Do you want to move online? Please rate your response between 1 (No way, I am a Luddite, stick with pencil and paper) and 5 (Absolutely—I love new gadgets and surfing the web).” That was the question posed to the squash members at Southport Racquet Club in Southport (CT) late last year. Market research purists would point out that it is a clearly biased, if not altogether leading question, and they would be correct. As the appointed successor to the job of “league runner” and after one round doing things the old way, I admit that I secretly harbored hopes for a certain result.
At the time, our thriving squash league had come to a crossroad. Our much loved league czar, John Logan, was stepping down, and he had set up a system that ran like clockwork. Would the switch to electronic—recording, tallying and ordering—change the lively spirit of our club and the wide spectrum of people it brought together? Would the absence of a posted hard copy of the club rankings eliminate the inevitable debates, bragging and good natured trash talk? Would technology simplify and improve an admittedly well-run paper and pencil system and keep things enjoyable for the players? With the outside world decidedly focused on other things and the squash world in particular focused on the Olympic bid and point-a-rally-scoring (PAR), our club was caught up in this, more minor, debate.
In the end even those most loyal to the old system were resigned to the fact that change was in the air. The majority decided that the new system was the way to go (or that they weren’t Luddites after all). As his last official act at the club, John had managed the move from the old nine point scoring to the new PAR system with aplomb. The transition was seamless and perhaps primed members to take an even bigger leap.
It’s been three months since we moved online with even the latest comers to the newfangled wizardry of the information super-highway ably coping with their new data entry demands. Even Bruce managed to log in eventually. A small surprise but a great improvement has been the increase in rated players at our club. By placing a computer by our main notice board people can now immediately enter match results, increasing the number of score entries and making for more accurate rankings. The competitive streak has been maintained by also having the opportunity to look up a fellow player’s score at the same time, although the argument about best techniques and who should have won now come later.
To everyone’s relief, however, much has remained the same. The six player “boxes” still give everyone a manageable five matches a month to play to at least keep up their standard. With the top two in every box moving up and the bottom two moving down, through an average of ten boxes, everyone gets the option of challenging themselves, maintaining their skill level or setting their sights on new heights altogether. Participation in the main league, which averages 50 players in the summer and up to 90 in the winter with another 40 for its little brother, the lunch ladder, still attracts a diverse range of people; American and Internationals, men and women, teenagers and septuagenarians, beginners and club pros.
The league still caters to a variety of unspoken social needs as well offering a ready opportunity and a variety of reasons for these different walks of life to come together. Those new to the community have an easy way to get to know people. For old friends, it provides a regular meeting and a competitive outlet. For people new to the game, it affords a chance to watch or personally learn from more seasoned players.
The hard-fought games and friendly rivalries remain too—with the familiar complaints and disputes found on any squash court. (A Caveat here: names have been changed to protect the innocent) “Ned calls way too many lets. He has to at least try to get to the ball.” “Tom doesn’t know the rules. He has to clear.” Yes, the paper and pencil are gone but the essence of our box league can still be found (to my great relief). The new system has enhanced what was good and made my job easier. Now we just need something that will help all those arguments about the rules. What’s that you say? A bar? Here’s hoping.