspaperman wrote, but the club would not even telephone in the results. So he had to persuade one of the trainers in the athletic department to call him about the semifinals. This was most unusual, he wrote: “The members of the various cricket clubs are most considerate in their treatment of reporters, who are in quest of news, and often go to considerable trouble to make sure that the correct reports are secured.” The reporter gladly added that John Miskey won by default over F.H. Bates and C.B. Jennings beat H. Atlee 15-4, 18-14.


Speaking of Philadelphia squash, an article of mine appeared in Connections, the magazine of  Episcopal Academy. It was a history of EA’s vaunted squash program. The boys’ team began in the fall of 1930; the girls got a varsity team in 1988. Just this spring the girls won the national high school championships and for the first time in history, the current national junior boys and girls champions, Todd Harrity and Logan Greer, go to the same school.

The boys can claim to be the greatest high school squash program in the country. They’ve won twenty-four Inter-Ac league tiles (arguably the hardest interscholastic league) and six boys have won the national junior title. In addition, five alums so far have gone on to win the national singles title. Doubles-wise, it is not such a bad record, with five later national title winners. Add in pros (and pro tournament directors) like Maurice Heckscher, ‘60 and John Nimick ‘77 and Tom Page ‘77; former U.S. Squash CEO Palmer Page ‘68; and former big-name coaches: Tom Poor, Darwin Kingsley, Diehl Mateer, ‘46 and Demer Holleran.

Is there another school that can match up for sustained greatness? For comparison, Haverford School, my alma mater and Episcopal’s traditional rival, has had thirty-seven Inter-Ac titles, five national junior champions, four future national singles champions and four future national doubles champions. A half dozen prep schools in New England have solid records. But since there was no official national team championship until four years ago, all those unofficial national titles that EA and Haverford claimed (and Choate Invitational wins and victories over colleges at the national five-man) are perhaps too vague to count. So individual national junior titles might be the only barometer and EA has eight, which for now is the best: Jim Zug, Sr., ‘58, Billy Morris, ‘61 (who beat Maurice Heckscher ‘60 in the finals), Gil Mateer, ‘73, Dave McNeely, ‘96, Louisa Hall, ‘00, Trevor McGuinness, ‘06, Logan Greer, ‘07 and Todd Harrity, ‘09.

I talked to a couple of older alums, including Has Griffin, ‘39 and Charley Brinton, ‘37. The first thing Charley (note his preferred spelling) said to me when I told him I wanted to talk about EA squash was that now I finally learned where he had gone to high school (on p. 101 of the book I mistakenly said he went to Penn Charter). Brinton told me his nickname was “Pee-Wee” at EA, since he was tiny as a youngster. In one match against Penn Charter he was over a foot shooter and a hundred pounds lighter than his opponent. Brinton played number one and was captain all four years he was in high school, something unequalled in American squash history. (How many times is a freshman the captain?) It was not always a cakewalk: his sophomore year he was down 10-3 in the fifth game of the finals of the school tournament against Al Freund, ‘35, before winning twelve of the last fourteen points.

I contacted every coach of the teams I could find. Fitz Dixon, the iconic EA figure who coached the team for a decade, died the week I was planning to call him. I did track down the son of Stuyvesant Barry, who coached the team for a single season, in 1942-43. Barry had St. Paul’s and Harvard on his resume, so he knew squash, but ice hockey was his passion. He went on to become principal of Buckingham Friends School for twenty years and he too died, at age ninety-seven, just months before I called.

I also talked with a number of younger alums and coaches, whose first words on EA squash were almost always “Terror Dome.” In the past two decades, while all other league teams (EA plays not only in the Inter-Ac but a more inclusive Mid-Atlantic Squash Association, a league Tim Kent and Wendell Chestnut founded more than a dozen years ago) have built new softball courts, EA has continued to play on their four old hardball courts. The galleries are so small and the staircase so narrow, that coaching in between games is impossible if there is a sizable crowd. “I spent a ton of effort trying to get students to come to big matches and support the team,” Kent told me “but when that would happen, I had no way of getting from the front of the gallery and down the stairs to coach any player in between games.” The brutal chill in the courts ha been a problem for decades. In 1994 water flooded into two of the courts and then froze, badly damaging the floor and walls (earning the courts the nickname the “Terror Dome” from the 1995 film Welcome II the Terrordome.)

Episcopal is moving to a new campus in Newtown Square in September 2008. Ten singles courts are planned for their new squash facility there, finally giving perhaps the country’s best high school program the country’s best high school facility.

2 Responses to “Pan Am Games; John Friel; Episcopal Academy”

  1. Nancy Borrell Says:
    Hello Jim, I am a great grandaughter of John Friel and I really enjoyed your article. Thank you so much, my family and I sure do appreciate reading about our beloved grandfather pertaining to the sport he loved so much! Blessings, Nancy Borrell
  2. anne love hall Says:
    Hi Jim, I’m Anne Hall, mother of Louisa Hall and Colby Hall. Louisa was the GU19 National Champion her last three years at Episcopal (ages 15, 16, and 17…1998, 1999, and 2000). I believe Dave McNeely was the BU19 National Champion during at least one of those years, wasn’t he? 1998? [No, Dave is an old man—he was national junior champion in 1994-96) And wasn’t Dave the National Champion in 1999 or 2000 [1999]? If so, Episcopal had two national champions in one year that year too. Loved the article in Connections! Best, Anne

The Bash; Louisville; Saturday—the novel

It was impossible not to be blown away by the CitySquash’s 4th annual, gawking, gossiping and greening Bash in June in New York. It raised $350,000. It was historic to get Jahangir Khan and Mark Talbott on court together again, more than twenty years after their watershed encounters on the WPSA hardball tour. It was just a lot of people, seven hundred and fifty-eight officially. That was eight more than the fire code limits of the Racquet & Tennis Club. There were ten year-olds, kids from CitySquash and kids from Greenwich, all dressed up, and the swishy twenty-somethings who had not been born when Jake and Mark squared off at the 1984 Boston Open and a few of the older generations who were debating, as midnight rolled past, about whether to lurch on to the after party.

