Several months ago someone sent me a link to a story in a newspaper serving a Seattle-area university, in which the writer bemoaned the large number of squash courts that were always vacant. The school’s gym was not so big that the amount of space taken up by these big, dark rooms, which were allegedly never used, didn’t go without notice. Tear them down, the writer said, and put something worthwhile in there.
Well, I thought, that’s a little harsh!
Knowing Seattle to be a good squash town, my curiosity was piqued enough to email the writer, in which I gave a little summary of squash in the US, how the numbers of players are actually on the rise, and surmising that what the school needed was a decent program and perhaps a good coach. The writer wrote back tauntingly, saying that there was no way a good coach could resuscitate a dead sport, and it was time to tear the courts down!
At first I wanted to wring the little bastard’s neck, but thought it would be unduly expensive to fly cross-country to do so. Then I realized, wait a minute, it just can’t be that no one is playing squash. I emailed the Seattle naysayer and, after a few more responses, gradually ascertained that the school had a bunch of hardball courts, upon which no one ever ventured.
Those hardball courts are a bad advertisement for squash -- they are a negative to the popular conception of the sport. They are uniformly underused throughout the country; most hardball courts exist nowadays only to provide a field upon which dust balls might play. And yet almost half the existing courts in the US are hardball courts, remnants of days gone by.
Look, I started playing squash with a hard ball. I liked it a lot, but the game has evolved and the softer ball and the larger court now represent the game. There are a few clubs that still have some active hardballers, and there is still a tournament or two, so I’m not suggesting that we throw these older players out in the cold. If the courts are still used, then keep your constituents happy and leave them alone. But most courts are visited by no one. Tear ‘em down.
I am hopeful that one day ball manufacturers will come up with a ball that has the feel of hardball singles but can be played on a softball court. The quick-reaction junkies enamored with hardball could then have a great time on the wider court without shorter rallies. Hardball exists today in a thriving and thoroughly entertaining form -- doubles. Long may it prosper.