November 1, 2017

Final Tribute to the Uptown Racquet Club, by Rob Dinerman

The starkness of the rubble graphically conveys what has happened to the once-magnificent (14 courts!) Uptown Racquet Club and, by extension, to the whole phenomenon of commercial squash in New York. For decades, Uptown, with its stable of exceptional pros (Stu Goldstein and Nancy Gengler prominently among them), was the face of squash's expansion to the many, even the masses. As social experiments go, it should always be remembered as an ambitious and grand one --- even though ultimately, it failed.
photo Eric Christiansen 

August 30, 2017

You Make The Call

Any Tennis Refs Out There?

by Ted Gross

Shouldn't Maria Sharapova have been penalized for a time violation before the start of the third set in her 1st round US Open match?

She apparently exceeded the 5-minute time allotment.

Even in junior tennis, players typically are penalized one game for similar violations.

March 9, 2017

Competitive Club Squash in the US is Confirmed Dead

 by Ted Gross

Another US 'Nationals' is underway. If you go out on a limb and call it that.

The Men's 35's with FIVE players participating.

The Women's 35's with ZERO players.

The Women's 40's with ZERO players.

Presenting a national championship with barely any players is only detrimental to the sport, and US Squash should retire the event.

Clearly, few, if any college players are interested in competing after they graduate.

The game is not enjoyable enough.

The ball is too slow.

The scoring system is too dull.

Traveling and committing a weekend to it is a positively dreary prospect.

You can't blame the non-players. They got it right.

March 4, 2016

Letter to the Editor re 'Women's Matches Too Short to Justify Equal Money'

March 3, 2016


It must also be true that they practice less too. Seriously though it is one thing to be provocative, at times foolishly so, as you can be. But it is something else entirely to stand on the wrong side of history, uncomprehending of the fact that equality will just look and be different from the unequal and unjust present. I vote for equality and justice Ted. You can too.

 Jim Coddington

January 28, 2016

Critique of American Men's College Squash Off the Mark

by Sasha Cooke

Ted Gross's piece bemoaning the paucity of Americans on top intercollegiate Squash teams misses the point by a wide mark, although this is understandable, given the odd nature of the situation.  He writes,"My guess is this isn’t how the Heights Casino parents, among others, envisioned things playing out when the juniors and colleges switched from hardball to softball, but that’s another story."  In fact, the switch to softball has little to do with the trend toward recruitment of foreign players.  Anil Nayar, Darius Pandole, Cyrus Mehta, Tal Ben-Shakar and others long ago proved that international players could be key contributors to championship teams with the hard ball.  Most tellingly, in the mid-80's the F&M team, with three Indian players in their top four, came within one point of beating Harvard. Why didn't the F& M coach think of recruiting two or three more and winning the thing hands down, as Trinity did just a few years later?  The answer lies, as it so often does, in Deep Throat's admonition, "Follow the money."

For many years the biggest story in collegiate squash has been, of course, the dominance of Trinity. Squash publications and newspapers like the New York Times have described the decision made by the president of Trinity and Paul Assaiante to build a championship squash team.  The purpose of this venture was to associate Trinity with the traditional champions of collegiate squash, Harvard, Princeton and Yale, as part of a broader bid to improve the standard of applicants to the college.  According to articles I've seen in the past few years, this has been successful.  It is well deserved; Trinity is a superb institution which had become temporarily less popular, partly owing to the difficulties Hartford was facing. If Squash has contributed to improving their admissions pool, well done.

The key to the strategy was foreign recruiting.  In 2011 the NY Times reported, "It has been 15 years since that short conversation, at which Dobelle gave Assaiante the go-ahead to canvass the globe for players. "   The question readers should have asked is,"Why did he need a go-ahead?"  Coaches had been recruiting foreign players for a long time, Trinity had numerous foreign students already.  

Schools in NESCAC, (Trinity's athletic conference) and the Ivy League together make up the traditional bulk of collegiate squash, though the game has expanded considerably recently.  These schools do not allow sports scholarships, and by and large they do not offer academic scholarships, though there are exceptions.  Instead they offer financial aid to ALL needy students, regardless of the reasons for which they were given admission- exceptional achievement in academics, sports, community service and so forth.  These schools do their best to be need- blind.  That is to say they do not look at how much aid an applicant will require until AFTER they have accepted them.  (In recent years, as costs have sky-rocketed, some schools have been forced to abandon this laudable goal.)  Sadly, most of these schools, Trinity included (this is clearly stated on the Trinity web site), are NOT need-blind for foreign students.  They simply cannot afford this luxury. They have to factor a foreign student's ability to pay into the equation.

Foreign students almost invariably need financial aid.  U.S. colleges and universities cost up to four times what similar institutions in other countries do.  Some countries have even had currency export restrictions. (I believe India, where so many of the early foreign squash players came from, used to.)  I have known coaches at extremely wealthy schools to be told by Admissions, "You already have one foreign player, we can't afford another."  The only "go-ahead" Dobell could have given Assaiante, who was already free to contact any student he wished,  is something along the lines of, "You find the players, and I'll figure out how to pay for them."

