From US Squash For Public Consumption

By Kevin Klipstein

As you’ll read and see in this issue, U.S. SQUASH hosted the 2009 U.S. Open Championship in Chicago at a “Magnificent” outdoor venue on Michigan Avenue. The event boasted crowds of over 500 each of the five nights. Record numbers watched the free live web streaming provided through our website, as a tournament field that included two Americans in the main draw, World No. 33 Julian Illingworth and No. 77 Gilly Lane, culminated with two former world champions battling for our national title.

No Help, No Event, No Question
The event occurred due to the generosity and leadership of dozens of people and several corporate sponsors. Primary among the leaders was Imran Nasir, long-time teaching professional, who spearheaded the effort locally, having pulled together the 2008 Sweet Home Chicago in a matter of months. Paul Zeller of Zeller Realty offered his spectacular Pioneer Court, the plaza in front of 401 North Michigan Avenue at no cost. His company was also a presenting sponsor. The support of title sponsor AON allowed for first class presentation of the tournament venue. Gus Cook, North American PSA liaison, played a key role and Mike Riley, the US’s top referee, led the all-volunteer tournament officiating crew. Bill James, local architect and superhero volunteer, did everything from arrange for the equipment rentals and oversee the site buildout. He deserves a medal just for getting us through the Chicago permitting process. At one point, Bill was seen under partially built bleachers working away on a table saw. And he volunteered for this?!

The Takeaway
While our 3-year strategic plan did not call for the Association taking on a large role in our major US professional events, the cancelling of the 2008 U.S. Open forced us to do so earlier than we intended. We are still focused on building out the infrastructure to support participation across juniors, adults, colleges and high schools, singles and doubles, everything from in-club ladders all the way to regional and national championships. That said, we have come to realize two things—first, people, even non-squash players, find the game incredibly entertaining when it’s made accessible, and second, we can no longer afford not to play a central role in building the U.S. Open into the largest professional tournament in the world.

Vision for the Future
In follow up to the men in Chicago, the women’s event will be held as a separate tournament this November as the 2009 Carol Weymuller U.S. Women’s Open Championship at Heights Casino in Brooklyn. The “Weymuller” has doubled as the U.S. Open title for the last half-dozen years, and we are grateful to the Brooklyn squash community and Heights Casino for their support.

In 2010, METROsquash, the Chicago-based urban squash program, will spearhead the first combined U.S. Open Squash Championships, with both the men’s and women’s draws. The event will be run as a fundraiser for a publicly accessible squash facility in partnership with the University of Chicago. The last four days of the September 25 – October 2 tournament will be played outdoors at the Pritzker Pavillion stage in Millennium Park, which has the capacity to seat more that 2,000 fans. METROsquash will introduce thousands of local high schoolers to the sport, and we will partner with the local District to convert local YMCA racquetball courts and create local high school and college programs.

For 2011 and beyond, we’ll seek to maintain a combined men’s and women’s tournament, hosting it in public venues, adding a Hall of Fame Gala as part of the week, as well as incorporating the Masters divisions for the Open, meaning the age division open championships similar to the British Open.

With the progress our top players are making in climbing the world rankings, and our plans finally clear for building the U.S. Open into a true “major,” perhaps it’s not asking too much to envision an American holding the U.S. Open trophy up before a crowd of thousands of cheering fans sometime fairly soon.