By Kevin Klipstein
Google “leagues” and the first two listings are generic Wikipedia links, but the next two are for the USTA’s TennisLink league program demonstrating how important leagues are to tennis. Though less mainstream, squash leagues also play a central role in many squash players’ lives. I’ve played in leagues for the last 30 years, starting with the Rochester Squash adult leagues as a junior in the early 1980’s, where I played men who are around my age now and, of course, seemed SO old then. During these matches I would often think, “I can’t believe I’m losing to a guy with a swing like that!” or “No way you were getting that drop shot,” then play a let anyway, teeth gritted.
We started a high school league with four teams in the mid-1980’s which helped introduce a handful of tennis players to the world of squash. While it didn’t do much to improve the skills of those of us who played regularly, I still have friends today that I made through that experience. This league faded over time but is being revived soon, swept along by the tide of recent high school activity nationally.
Then it was on to college to compete in the most widely followed league being played. Although collegiate squash was a serious endeavor then, it pales in comparison to the way it is today, with the pressure of recruiting, and the high level of play, which, when the top teams square off, rivals that of the professional leagues. I wanted to go to a school where I could play on the team, and am thankful this was possible. College squash was one of the most influential experiences of my life. I developed friendships that will last a lifetime. Just this past week, 20 of my fellow Cornell Squash alums gathered in NYC, a reminder to us all of the strong ties that team sports bind.
Leagues in Seattle, where I was a teaching professional in the early 1990’s, were spirited and robust. Seattle boasts an incredibly warm and welcoming squash community, and benefits from their close relationship with Vancouver squash, two hours to the north. Washington DC leagues, despite the horrible traffic and distant clubs, have always been strong. I played for a club that had one converted racquetball court and a hardball court. Despite this we still fielded one of the best teams and were a very tight knit group. When I was in San Francisco in the early 00’s, the Bay Area leagues were not what they are today, with East Bay, Peninsula and Sacramento action, since back then there weren’t leagues being played! Their strength now is an example of the revitalized interest in adult squash competition.
Living in NYC by 2003, I quickly connected with league play and was active on two championship teams. Then, ironically, my work took me away from regularly competing on teams, though the U.S. SQUASH office fielded a Philadelphia league team one season. Finally tired of playing infrequently and, as a result, below my ability, I have committed myself to playing league again this season, knowing the regular weekly schedule will force me to carve out the time. This recent experience has reminded me of a few things: It’s easy to fall into a routine where you play the same few people; Leagues are a great way to meet new players and make new friends; Playing for your team is a less solitary activity by definition and adds to the rewards of competing; Playing in a match that counts for something is very different than playing against friends; Regardless of how experienced you are, it’s hard not to be nervous those first few points; When in a league match, you don’t consider whether you should try for that shot just out of reach, you just do it, and sometimes you even manage to get to it; As a result, you enjoy a much better workout, and feel the satisfaction that squash players appreciate, which is being especially sore the next few days!
With the introduction of the U.S. SQUASH National League Finals (NLF) pitting the best league teams in the country against each other to compete for the title of National Champions, the stakes just got a little higher, but leagues have always been an enduring foundation of U.S. SQUASH in that we facilitate their organization at every level, including high school, college and adults. For many, leagues serve as their main point of contact with squash and the Association. Looking back now, I realize that my involvement in squash leagues has served as the foundation for many of my most enduring relationships too.