In the early years of Trinity's ascension I was the coach at Wesleyan.  I refused to play Trinity  on the grounds that they were offering de facto sports scholarships.  I argued to my A.D., who at first insisted I honor our contract to play, and to Paul Assaiante, that it's unfair for a school to decide that while they are not need-blind to the ordinary foreign applicant pool, they will be need-blind to foreign Squash players. My decision meant little to Trinity- they'd been thumping us for decades!  

I was never an aggressive recruiter, but I recall one day getting a letter from an overseas applicant who was a superb student and would be an instant number 1 player.  He had friends at Wesleyan and thought it would be the perfect school. I made one of my rare calls to admissions, and virtually the first words out of my contact's mouth were, "Can he pay?"  It's not that I didn't have a fine school to attract this student- I didn't have the money.  Trinity had the money. At the time I thought that was unfair, and I argued that a sensible reading of the NESCAC rules which embraced the spirit of the prohibition on athletic scholarships supported this position.   I thought that it was only because Squash was not an NCAA sport that Trinity could get way with it.  Surely if a Division III team showed up to a cross country meet with five Kenyans the NCAA would question how they payed their tuition fees.

In the two decades since, I've been proved wrong countless times in the court of public opinion, and, apparently, in the discussions of NESCAC  Athletic Directors.  I will mention, though, that 10 or 12 years ago I was at a squash related event in New York City where I heard a former Trinity player expressing his gratitude for what he called a "Squash scholarship," though he was, of course, mistaken.

Whether you call it financial aid or a Squash scholarship, the fact remains that a school that is willing to assume the financial burden can field a powerful team, and more schools are making the decision to do this.  I can't comment on their motivations, but perhaps, as Trinity did, they want to be mentioned in the same breath as the Ivies.  (Of course the Ivies are no longer necessarily the teams that they will need to conquer, and it is certainly no disrespect to Trinity to say that it doesn't carry quite the same cachet to be coupled with them as with Harvard!)  I never for a second bought Assaiante's suggestion that foreign students picked Trinity over other schools because parents trust him more than other coaches to look after their kids. It was always Financial Aid. The increasing numbers who feel safe at other schools these days seem to bear me out.  

Unlike Ted though, I think the influx of foreign players can only be good for U.S. Squash, and good for the schools they attend. As Assaiante has said on many occasions, the players are typically excellent students who feel a deep responsibility to their parents and gratitude to the school, and thus treat the team and their academics as serious enterprises, something not every young American does, (myself a particularly shameful case in point all those years ago!) Trinity's players are notable for their sportsmanship and their presentation. In addition overseas recruiting has made it possible for a variety of schools to compete at the top level, which may in time contribute to diminishing the elitist image of the sport.

Nonetheless, when I read one of those heartwarming stories of poor children from the toughest circumstances making it to an elite educational institution in the U.S. I always wonder how many more could be given that opportunity if the scant financial aid money for foreign students weren't diverted to other purposes. Don't forget that Squash is an expensive sport in most countries, we're not exactly opening doors to the needy. Of course I always used to wonder how people could oppose Affirmative Action, which aims to right an ancient and ongoing horror, but find nothing wrong with giving an admissions boost to a kid who plays a sport of which only the wealthy have even heard.

December 10, 2015

Sasha Cooke Weighs in On Clock Proposal for Women's Pro Squash

Squash players have always been justifiably proud of the sport's grueling nature- they love to tell other athletes how much more suffering goes on in high level squash than in tennis or badminton.  It's hard to make that argument if one top ten woman can beat another in 22 minutes.

I took Ted Gross's running clock piece as satire intended to re-open the tin debate. (After all a clock will not reintroduce drama or hard rallies- if someone is well ahead with a few minutes to play the opponent will have to go for still more short cheap points to have any chance. ) 

I'm astonished at the angry reactions.  People don't seem to be thinking about this from a professional perspective.  If four quarter final matches barely total 2 hours how do you justify ticket prices?  Gross didn't say the women don't work hard or play well- simply that the matches are too damn short.  If they were bad or lazy players, shouldn't we prefer short matches? (Old Punch cartoon ---  First lady: This food is terrible.  Second: Yes, and the portions are too small.)

A month ago in the same week it took the number 1 man 42 minutes to beat a wild card, but only 32 for the number 20 woman to beat the number 1.   That shows a problem not in depth or quality of play, but simply in length.  If pro squash is truly a professional "product", not merely a system of patronage (matronage?), it needs to make that product attractive.  That's why the men changed the scoring and lowered the tin.

The WNBA is having some success selling their product and the women use a ball that's an inch smaller.   Even with the old tin you didn't as often see the women having exchanges of 4 or 5 drops, which fans find very entertaining (as in that viral rally  Ramy and Elshorbagy had in Qatar). This is simply because if a re-drop is really good, the women are seldom quick enough to cover it (Nicole excepted) and if it's bad, the opponent can put it away in the back.  This is a matter of practical reality, not of debate about inadvertent (or vertent) sexism. Women's squash needs to be as compelling as possible if it's to sell tickets.  Most squash fans are players.  They  like long rallies and appreciate the physical battle created by many consecutive long rallies, although most will agree that the faster pace of the modern game is better than the purely attritional matches of the past.  Right now women's matches are arguably too short.   Why is it not fair to make this point?