Women in Squash

By Jennifer Gabler

Women’s Committee Chairs—A.J. Copeland, Kim Clearkin and Jennifer Gabler

It would be a challenge for anyone taking over the reins of the U.S. SQUASH Women’s Committee from Jeannie Blasberg. Jeannie, who was profiled in the December 2009 issue of Squash Magazine, is off to live in Switzerland with her family. As Board Chair of US SQUASH and Chairperson of the Women’s Committee, she focused much of her efforts on attracting and keeping women involved in the game at all levels. It will take the combined efforts of three people pulled from different corners of the U.S. to fill her shoes.

All three have just begun to put their own mark on the Women’s Committee. One of the first agenda items was to find the next venue for the 2010 Howe Cup which we are excited to announce will be in Rye (NY) during the weekend of Nov. 5-7, 2010. The event will be hosted by the newly renovated Apawamis Club, Westchester Country Club and Rye Country Day School. Between the three venues, which are minutes apart, are thirteen singles courts and three doubles courts. It won’t be as warm as San Francisco last October, but Rye is one of the epicenters of squash activity in the U.S. and the planning is in the works for yet another successful Howe Cup. Besides Howe Cup, the Committee is focused on encouraging women to participate in both of the national individual championships—Age Groups in March and Skill Levels in April. We have also added a new event to the national schedule, the Southwest Open Three-A-Side team tournament organized by Tina Fuselli in Tempe Arizona (Tina was profiled in the January 2010 issue of Squash Magazine). This new event will build on the popularity of the team format from Howe Cup, be an excellent warm-up for Howe Cup and provide a west coast venue for women players to gather.

(L-R): Julia Lane, Marie Vlcek, Jennifer Gabler and Cate Crowley at the Howe Cup.
(L-R): Julia Lane, Marie Vlcek, Jennifer Gabler and Cate Crowley at the Howe Cup.

Second, the committee has distributed a survey to more accurately understand the profile of the current women’s squash base and to gather ideas on how best to promote and support women’s play. The survey covers tournaments, communication and attraction and retention of players. If you have not yet received this survey, send an email to kevin.klipstein@ussquash.com. We plan on publishing the results of the survey in an upcoming Squash Magazine and using the results to focus our efforts.

Third, the trio has been organizing a regional network of women squash leaders across the country to promote women’s play on a regional level which can be viewed on the women’s page of the U.S. SQUASH website.

A.J. Copeland
It was a vacation experience that drew A.J. Copeland back to playing squash. A.J. learned to play in prep school and played on the Brown University team. She played during her first few years of medical school, but the rigors and time commitment of training to be a surgeon, combined with raising small children, precluded her from playing for many years. But on a vacation trip to Jamaica in 1996, she got back on a squash court and “had so much fun and realized how much I missed the game.” Once she got bitten by the squash bug the second time around, there was no turning back. Even with her heavy work commitment as a general surgeon at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, A.J. has made time to play league, serve on the board of the DC Squash Association and captain the last five years of DC Howe Cup B teams. A.J. is a consummate organizer and is the VP in charge of women’s squash in the capitol district, setting up round robin schedules and promoting tournaments to over 120 capitol area women squash players.

As a chair of the Women’s Committee, A.J. hopes to encourage more women to participate in the game and to enter tournaments. She also wants to continue the focus on the Howe Cup as the premier women’s team event and maximize participation in it.

As A.J.’s own squash career has, participation in squash, for many women, ebbs and flows with the demands of career and family. “Clearly there is an off-ramp for women squash players; we just need to create an on-ramp.” She is also concerned that many elite players might not want to continue playing as adults if they cannot train and compete at their former competitive level. She hopes to encourage players of all levels to see the benefits of participating beyond just winning matches, including social, physical and emotional.

Kim Clearkin
Kim Clearkin (profiled in the December issue of Squash Magazine), Assistant Squash Professional at the Pacific Athletic Club in Redwood City (CA) pulled off an amazing 2009 Howe Cup. It will be a tough act to follow and we hope all those fantastic west coast teams will make the trek to the east coast in 2010. Kim was largely responsible for the development of the women’s teams from California. Together with fellow A team player, Mei Lin Ong, Kim mentored and coached many of the California players, and 35 of the 40 California players were in their first Howe Cup. Kim was the driving force behind the growth of the California contingent from two to eight teams in just two years.

Kim started playing squash at Oxford University in England. She had always been an avid racquet sports player, playing county badminton and tennis at school, but chose to pursue an academic path. She earned a degree and Ph. D in Physics from Oxford and then pursued a career as a project manager and information systems consultant. Nevertheless she found time to continue playing squash at club and county level in Berkshire, England. After children, Kim took a career break (from IT) and instead began coaching primarily to fit in around school life. Always an organizer, it wasn’t long before Kim sat on the Berkshire Squash committee as county development officer charged with growing the sport at a county level, and she was subsequently named volunteer of the month by England Squash for her efforts growing junior squash in Berkshire and Surrey (a neighboring county).

As one of the chairs of the Women’s Committee, Kim hopes to find a way to inspire more women to take up the game—either again or for the first time. “I believe that squash can provide the intensity of exercise women desire together with the social environment women also need,” Kim explains. “I really would like to understand better what motivates women to play so that I can try to provide a program that is women-friendly. Most sport is set up for men, by men, but women are different. Look at the three of us. A.J., Jen and I all have that career break in common because of children. That in itself differentiates our needs from the guys. I urge you all to complete our survey. Only then can we endeavor to provide programs that work for women.”

Jennifer Gabler
My own squash story starts when I walked into Aggie Kurtz’s office at Dartmouth College and said, “I haven’t played much, but can you teach me?” Aggie, a Squash Hall of Fame inductee, had started the women’s athletics program at Dartmouth. Not being deluged with experienced squash recruits, she was willing to teach college beginners. I was thrilled to learn the game from such an experienced coach and competitor, and squash became one of the best parts of my college career. I worked my way up from a raw JV player my freshman year to playing in the number seven position my senior year, beating my Harvard opponent in match play and being named MVP. I  was hooked!

I played on leagues and ladders in Boston post-graduate school and found it a great way to meet new people and settle into a new community. My first date with my husband was a squash date (I liked him a lot but not enough to let him win). Then a familiar theme kicked in—work, kids and very little free time. I took twelve years off from squash. Though I continued other athletic interests, running and swimming just didn’t have the same draw for me as squash.

Our family moved to Connecticut in 2002 and a friend suggested that we stop by the local squash club. She ended up playing competitive tennis, but I signed up at Southport Racquet Club and it has been one of the anchors of my life in suburbia. I carefully plan my work and husband’s travel schedule around key tournaments. I’ve relished my nights out with my teammates, Jane Segall and Debby Hodes. I’ve reconnected with old college teammates. One of the first things I said to myself when I began playing again was, “I’ve got to play Howe Cup!” So I signed up in 2007 on a team that was composed of Minnesotans. I found out that there is a thriving squash community there anchored by Anne Robertson and Karen McManus. I got a ride to the Saturday night party that first year from Andrea Bowen and Kate Slott, both from Portland. I’ve traveled to South Carolina to play at the Millman’s club and met Beth Federowich from Pittsburgh. Beth is a fierce competitor, one of the fittest 45+ women I’ve ever met and a good friend.

I’m looking forward to being the tournament director for Howe Cup 2010 and am eager to help the Women’s Committee promote participation across all levels of women’s squash. I’ve got Tina Fuselli’s Southwest Three-A-Side Tournament in Tempe (AZ) on my calendar for September 2010 and I want to see you there!