I left at a quarter to twelve, in time to swing my horse out of the Seagram building before it closed, and headed south and galloped into my house at quarter past three in the morning, still wired from such an amazing evening.


“The home of fast horses, beautiful women, excellent bourbon and tired but eager squash players.” That was the mantra of Louisville squash in the 1960s.

Jim Martin just sent me a nicely-printed history of Louisville squash, published in December 2000. Squash came to Louisville in 1930. The Wynn-Stay built two courts, both narrower than regulation (squash tennis courts?), while the Pendennis Club allowed a member to convert one of their handball courts into a squash court. The Louisville district association was founded in 1959; it hosted the Tournament of Champions in 1961 (Al Chassard won it) and the North American Open in 1972 (Sharif); and the Louisville Boat Club opened its doubles court in 1992. The history lists the winners of the Kentucky state championship, which started in 1932 and wasn’t played again until 1960 (too much bourbon or too many beautiful women?).

Fun fact: Louisville mayor Harvey Sloane (1973-77, 82-86; he narrowly lost to our favorite Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, in a 1990 senatorial race) won the state title five times

In 1963 Louisville helped create the Joe Hahn Cup, an annual inter-city match between Cincinnati, Louisville and Indianapolis. It was just singles (with a B and C divisions added in the 1970s) until a doubles match was started in 1989. The 45th annual was played this past February. I talked to a friend who played in it and it was the usual fun. Cincinnati has dominated, winning the Hahn Cup more than the other two cities combined, but it doesn’t have the fast horses, now does it?


Ian McEwan’s new novel, On Chesil Beach, was published a couple of weeks ago in New York, and so I thought it might be time to revisit his last novel, Saturday from 2005.

As literate squash players know, Saturday has a squash match. Henry Perowne, a neurosurgeon, plays a morning game with a colleague. McEwan evidently did a ton of research about neurosurgery, as he acknowledged at the end six surgeons for allowing him to watch them in action over two years.

But McEwan thanks no squash players. It can only be because he plays himself.

Perowne’s gear is typical: permanent sweat patches on the blue shorts; grey T-shirt; squash shoes which “have a sharp smell, blending the synthetic with the animal”—or is that just a smelly sneaker? He keeps his racquet in a closet in his laundry room.

His club is on Huntley Street in Camden, in a converted nurses’ home

He plays the same guy, Jay Strauss, an American in his forties (who probably grew up on hardball one assumes) each Saturday morning. A lot of guys do that, have the weekly or biweekly game with the same person, year after year, the endemic intimacy of squash heightened even further by the familiarity each has with the other, the groove shots, the rituals, the fear of losing, the hollowness of victory.

It is casual. They leave their wallets, keys, phones up front, near the tin—no lockers and locks. They chat between games. They don’t shower afterwards.

In the first game, Strauss goes up 6-0, Perowne reels off seven straight points, but falters and Strauss wins 9-7. Strauss takes the second game 9-3, though there was a bit of a tetchy moment with a let at 8-3. After a titanic opening rally in the third game, Perowne wins the third 9-0 and the fourth 9-7.

Before the fifth, Strauss says “no pasaran” under his breath, Spanish for they shall not pass, the 1936-39 siege of Madrid. Nice touch.

At 8-7, Perowne hits a cross-court drive for a winner; Strauss wants a stroke, and Perowne thinks there wasn’t even a let there. After a discussion fraught with anger, they replay the point. Perowne loses it and the next three points.

The writing is great. McEwan nails the psychology of squash. For instance, he describes how you can go into a game drained, lacking desire, but after one point, you suddenly want to win. And he has a true passage on the game as metaphor:

“Why has he volunteered for, even anticipated with pleasure, this humiliation, this torture? It’s at moments like these in a game that the essentials of his character are exposed: narrow, ineffectual, stupid—and morally so. The game becomes an extended metaphor of character defect. Every error he makes is so profoundly, so irritatingly typical of himself, instantly familiar, like a signature, like a tissue scar or some defomation in a private place. As intimate and self-evident as the feel of his tongue in his mouth.”

Hyder, Doug McLaggan, the SWPHI

The Hyder was just played in New York again. It is the oldest continuously-held softball tournament in the country. Last September in San Francisco I saw the finalists from the first men’s draw in 1969, Graham Sharman and Dave O’Loughlin, and both men are surprised as I am about how the Hyder has grown to be a major pro event. 

Sharman and O’Loughlin were doing quite well, almost forty years after their match, and the worst physical ailment seemed to be a blister on Dave’s foot that attacked him as we left a Giants baseball game.

