SPA-tlight: John Flanigan

How old were you when you started playing squash.
I was actually 26 years old before I ever saw the sport. I was a tennis player and I moved to Minnesota in 1986. I started working part time at the Minnesota Athletic Club and the Commodore Club. John Jasinski at the Commodore Club encouraged me to check out squash, which was the hardball game at the time. I was already coaching tennis when I received a grant in 1988 from the Minnesota Squash Association and was able get my squash coaching certification. I was hired as the head squash pro at the Northwest Club in 1989 and stayed there until I became the pro at the Minnesota Athletic Club, where I stayed until 1999, when I came to the University Club.

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 5.01.23 PMWho were some of your biggest influences in squash?
I’d have to say Bob Callahan, the coach at Princeton. I went to a clinic he gave when I first started coaching and was so impressed I volunteered to help the rest of the weekend. That led to me being invited to the Princeton summer camp where, over the next six years in a row, I met and worked with so many great coaches.

Talk about the squash scene in the Midwest?
Squash is very vibrant here. The biggest difference between this part of the country and the Northeast is the lack of school programs, both collegiate and high school. More colleges are beginning to offer squash here, and the urban program—MetroSquash—has been tremendously successful. but high school squash is non-existent. Another huge difference is the lack of courts in this part of the country. There aren’t any clubs with a large number of courts. We are fortunate at the U-CLUB as we are set to open four new singles courts and a doubles court this June (giving the club six singles courts total).

Do your children play?
Actually my two boys, ages 9 and 11, just played in their first tournament last month. They loved it.

Chicago will host the U.S. Open Squash championship again next year. What effect will that have on the community?
I think it’s going to have a big impact. Millennium Park is Chicago’s “Front yard.” It is such an iconic venue for the tournament and it’s going to expose the sport to a large number of people. There is seating for 4,000 people, and while we will be selling tickets and sponsorship, there will be nearly 1,000 seats for the general public to enjoy the event.

John, if you weren’t a squash coach, what do you think you’d be doing?
I have a lot of hobbies, but none that I could make a living at! I think I would be a life coach, or part of a management team that would focus on helping people succeed.