Saturday, October 22, 2011

First Non-Urban Urban Squash Program Starts on Nantucket

I happened upon this great video, the work of videographer and producer Joanna Hay and Kevin Luzak, who use interviews with many squash luminaries to discuss the growing list of urban squash programs that help underprivileged city kids learn squash and, more importantly, focus on education and citizenship.

There are several interviews that will make any squashist smile, as many of the speakers discuss the central importance that the sport has had on their lives.

The purpose of the video is to introduce a new squash-centered educational effort, called Nantucket Student Squash, whose exemplary goals are the same as the other urban squash programs, but with one singular exception -- the venue is not urban, but the seemingly tony island enclave of Nantucket.

But the program isn't for the rich summer people. It is a shock to hear on this video that Nantucket island has one of the highest suicide rates for high schoolers in the entire country. The truth is that the year-round population is not wealthy at all, and in fact times can be pretty tough during the winter. Thus the idea was born to create the first non-urban urban squash program.

This is a great video that is over 26 minutes long. It is time very well spent. Congratulations to Ms. Hay and Mr. Luzak. I hope my readers will consider a donation, small or large.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Chelsea Piers Gets Something To Boast About

I have to confess I've long cast a malignant eye over to Chelsea Piers on New York's West side. Chelsea Piers is a huge mega-monster sports center which houses just about every sport you can dream up, including basketball, boxing, cycling, rock climbing, fitness centers, track, hockey, a golf driving range, even sand volleyball -- but no squash. I could never figure out how they could be so myopic not to see that squash should be part of their huge urban sports complex. I once went there for a corporate event and asked a guy working there, "Where are the squash courts kept?" I got a befuddled look....

But it turns out that someone over at Chelsea Piers was paying attention. Squash in the US is a growing phenomenon, and a huge sports emporium like Chelsea Piers must include squash on its menu. And now they will. 

Not in New York City, at least not yet....

But Chelsea Piers is building another sports megalopolis in Stamford, Connecticut, scheduled to open next summer. And true to their formula, they are building a whopper: 400,000 square feet of sports facility housed in 7 separate sports arenas covering 18 sports that will doubtless dominate the sports-seeking public in the area. Included are daycare, restaurants, and pro shops. (I could easily live there: I'm wondering if they need an official resident?)

They will have their usual mix of athletic pursuits, but this time they are adding 11 singles and 1 doubles squash courts. That's a pretty dozen. And to top it off, they have hired former world #1 Natalie Grainger as their squash director. Natalie has been both a fantastic player and tireless proponent of the sport for many years, highlighted by her 8 years as head of WISPA, and her presence seals the deal for me.....

I forgive you for your transgressions in New York City.

Welcome to Stamford, Chelsea.

(Here's the floor plan of just one mega-floor: Can you spot the squash courts?)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Let Please Let Please Let Please Let Please Let Please Let Please

The Pro Squash Tour and its merry band of squash infidels are now well into their tournament season, the details of which are located here.

I’ve noted before in this space how the PST has offered an important innovation by recognizing the mind-numbing qualities of the overabundance of ‘Let-No Let’ calls in tournament play. There is nothing like having a long and creative rally be nullified by a ‘Let’ call to suck the air right out of the room. Observers will often sigh when that happens. “Aw…,” says the crowd.

The PST recently noted in one of their squash e-zines that British reporters counted the number of Let-No Let-Stroke decisions at the 2007 Bermuda World Open. The numbers were even higher than I would have imagined.

In the entire tournament there were 31 matches, 116 games, and 1917 points played. In all of those matches, referee decisions were required 959 times, which is a fraction over 50% of the total points. That averages out to 31 decisions per match and 8 decisions per game.

Of the decisions made, 706 (74%) were Lets, 111 (12%) were No Lets, and 145 (15%) were Strokes. In just one match, between Wael El Hindi and Eric Galvez, there were a mind-altering 76 referee decisions made.


Friday, October 7, 2011

The Competitiveness Gene

Many people have told me they are amused by my “coat of arms” and its heraldic saying: “Insufferable in victory, surly in defeat.” I’d like to take credit for that, but in fact it was my father who came up with it. 