This year both Hyder finalists, Wael El Hindi and Shahier Razik are ranked in the top twenty-five in the world. El Hindi won 11-9 in the fifth; Razik won last year’s final in five games. When you add in past winners like U.S. Squash Hall of Famers Mo Khan and Ned Edwards and guys like Jonathon Power and Martin Heath, and you realize what quality the Hyder has attracted.

A few weeks ago I got a letter from the Met SRA , which runs the Hyder (I was on the Met SRA board for about fifteen minutes a few years ago before I moved to Washington). They listed all the annual awards that the association, one of the oldest and certainly the largest, gives out. They have nine of them, which is about a half dozen more than most district associations. One, the Ned Bigelow, even hails back to 1928, only four years after the Met SRA was founded. It has got to be the oldest squash award in the country?

McLaggan Bows Out

Doug McLaggan died at the end of April. The hard-nosed Scot bounced around as a pro at some of the top clubs in North America for thirty-odd years before retiring to Vermont. He also was a very good player and reached two Tournament of Champions finals and three Canadian Open semis. He was most known for appearing in the first live-action photographs ever published taken from the front of a court, when Life magazine did an article on Hashim Khan and the first U.S. Open in 1954 and Ralph Morris stuck his camera up by the tin.

We had a couple of fascinating telephone conversations while I was writing my history of squash.  McLaggan was interested in the history of the game and how to teach it. He co-wrote, with Laura Torbet, one of the most underrated and under-exposed books on the game,Squash: How to Play, How to Win. Sorbet by the way, is still going strong in California and has written books on everything from macrame to mopeds.

Published by Doubleday in 1978, Squash: How to Play, How to Win is a poorly-designed but magnificently-conceived book. Torbet and McLaggan interviewed two dozen of the top players and then reprinted the interviews, verbatim, as they progressed through the various aspects of the game.

A bucket load of revealing gems appear throughout the book. Charlie Ufford talked about not sleeping, because of nerves, the night before the finals of the 1951 intercollegiates (he lost). Peter Briggs hinted he might write a novel about squash, especially about the 1975 North American Open tournament held in Mexico. Diehl Mateer gave a wonderful anecdote about trick shots and Neil Sullivan from the old Atlantic Coast Championships in the 1940s. It is especially interesting because Sullivan told Mateer to not hit trick shots, to only hit rails and cross-courts, and yet a decade before Sullivan was the master of bizarre shots and was credited as the first person to perfect what is now called the Philadelphia shot.

Beyond that, there is a big appendix of champions; a long glossary (”length: used to describe a ball hit down the line or cross court that makes its second bounce and dies near the bottom of the backwall”); and a quirky scoring technique developed by Ned Bigelow. Also, the photography is excellent and probably unmatched for breadth and depth of any American book published before the portable glass court: Barbara Maltby wiping her hand on the wall, Stu Goldstein volleying, the Manhattan Squash Club being built. Though I am not sure I needed that shot of Vic Niederhoffer’s knee.

Stan Pearson Invitational

The second annual Stanley W. Pearson Hardball Invitational came off last month in Philadelphia. Run by the brothers Pearson, Eric & Duncan, it again featured a couple of dozen twenty and thirty-somethings reliving their hardball childhoods on the narrow courts at Philadelphia Cricket Club (amazing how strong hardball was just twenty years ago). The matches are serious but so is the socializing in bad plaid. Above all, the amount of nostalgic referencing is enormous—guys pulling their SX7 racquets and Merco balls out of their closets.

The tournament honors great-great uncle Stan, Sr. who won six national singles titles, a record still unbroken seventy-five years later; and great-uncle Stan, Jr., who won the 1948 singles, thus making them remarkably the only father-son duo to both win the national singles.

The SWPHI has a nice ring to it and is a fantastic idea. I just wish the Pearsons put the tournament on wide courts. Hardball on a softball court is a glorious game. With the extra two and a half feet, the crosscourt is a knife to the gut, serving is fun again and oh la la, here is my old mistress, the sweet but dangerous double boast. The hardball tour guys knew this, which is why they designed their portable glass court in the 1980s to be twenty-feet wide, rather than the traditional eighteen and a half. On wide courts, you can still wield your wooden racquet and Hunter Lott circa 1983 tournament tee-shirt, but you don’t have to worry about Philly Cricket tiring of their remaining hardball courts and tearing them down.

5 Responses to “Hyder; Doug McLaggan; SWPHI”

  1. Jim Domenick Says:

    Good stuff. I’m sure you probably know this, but for the first 5 years after the USSRA was organized, all the national singles champions played out of the Germantown Cricket Club in Philadelphia. And of the first 15 champions, 12 were Germantown members, including Stanley W. Pearson.

    Jim Domenick

  2. Guy Cipriano Says:
    Jimb- great articles and great insight, as always. However I think you’re dead wrong when you say that hardball on a softball court is a great game. Frankly it’s a dreadful waste of time because the ball moves too fast and you can’t retrieve even a routine cross court. Maybe Mark Talbott and Gary Waite can, but 51 year olds who are blind in one eye can’t. The rallies are too short and you can get injured trying to retrieve the unretrievable.
    Too bad hardball singles is on life support- it was a great game but unlike the Bon Jovi song, you really CAN”T go back .


