Your Serve January 2014

Like most people who love squash, I watched the three-sport competition for Olympic inclusion with great interest. I was disappointed in the result but fascinated with the complexity of the presentations. Squash did well but the fact that it has twice consecutively failed to gain acceptance shows that the sport’s message has to be further refined.

There are many ways our message is delivered daily outside of formal presentations. The small signals that we all communicate have a cumulative and far reaching effect on the public perception of the game.

Three recent, closely-related, references to squash brought home to me the need to move our message forward if we wish to see our game grow.

First, at a party being held for a visiting urban squash program and attended by the host’s neighbors and friends, as well as students from two National Urban Squash and Education Association (NUSEA) groups, the host asked the featured program director to make remarks. He opened by telling the guests that squash had long been thought of as an Eastern prep school, Ivy League game. He went on to explain that was no longer the case.

Shortly after that, I was at a non-squash-related fundraiser in San Diego. I mentioned to a fellow guest that I work with the Access Youth Academy in San Diego, which is one of the fastest growing urban squash programs. After telling him more about Access, his reaction (although slightly tongue-in-cheek) was, “Isn’t squash just a prep school sport?”

Almost the next day, September 1, The New York Times ran a long story (“Olympic Wheel of Fortune”) about the three sports vying for Olympic inclusion. That article included a description of squash that read, in part, “In the United States, the game is largely an East Coast phenomenon and is regarded as a game for elite prep schools, colleges and clubs.”

These three, nearly identical, references were not new thoughts.

Thirty-five years ago, I was coaching the women’s squash team at Harvard and regularly writing columns on squash for Tennis Week. In the November 11, 1978, issue I wrote a column on the then-current state of intercollegiate squash. Since my columns were largely for tennis audiences I generally furnished some background and, in that article, I wrote, “In the early years of the [Intercollegiate Squash Racquets] Association the vast majority of players entered college with experience in New England prep schools and/or the exclusive clubs of Boston, Philadelphia and New York.”

It seems to me, we should have moved forward since I wrote those words.

Squash is no longer a prep-school-elite-college sport. The game has diversified and become inclusive in the U.S. Due particularly to the efforts of two innovators—Greg Zaff and Paul Assaiante—the game has expanded to involve low income urban residents and students from abroad who compete at our highest levels. In 1996 Zaff founded Squash- Busters. That initial urban squash project has grown to now include fifteen programs nationwide involving 1,300 inner city students a year. Assaiante, the incomparable Trinity coach, had the foresight to look outside the U.S. for top collegiate softball players and the influx and success of those players paved the way for an explosion of non-Ivy collegiate teams to the point where there are now fifty-seven men’s teams and forty-two women’s teams participating in the College Squash Association—a far cry from Ivy League isolation.

We should not be telling the same story that was perhaps accurate forty years ago. There are so many positive, inclusive stories in squash today, it is an injustice to indulge in any discussion of an exclusionary past. When I talk about squash I am going to abandon references to prep schools and Ivy League teams in favor of more all-encompassing success stories.

Paul A. Moses
Newport Beach, CA