My father was a tough competitor. He hated to lose, and rarely did. He grew up in a farm community in Northwest Ohio and, while very good at several sports, was even better intellectually. He told the story of how he was given scholarships at a multitude of schools, including Ohio State and Harvard. He wanted to go to Ohio State, because several of his friends were going there, but that’s when my grandfather stepped in and said, “Guess what? You, son, are going to Harvard.” This was back at a time when upper-crust families tended to get their smart kids into Harvard and smart middle- and lower-class kids would have to really stand out before they would let them in. The Ivy League schools were not as generous with aid back then….

But he did stand out, and then later he went on to Harvard Medical School—not that he wanted to…. The day after Pearl Harbor, he and many of his Harvard College classmates stormed down to the Boston recruiting office for the army and demanded to be let into the armed services immediately. Many were let in straightaway, but they first interviewed everybody, and when they asked my father what he was studying at that fancy college, he said he was a premedical student. “Forget it kid,” the interviewer said, “something tells me we’ll need you more as a doctor than a soldier.” So he trudged on back to Harvard, and then on to medical school. He eventually headed up the burn unit at Fort Sam Houston during the Korean War.

Once there was a strike at Harlem Hospital, where he briefly had admitting privileges (most of his patients were at Columbia Presbyterian) and where he had a very sick patient. That patient was getting worse, but the strike had turned ugly and there was a barricade of hospital workers surrounding the hospital, refusing to let anyone in. This pissed old dad off, in a big way. He went down to the door and started jaw-boning the head union guy and his minions, who in turn argued that the patient would be alright, there were other doctors inside, and he couldn’t go in. His response: “Oh realllllly?!” he yelled, and socked the union guy in the mouth. He then ran into the hospital and took care of his patient. The union members left him alone, figuring he was nuts.

One more story to tell you how competitive and intense he was: My wife and I were visiting my parents in suburban New York many years ago, and that Saturday night we decided to play a game of Trivial Pursuit, that once very popular game in which arcane facts are answered, helping you move a game-piece around the board. Before the game, which pitted my parents vs my wife and me, my father warned that all answers had to be exactly correct, precisely as they appear on the game’s answer cards.

It wasn’t long before the level of precision was tested. We were asked a question whose answer was JESUS CHRIST. It was obvious, a slam-dunk, and I was already reaching for the dice to roll again. “Hold it!,” he said, a bit too loudly, “that’s wrong, it’s JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH.” I stared open-mouthed, but knew my father well enough to know the man was serious. My wife was beside herself, not being able to believe this was happening.

But later we got our revenge. My father rolled and was asked a question whose answer was the REVEREND MARTIN LUTHER KING. My father thought about this for a minute, because he remembered there was something tricky about King’s name…. What was it? Oh yes, he had a doctorate in philosophy and included that in his name. He answered “THE REVEREND DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING.”

I studied the answer card, pretending to read it carefully, all the while knowing what I was about to say would cause quite a big kerfuffle. “No! Close but not quite right. It’s THE REVEREND DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR!” At which my father got up, steaming, and marched out of the room. (This is where the “surly in defeat” part of the motto comes from.)

Ah, family…. The memories….

My father was actually a wonderful influence, and that extended to my interest in squash. As a family we would always play tennis, but my speed, which was never a problem, often seemed to outdo my stroke mechanics. I would be immediately on the ball and then naturally undercut it, since I had found through experience that in my verve I tended to overhit unless I undercut. When I was in my mid-teens I was about to go away to a school where squash was offered as a sport, and I remember my father strongly advising I should check squash out right away. “You’re a natural, trust me.” He had played it while at Harvard, and he was right; I loved it from the very first second, and love it still.

Later on in his life we would occasionally still get to play tennis when visiting on weekends. Despite being into his senior years, he was still pretty good, and always very wily. My full-time focus on squash had meant that my tennis game really amounted to squash shots played on a tennis court, so my father would regularly win these matches. Up to a point. But one day we were out there and I realized he had slowed, and that his shots weren’t coming so hard anymore, and that I would win. But towards the end of the set I started thinking that this competitive man would be truly aggrieved to lose, and it seemed almost unfair of me to go through with it. So I didn’t. A couple of theatrically placed shots that were just wide, some heart-breaking shots into the net, and a double-fault or two, and there it was, a victory for dad. 

I guess the competitiveness gene runs a little weaker in my DNA. I never ever let myself beat him in tennis.