  3. Eric Pearson Says:
    I appreciate the commentary on the SWPHI. Through only in its second year, it truly is becoming a fantastic event, with a loyal and almost cult-like following of players from coast to coast. Some participants have even suggested that the SWPHI is more of a lifestyle than a tournament. With regard to the notion that the tournament be played on the wide court, I cannot disagree more strongly. The game was not designed to be played on the wide court and is thus a bastardization of a once great game. There still remain today more traditional hardball courts in the US than softball courts (this was true a couple of years ago, so I might have to refresh my stats) so it is the opionion of the board of directors of the SWPHI that the tournament be played on the true court for as long as possible. We recognize the reality that some day hardball courts may cease to exist, at which point we would shift to the softball court by necessity. However, until that day comes we will play the game as it is traditionally meant to be played. We are not looking for progressive measures or compromises. We are not looking to take another step to make our beloved game more like the international game, which all but extincted the game of hardball. We are taking a bold step, that nobody else in the United States seems willing to take, to preserve what just 15 years ago was the standard. I am not knocking the merits of harball on the wide court. I have recently learned that it is a good game and I look forward to competing in my first tournament on the wide court in next month’s Woodruff Nee, but for as long as I am the director of the SWPHI it will be an invitational event contested on the narrow court. And for that matter, as long as I am on the board of the Hardball Association I will insist that the national championship continue to be played on the proper court. Lets not render our existing real estate valuless by failing to utilize it for its stated purpose.
  4. Wilford Smith Says:
    I’m almost a year late here, but hardly a day goes by without me thinking of Doug McLaggan.

    I met him at the University Club in the 70’s. He taught me to play, and for a long stretch of time back then, I would take two lessons a week from Doug. It always was the highlight of my day. The squash was wonderful to be sure, but the stories were better. In all that has been written about Doug, no one has mentioned what a great storyteller he was.

    One of the best, as I recall, was about Doug in the Royal Marines in Sicily during World War II. Doug’s platoon was ambushed and totally wiped out, except for Doug. He had been left for dead and woke up two hours later underneath three bodies. Hearing him tell the story made you shiver.

  5. Ian Douglas McLaggan Says:
    How wonderful it is to read great things about my dad. Thanks Bill for the story. I have wonderful memories of The University Club where I spent a number of years watching the master. He was a true gentleman.

Softball Doubles; Liechtenstein; Kazoo

I just got back from nearly a month of traveling. I first went to Johannesburg and Cape Town for the South African Jesters’ fiftieth anniversary celebrations. Most the squash we played was softball doubles. In Joburg we even had the coincidence of having all four of the inventors of the game (in 1986 in England) on hand. There are now about ten softball doubles courts in South Africa, including a spanking-new four courts at the Country Club Johannesburg, and the game is catching on. 

Hiddy Jahan came to one of the Jester parties. Jahan, the great Lahore-raised, London-based pro who reached a British Open final (in 1982, losing 9-2, 10-9, 9-3 to Jahangir), was in South Africa to play in Nicky Oppenheimer’s annual doubles tournament. It was a bit ironic, considering that Pakistan squash suspended Jahan for two and a half years after he went to apartheid South Africa in the mid-70s.
I was then in London and caught some of Sky TV’s late-night coverage of the quarters of the Canary Wharf tournament. It was pretty spectacular for an American: great interviews (story-lines established by guys like Peter Nicol); production (clear views); fresh (just two weeks old) and long (a full hour). So even if it started at 11pm, it still said, very clearly, that squash is television ready, that the small court is not a permanent hindrance to gripping idiot-box drama. Of course, it helped having some drama that night, with Willstrop beating his longtime stablemate Beachill for the first time in thirteen attempts, after being 2-1 down.

For all the caterwauling about the cons of the Trinity squash dynasty, one thing is for sure: college squash is growing and Trinity is partially to blame. Fifty-two men’s teams earned College Squash Association rankings (forty-one came to the men’s nationals) and thirty-two women’s teams came to the Howe Cup women’s nationals. These numbers are up nearly fifty percent from the hardball days fifteen years ago. There are a dozen good reasons for this, but certainly the higher standard of play and the attention Trinity receives has not hurt.

Under John Power, my alma mater, Dartmouth, came in eighth this year. For all those who bemoaned the lack of Americans on Trinity’s roster (none in the top nine), take note: all fourteen men on the Big Green varsity roster came from North America (including three from Canada and one from Bermuda). Power had a new assistant coach this year, Glen Wilson from New Zealand, who I first met at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester where he earned a gold medal in mixed softball doubles. Dartmouth said goodbye to former assistant David Heath, who had survived three bachelor winters up in Hanover. Heath moved to coach the national team of the greatest, per-square-mile squash country in the world: Liechtenstein. 

Heath reports that there are five squash courts and one hundred and fifty players among the country’s thirty-five thousand citizens. He plays in the Swiss national league and says that after soccer, squash is one of the most popular sports in Liechtenstein and so articles often appear in the two national daily newspapers. Add in the hiking and skiing and the only thing that bothers Heath about life in the tiny Alpine principality is the scary fact that women only got the right to vote there in 1984.

Earlier this year, Barbara Stewart appeared on Martha Stewart’s television show to play the kazoo. It was on her self-proclaimed National Kazoo Day. Stewart has been on with Conan O’Brien and the Tonight Show. She is campaigning to make the kazoo the national instrument. She leads the Kazoophony band. She flogs her book that came out last fall, The Complete How To Kazoo User’s Guide & Practitioner’s Manual (“Lesson #1: Hum, don’t blow.”) and her special tee-shirts on her website. 

