Forty years ago, in March 1980, a half dozen enterprising, young women flew to Sweden for the first-ever World Junior Championships: Patrice McConnell Cormwell, Kat Castle Grant, Karen Kelso, Alicia McConnell, Diana Staley and coach Carol Weymuller. The tournament was played in Kungalv, a small village north of Gothenburg. Hailing from five continents, nineteen men’s teams and five women’s teams competed.
It was a shoestring affair for the Americans. Until recently, junior teams had to raise their own funds to travel and compete: a number of supporters donated, Manta gave racquets and bags and Dunlop gave them four dozen balls. On the plane they sewed USA letters onto their Adidas warmups. Unable to afford the tournament hotel, they billeted with locals in Kungalv. The U.S. team won the women’s team event, and Alicia McConnell captured the women’s individual tournament.
The event was sanctioned by the International Squash Rackets Federation (today the World Squash Federation) and the boys’ draws were always considered official. The girls’ draws were also—to a point. The gold medals were inscribed “World Jun. Champs Kungalv 1980” but Alicia McConnell’s individual trophy was called the “Swedish Open Girls Championship.” The girls’ draws, it turned out, were not sanctioned by the Women’s International Squash Rackets Federation, a separate governing body founded in 1979 and absorbed into the ISRF in 1985. Led by the redoubtable Janet Morgan Shardlow, the WISRF didn’t want the ISRF running any women’s world championships.
At the 1979 ISRF AGM, in a section titled “Canada—Junior Championships—Motion to Establish Championships,” the minutes mentioned that Canada was the first choice to host the event before agreeing that Sweden would host. “Sweden enquired whether they could also hold a junior women’s event at the same time. Great Britain suggested it would be necessary to liaise with WISRF. The Chairman said he felt consultation with WISRF was essential…. It was moved that the event for junior boys and the possibility of holding a junior girls event be referred to WISRF and only held if WISRF concurred.”
The only mention of the event at the ISRF AGM the following year was when Shardlow, according to the minutes, “asked about the engraving on trophies presented to the girls, as she understood the word ‘world’ appeared. She stated the event had not been sanctioned by the WISRF.” Thus, political infighting took away official recognition of these players’ true accomplishments: Team USA’s first world championships.
Carol Weymuller, the U.S. coach, kept a diary of the trip, which is excerpted here, along with interviews with all six women.
In March 1979, a year earlier, Fred [Weymuller] and I took six juniors to Australia. It was a six-week trip. We had David Boyum, Mary Hulbert, Sven Krogious, John Larson, Alicia McConnell and Chris Smith. It was a revelatory trip. We stayed with families and trained every day and played different teams. We took a train to Cannes, stayed in a hostel there, renting bikes, swimming, seeing the Great Barrier Reef in a glass-bottom boat. We went horseback riding. I taught the kids how to play bridge. It was amazing.
Australia in 1979 was the catalyst. We had grown up playing squash at the Heights Casino in Brooklyn, but the trip was incredible. This was before anyone knew where Australia was. It was like going off the end of the planet.
The Swedes had been hosting events throughout the 1970s. Annually at the end of March, they hosted a junior international event, team and individual, changing the city each time. [The one in 1979 had sixty-four players from ten countries.] So when the ISRF announced an official world championship, we jumped at it. I called people in Sweden and made plans. If I was going to do it myself, then I decided I could only take one team and that was girls.
I grew up in Philadelphia at the Huntingdon Valley Country Club, on two small, non-standard courts. I started playing in eighth grade and took lessons with Barbara Maltby. It was the first time traveling overseas for squash for me.
For a couple of weeks before we left for Sweden, we trained at Broad Street Squash Club. There were only two softball courts in the city and Broad Street had one. Larry Sconzo helped organize it. Broad Street was a real hub of the game—Jon Foster was a pro there, a bunch of the top professional men were based there.
PATRICE McCONNELL CROMWELL
It was cool to have a sister on the team. We are ten-and-a-half months apart.
I didn’t know the other girls that well. They were from New York or Philadelphia, while I had grown up in Connecticut and hadn’t played any squash until I got to Choate. It was the fall of 1977. The squash coach, Tom Generous, was walking past the tennis courts where I was hitting with my older brother and asked if I had ever played squash. I fell in love with the game. I had my own key to the gym and would go in and hit. I learned from Tom how to plan my time, optimize training, how to focus on my opponents, how to wear them down. I was new to squash. I didn’t know any of my opponents. It was all clubby.
Every other national association paid for their juniors to go, the hefty entry fee, uniforms, flights, the hotel in Kungalv. We had to pay for it on our own. Parents paid what they could. We raised money from many suppor ters of junior squash. Darwin [Kingsley, the executive director of US Squash] knew about the trip, but he was afraid that we’d change the hardball game.
CAROL WEYMULLER’S diary
Monday March 24th, 1980
Left for Kennedy at 3:00. I arrived at 61 Pierrepont at 2:30 but the girls weren’t ready…. Larry [Sconzo] and Vince [McConnell] drove us out. The BQE wasn’t bad but the LIE was terrible. We made it, though in fact by the time we checked in, it was time to board the plane. It was a great flight with lots of room to stretch out. Everyone got a couple of hours of sleep. Exchanged $50 at airport.
KAT CASTLE GRANT
I had grown up playing on the Main Line in Philadelphia but that winter I was studying overseas: I spent three weeks in Paris on a Shipley School program. Then I had a gap, a week alone at a youth hostel before flying to Sweden. It was a long week. The owners of the hostel hated the U.S. I barely left my room. I found a public squash club and I’d take the Metro and go to the club and put a couple of francs in the meter to get the lights on and hit by myself. I was so absolutely excited to see the rest of the team.