It is all hummingly over the top. The last time we bumped into Stewart, she was one of the founders of junior squash in the 1970s. From her home in Rochester, she helped create the USSRA’s junior committee and start the national girls’ championships in 1977. (She even claims that there were national girls championships before the first official one in 1977; anyone have something to add?) Stewart later worked on a project with Hashim Khan, trying to make a sequel to his classic 1967 tome Squash Racquets: The Khan GameStewart’s book and website are very cheeky; she mentions kazooing on a skidoo and while doing yoga, but she sadly does not refer to the true craft of kazooing while playing squash.

One Response to “Softball Doubles; Liechtenstein; Can You Kazoo?”

  1. Guy Cipriano Says:
    Jimbo- I know of the following eight doubles courts in South Africa:
    4 at CCJ
    1 at Oppenheimer’s estate
    1 at St Francis Bay
    2 at Western Provinces Cricket Club in CT

    Where are the other two? GUY CIPRIANO

2007 ToC

The tenth annual Grand Central squashslamajamarama was, as always, the biggest scene of the U.S. squash season. When the Tournament of Champions does finally depart from Grand Central, as it surely must some sad day in the hopefully far future, we will look back on our late winter sojourns in Vanderbilt Hall with great wistfulness. We’ll probably never have it so good again. 

On the surface not much was new at the 2007 Tournament of Champions. The video screens were tucked inside the patron lounge; a few oversized posters of players dotted the walls; everyone sported giveaway Dunlop baseball hats; three hundred and thirty players from the U.S. Skill Levels floated around; and, to fulfill the latest request of the Grand Central security folks, blue and white netting spiderwebbed the sides and top of the glass court, so that balls did not ricochet out into the mewling masses.

But a lot of the home-cooked excitement, unusually, bubbled up on court in the early rounds. Julian Illingworth, our national champion, finally produced the PSA breakthrough Americans have been waiting for. In the qualies he overcame his sometime coach, Chris Walker in seventy-six minutes, 4-11, 11-10 (2-0),11-8, 6-11, 11-10 (2-0), before going down in ninety-three hard-fought minutes to Stacy Ross 11-7, 11-8, 8-11, -11, 11-9.

However, LJ Anjema had to back out and as a lucky loser, Illingworth took his place in the main draw. After a rest day, he played another marathon match, this time against former world number five Dan Jenson. Down 2-0 and then down 4-1 in the fifth, he kept his composure to win the first U.S. victory in a Super Series tournament in years. The last time we have had such a historic win was twenty years ago, in the 1986 U.S. Open in Houston when both Mark Talbott and Ned Edwards won first-round matches by beating guys ranked at the time in the top ten in the world.

The twenty-three year-old by way of Yale lost in the second round to David Palmer, but his result helped propel him to his third straight national title a fortnight later in Portland and it helped push him ahead of Marty Clark’s best ranking of 59, leaving him free to assault Bill Andruss’ 34, the highest pro softball ranking ever for an American.

Illingworth’s chief competitor in that climb is Chris Gordon. Ranked a dozen spaces behind Illingworth, Gordon also made it to the main draw, courtesy of a wild card entry offered by tournament director John Nimick and nipped a game off Borja Golan in front of a large crowd. The only one missing was his one hundred and four-year-old grandfather, Al Gordon, who lives on the Upper East Side but was not healthy enough to come down.

The third American story was Natalie Grainger. The Washington-based WISPA star topped Vanessa Atkinson 9-11, 11-7, 11-5, 11-7 to win the four-woman exhibition draw. Just before the ToC began, Grainger was finally able to rightfully place “USA” next to her name. After a process that began in July 2001 and that included the intercession of two U.S. senators, the native Johannesburger took the written, one-hundred question exam and at an eight-am swearing in ceremony became a U.S. citizen. To cap it off, Mark Powden, the husband of Washington squash guru Wendy Lawrence, was able to present Grainger with an American flag that flew over the Capitol that day.

There were so many great matches involving non-Americans, of course, most notably Amr Shabana v. Hisham Ashour, the oft-overlooked older brother of world junior champion Ramy. Down 2-0, Hisham surprised his stablemate and forced it to go five. And Ramy v. James Willstrop was the pipecracker to what could be the rivalry to succeed Power v. Nicol. With a black sweatband oddly on his non-playing wrist, Ramy won and went on to lose, perhaps for the last time in a while, to Shabana.

Speaking of Nicol, Jay Prince at Squash Magazine had asked me to do a write up of the Scot’s career upon his retirement last autumn, but in the editorial flow of the new season, it never happened. The only thing to say now is this: sixty months at #1. How many years will pass before we, in this age of incredible competition, travel and distraction, see that mark reached again?

Nicol always had a great mind for things non-squash-related (re: hiking in the Himalayas three years ago) and so it was a surprise to see him manning a booth in the merchandise midway in Vanderbilt Hall. He was avidly hawking the Power-Plate, a vibrating machine that a company was setting up in new health clubs around London and New York. Nicol credited it with his remarkable final year on the tour.

We talked about staying in touch and he gave me a 917 cell phone number. Turns out, he is living in Brooklyn with his new girlfriend, Jessica Winstanley, the lovely daughter of the lovely Melissa Winstanley. Melissa, operations director at the ToC, has always been the gracious power behind the throne at major PSA events in the U.S. and now with Nicol in the house, you’ve got to think that something synergistic could happen.

Baset; Heart Attacks; Quakers

As many of you know, I have been working for a few years on a book project with Paul Assasiante on the story of Trinity squash, and this season has been the most improbable yet. The arrival of Baset Ashfaq seemed to spell instant doom for the rest of the nation’s top programs  Ashfaq was the best softball player ever to arrive at an American college: he was coached by Rahmat Khan (can anyone say, Jahangir?); he was ranked sixty-one on the PSA tour the summer before he matriculated; and he had won the British Open juniors, thus becoming the first Drysdale Cup winner to come to play collegiate squash since Anil Nayer popped up at Harvard in 1965.

As an incoming freshman, Ashfaq (sometimes you see his last name as Chaudhry) was going to shove everyone down one on the Trinity ladder. But a funny thing happened. Midseason he lost two challenge matches in a row, to Shaun Johnstone, the bullet-biting Zimbabwean, and to Gustave Detter, the Atlas-shrugging Swede who saved three match balls against Princeton’s Yasser El Halaby in the Bantam’s epic 5-4 escape last year. So the greatest recruit ever was playing three.

Why? For one, Killer B, as the Trinity guys have nicknamed him, was having a hard adjustment to the life away from the tour. He grew up in Lahore and he turned twenty-one in January, so it was not a lack of maturity or exposure to Western life or even academics (he earned a 3.8 average first semester), but rather a lack of confidence. He was too good for the provincial American college squash scene, friends on the tour told him; his game would deteriorate. The 2006 U.S. Open in November then fulfilled that prophecy. In the qualies up in Boston, he struggled to beat Preston Quick 3-1, and then went down cheaply to Tom Richards in three quick games. Richards was ranked fifteen spaces below Ashfaq when he came to Trinity and three months later he was losing to him.

At  the 2007 team nationals, sespite a strained tendon in his right ankle, he hammered a previously untouchable Mauricio Sanchez of Princeton in the finals. No one had ever won the finals of the Potter Trophy tournament 9-0, but Ashfaq’s surprising win made that possible. And so Trinity got their ninth straight title and extended their NCAA-record unbeaten streak to 165 matches. His teammates carried him on their shoulders from the court.

Ashfaq, like most of the other Bantams, are rock stars in an individual sport, yet from the moment they put on their yellow jerseys, complete with their names on the back, they buy into the team mentality, the streak, the dynasty. The first thing Ashfaq did when he walked into Assaiante’s office the morning he arrived from Pakistan was ask about the championship rings Assaiante kept in an eyeglass case. Assaiante said there were eight of them, one for each national title. Ashfaq instantly replied, “order four more.”

Last month I went up to Baltimore for the BIDS, their long-running doubles tournament. As usual, it was a great weekend. Patrick Miller was inducted into the Maryland State SRA Hall of Fame  (what district association has a better list of Hall of Famers than MD?) and Margaret Riehl, the pioneer of women’s squash in Baltimore, received the MSSRA’s Achievement Award.

I heard the report on the FitzGerald Cup, the annual DC v. Baltimore match which through attrition has become the oldest continuous inter-city in the country (and world?). Washington leads the series 40-19. This year’s match had a long-overdue innovation, in which a woman played on Baltimore’s 13-person side. And the woman, Lisa Tutrone, bested Hunt Richardson, the veteran DC pro, 10-9 in the fifth.

But another Balty story was the return of Sandy Martin. Last August he collapsed on the upstairs doubles court at the Maryland Club. Andrew Cordova, the MD Club pro, rushed onto the court with a defibillator and restarted Martin’s heart. He was taken to the hospital, came out of unconsciousness after four days and now, six months later has made a full recovery and is back on court. Believe is the motto of Baltimore, and how.

It made me think of the many people who have had heart attacks on the squash court and not made it out alive. The most famous, ironically, is the one who died in a court tennis rather than squash court, Stan Pearson, Sr., winner of six national titles.

Speaking of passing on, I bumped into David Claghorn in the gallery at the Princeton v. Trinity dual match last month. His mother, Marge Claghorn, was one of the unsung heroes of women’s squash in the 1950s and 60s. She helped run the New Jersey States at Pretty Brook, one of the major tournaments of the women’s circuit. She was a delightful person with a lively laugh. And she was a member of Princeton Friends Meeting, where her memorial service was held in January after her death.

Over the holidays, my wife’s cousin, Tom Elkinton, was telling me about Will, a former colleague of his at the American Friends Service Committee . It was Willing Patterson, the 1940 national champion.

There are other members of the Religious Society of Friends, like me, who also play squash. Probably more than anyone would guess. Charlie Ufford comes to mind. Who else? On the surface it might seem strange, but not really, for in true Quaker spirt, you usually say “I am playing with” rather than “I am playing against” when someone asks where you are going with your squash racquet. For squash, more than most other one-on-one sports, has a communal aspect, a give-and-take, a clearing, a subtle search for consensus.

3 Responses to “Baset Ashfaq; Baltimore Heart Attack; Quaker Squash”

  1. guy cipriano Says:
    Jimbo- well written articles. You are always entertaining and very informative. I think that Charlie Ufford would be a good source of information re other Quakers who play squash. To my knowledge, our two Quaker Presidents, Hoover and Nixon, did not play.

    I believe you are correct when you stated that no team has even won the Potter Trophy 9-0 before this year. I checked the yearbooks to verify that statistic and it’s correct.

    Guy Cipriano

  2. Thomas Says:
    Didn’t Jahanghir Khan’s brother die of a heart attack while playing a squash match ?
  3. Rick Kagan Says:
    James –
    Your heart attack query reminded me of why (in my fifties, depite a variety orthopedic and circulatory insults) I am a lifelong squash player. BTW, after half an adult lifetime of dreaming about nationals I finally made it to New York so I could be one of those 330 amateurs roaming around at the TOC this past winter.
    As a young displaced New Yorker working as an investment professional in downtown Chicago almost thirty years ago, I started taking lessons again. Although my freshman roommate and I learned this unfamiliar, yet oddly addictive game from the great, and by then potbellied, John Skillman himself at Yale – we clearly in retrospect had no idea who he was and hadn’t availed ourselves of many training opportunities despite the endless hours we committed to play – for fun, exercise and intramurals at best, I need not make clear. The pro at the University Club there, who was not a young man himself would tell the story of his immediate predecessor who died on the court playing in his eighties (I don’t believe there were portable defibrillators back in the stone age). I don’t remember either’s name now, but the image always stuck with me.
    As an immortal twenty something this immediately went on my list of top three ways to die – most importantly having lasted into my eighties still able to play squash and such! The other two included riding a motorcycle into the Grand Canyon – soon to be dubbed doing a “Thelma and Louise” -and the last, not so unique according to these types of discussions, but probably not for publication in this forum.
    I still have the notion that this lifelong obsession with squash will keep me alive long enough for it to kill me. What a way to go! However, I did wonder how it might make your partner feel….

Donald Rumsfeld

The biggest jolt of media hoopla for the U.S. squash world this fall was certainly about Donald H. Rumsfeld’s game. David Cloud did a big piece on Rummy’s racquetwork in the New York Times on Sunday 24 September and it gave rise to a number of interesting tangents.

Cloud emailed me just after Labor Day. He said he was working on a piece about “Rumsfeld’s squash playing as a vehicle for a sort of mini-profile of him.” We talked on the phone for a half hour and emailed.

Maybe we didn’t talk enough. Cloud’s piece hammered away at the now-former Secretary of Defense’s on-court style, saying that he didn’t clear, that he trash talked. Chris Zimmerman, who works at the Pentagon, took me around the courts there in the spring and played a couple of games with me. Zimmerman was quoted as saying that Rummy “doesn’t play by the rules.” Larry Di Rita, a former sparring partner of Rummy’s, replied in a letter to the editor that Zimmerman didn’t know Rummy at all. Who knows?

But the real metaphor was not the Secretary’s on-court m.o. How many seventy-four year-olds clear especially well? Especially in hardball? CeCe Turner Haydock (who made it to the semis of the 1975 intercollegiates and, like Rummy, is a Princetonian) slapped Rummy in another letter to the editor for his bullying, his bravado and his bragging. I suspect she doesn’t like his political leadership style (nor do I); I assume she has not seen him play squash (he very rarely played outside the Pentagon, though the Pentagon does field teams in the DC squash league), and yet she still declares that “intimidation, willfulness and power plays are his methods for maintaining the upper hand. I would not get near a squash court with him.”

No, the point is what kind of court would you not get near with him and here both Cece and Cloud totally miss the story. What was fascinating about Rumsfeld was that the Pentagon built a hardball court in 2004 (not 2002 as quoted in the article)

That was the news. This is the first new hardball court built in the world since 1989 or 1990. That is huge. Fourteen years go by and then the Pentagon builds a brand-new court of a standard that no longer makes sense. Leave it to the Pentagon to build an obsolete court.

The day I went there, I did see two older guys using the hardball court, but really, it is a waste. And with just one softball court, the Pentagon league teams really struggle to play home matches, since few guys want to wait through three matches to play their own (a schedule, by the way, that is the norm in many countries; then again, in many countries league night=booze-it-up-till-two-am night).

In helping Cloud put the article together, I spent a fair amount of time with Farhana Hossain (another evocative name), who is a graphics editor at the Times. She wanted some sort of illustration that showed the difference between hardball and softball. I pointed out that the Times did a long, prescient article on just that subject, “Softball Edging Hardball Among Squash Partisans” by Liz Hecht on 12 February 1990. In it was a diagram lifted from Heather McKay’s Complete Book of Squash. I don’t own a copy of McKay’s tome, though I list it in my book’s bibliography; it has a nice blurb by Frank Satterthwaite on the cover. It was originally published, by Ballantine in 1979, making it a bit out of date when the Times needed it in 1990. Let alone in 2006.

But Hossain found it and then we tinkered with the text to make it more relevant to the article.

Hecht’s 1990 article had its own interesting antecedents. It featured a picture of Gary Waite, mullet and all, digging out a forehand drop against the tank-like Chris Dittmar. The photographer was Larry Armour/Squash News.

Hecht knew some of the big cats in the squash world. She quoted Penn’s legendary coach Al Molloy; national doubles champ Jon Foster; Darwin Kingsley, still at the moment the executive director of the USSRA (he announced “The growth of softball is inevitable but I doubt it will take over the U.S. game in our lifetime. The investment in hardball courts here is too great,” well, PK is still very much in his lifetime and yet blew this one); Frank Satterthwaite (obviously the go-to guy for quotes on squash ever since his wonderful memoir came out in 1979, The Three-Wall Nick and Other Angles); and a friend of mine, Andy Taylor, who was last seen running a progressive school in Cape Town in the mid-90s.

But she revealed her squash history ignorance with a Charles Arnold quotation at the start of her piece: “The ball is a very vexed question.” She claimed Arnold was the first squash pro in Britain (what about Charles Read?). She states that he “was quoted as saying in the 1920s.” Well, it was actually 1926 and he was writing, not speaking. The sentence comes fromThe Game of Squash Racquets, one of the early books on squash (I got my unbound copy from the ever generous Bob Drake ). She said that Arnold was referring to “the difficulty U.S. hardball players had adapting to the game of softball squash.”

Not so. The quotation appears on page two of his book and Arnold was actually discussing the various English standard balls. In the 1920s the Pommies were constantly tinkering with the standard ball, causing much commotion and discussion. Arnold says in the paragraph Hecht saw that he liked the “Holer Ball” that was commonly used at the Bath Club (where he was head pro) but that in the last amateur championship the RAC ball No.2, ,black on the outside and red on the inside, was used. Nowhere in the passage does Arnold mention U.S. squash standards or balls. The only time the U.S. comes up at all was at the very end of the book, when Arnold ran through some recent international matches and pointed out that American ball was “somewhat slower” than the British balls.

Slower not faster.

All this points out the truth about how hardball and softball diverged in the 1920s, that it was the Pommies who endlessly fiddled with the ball and slowed it down so severely that the “slow” U.S. ball eventually became much faster. See pages 40-42 in my book for how controversial this move was in London in the 1920s and 30s.

The article said that the USSRA counted 37 softball courts, 120 racquetball converted courts and 3,000 hardball courts. I wonder what the numbers are today?

Like Cloud’s article, Hecht’s inspired a cool letter to the editor. This one appeared five weeks later. It was written by Telford Taylor, who says he went to Harvard Law School in the early 1930s and had learned squash at the Law School’s famous squash facility, Hemenway, under Harry Cowles. He said that the hardball in use in 1990 was much slower and softer than the ball in the 1930s. This is a great point. Like the Brits, Americans also slowed down the ball dramatically; the 70+ was so much slower than the old Seamless and so much faster than the Dunlop/Slazenger ball we use now. This is a great argument to give whenever a hardball nut protests about playing hardball in a softball court—which is a great game and the one true way to “save” hardball. They say, “Oh, you are bastardizing the game” and you say, “what game? Where is the old Wright & Ditson ball, the real hardball before they ruined it with the mushy Seamless?”

Taylor also pointed out that in the 1930s the hardball “boast” or three-wall, which Hecht describes, was in his day what we now call the double boast. “Maybe that can still be done with today’s ball,” he wonderfully concluded, “but not by me.”

The Saints Go Marching In

Earlier this year I suddenly felt like it was 1979 and I was on Lexington and 86th Street. In Washington I had drinks not once but twice with Harry Saint and Nancy Gengler. The Saints were in town to play in a court tennis tournament (they live within fifty feet—or fifty yards, I can’t remember, it could have been fifty meters—of Queen’s Club in London) and to visit family, including Tim Saint, the former Haverford College star, who is now in the Marines at Quantico.

Nancy was a top player in the late seventies. She won the national intercollegiates in 1976 while at Princeton and worked as a pro at Uptown. In 1983 she reached the finals of the women’s nationals in Boston where she played Alicia McConnell. Gengler, described by Jean Strouse in the New Yorker as “a willowy twenty-six-year-old redhead who moves with the lithe grace of a dancer,” almost beat McConnell, who was defending champion. After splitting games, Gengler was up 14-12 in the third. McConnell won the next two points and Gengler, sensing this was her opportunity, went for a third game point by calling no-set. McConnell crushed a backhand cross-court, out of Gengler’s reach. And then won in four. It is a pretty good what if—if Gengler had won the third game and then gone on to win the match. Instead, McConnell rolled out seven straight national titles.

Harry was the brilliant entreprenuer who single-handedly changed the course of U.S. squash history by opening up three public squash clubs in Manhattan. The most famous of which—and the only one that survives, though in a drastically reduced form—was the Uptown Racquet Club on 86th & Lex.

Harry eventually sold the squash clubs and wrote a novel in 1987, Memoirs of an Invisible Man (Atheneum). It was a brilliant book that did very well. Expectations were low, with just a $5,000 advance, but as soon as people read it, there was an explosion of interest. It had a 100,000 first printing and was a huge seller. ”The prose is so elegantly knowing,” Christopher Lehmann-Haupt said in the New York Times.

The Dell paperback did very well, too; it cost $4.95 (those were the days). For squash fans, it was partially set in a combination of the University and the Racquet & Tennis clubs in New York, and many people enjoyed a parlor game of guessing who he had modeled characters after.

Saint sold the movie rights to Warner Bros. for $1.3 million (the same amount he paid to buy the Uptown building). In 1992 John Carpenter (Halloween, etc.) made it into a film starring Chevy Chase as Nick Hollaway. The film got panned hard. “Where’s the wit? It fades into invisibility while you’re watching it?” said the LA Times. It remains a footnote in film history mostly because Shirley Walker became the first woman to compose an entire Hollywood movie’s music.

The world has been waiting for his second novel. Saint told me that he was working on a couple of projects but nothing was finished.

The Inside Word on the Game of Squash