I brought some needles and thread and on the flight we sewed USA on to the back of our sweatshirts. When we arrived, we found Kungalv pretty neat. They had a half dozen glass-backed courts. That was pretty unusual in the States at that time.
Tuesday March 25, 1980
Arrived at 8:10am and were met by Tony Larsson and Anders Sundstrom [tournament officials]…. We walked around town, exchanged some money and rested ‘til 6:00. At 6:00 we met the Swedish Girls’ team… We played them very evenly. Each girl played 2 games. Back to the house after picking up some pizza. I mailed a letter to Fred. Bed by 11:00pm.
I had been to Canada but never to Europe. I loved languages—I spoke French as a kindergartner. It was my lifelong dream to be the U.S. ambassador to France. I remember flying over and all the excitement.
As you came into Kungalv, you could just smell it, the aroma of Swedish cookies. Everything was better there. The coffee was better, the cheese was better, the bread was better. You could just smell this wafting odor of goodness.
March 26, 1980, Wednesday
Up at 8:30am. Got to club at 9:45—15 mins late for our practice. The others were even later. Did drills for just about the whole time and then everyone played one game. Went to town during lunch and had a cheeseburger. We made it back just in time to play an informal match again with the Swedes. This time only Karen & Patrice lost. Since we get better every day we should be able to take them in the team event.
We had to adjust to the softball style. Those lines on the court—how am I going to hammer through it? During each match, I tried to learn and adjust and work on beating seasoned players on their court. The tin was higher. It wasn’t working for me. Bang. I was a precise player. I had to aim higher. I had a constant hum in my head: aim higher, hang in, hang in and hang in.
We thought hardball and softball were similar but when we got there it was so different. It was cold. There were vents in the tin on the front wall and snow in the corners. I loved hitting the ball hard and getting the ball to my opponent quicker. I loved going for that winner. I loved shooting. But in softball, you had to be patient. I wasn’t a patient person. That was the hardest part—not putting the ball away. Still, we were shooting more than the other teams.
March 28th, 1980 Friday
Up at 7:30 and took taxi to courts as it was raining. A good 2 hr workout. Then I took sauna, shower and headed for Goteburg by bus…. Returned to Kungalv at 6:00. Ate dinner and Tony drove me to manager’s meeting. The real time consumer was Pakistan. Also if defaulted should they enter plate? No.
We all got billeted. The families, none of them spoke any English. You figured it out. My family was a man and a woman, unmarried; she was pregnant. No one was married. It was very European.
Carol and I were billeted together. The woman was a hairdresser. The man, he and I would play backgammon every evening—my two favorite things, squash and backgammon. My grandfather taught me backgammon. It is funny what memories you keep from forty years ago.
I loved Carol. She was a real mentor. You couldn’t have had a better diplomat to represent the U.S. She was fantastic. She had an infectious spirit, a total blast, goofy, loved squash and fun. She snored every night. I would open the window in our bedroom and hope that she would freeze and turn over. Every night she froze, and every morning she woke up and wondered why, in Scandinavia in the middle of winter, we had the window open.
March 29th, 1980. Saturday
Left at 10:30 for courts and opening ceremony at 10:50. A local “politic” spoke. We all went back to our apartments for lunch and then back to the courts in time for 2:20 and 3:00 matches. Alicia won over a Swede; Karen won over a Swede; Diane lost to the top Swede; Kathy beat a Swede; and Patrice beat a Swede. Got home around 6:00. The girls went over to the hotel and I cooked at home, wrote, talked and rested.
March 30th, 1980, Sunday
Alicia beat the #3 Finn. Kathy lost to the #2 Swede 3-1. Diane lost to Karen and Patrice lost to the #1 Finn. In the afternoon, Alicia beat the #3 swede; Kathy beat the #2 Finn; Karen lost to the #1 Swede; Diane beat a Swede and Patrice lost to the #4 Swede…I went back to the apartment. I read, wrote some letters and cooked some dinner. Karen, Eva & Tony came in around 9:30. They had gone to the hotel. I went to bed at 1:00am—too late!
One day we found this medieval castle [Bohus Fortress] above town. It wasn’t open for tours but we went in and explored. It was fun and silly.
The castle was so cool. It was closed for the season. I remember climbing over a fence. We saw Do Not Enter signs in Swedish. It was just a shell, there wasn’t that much about it, all this stone.
Monday, March 31, 1980
Alicia beat Kathy in 3. Karen lost to a Finn in 4. In the afternoon Diane beat Patrice—Patrice cried. Patrice had beaten a Swede earlier when I had to tell her how to beat her. Diane won her earlier match in 4. Alicia played a good match against Susanne Nyberg and won in 3. It was tiring and her tendons in her wrist are a bit stretched. The Dr. said she’d need some rest after the tourn. Got home around 6:30. I made an omelette, watched Tony’s slide show of the U.S. and then we played hearts til 1:00am. Read until 1:30.
It was so neat to watch the top boys play. I watched Australia v. Pakistan. The points went on forever. It really helped our approach to softball, to see it at that level.
Tuesday April 1, 1980
Patrice lost to Finn in 3 fairly decent games. Made a big comeback in the 3rd from 8-0. Diane lost in a very close 5 to Swede. Then Alicia—super 1st game. 3rd point hit her with serve. Dropped the second with too many errors. Very few errors in 3rd, except at end. In the fourth excellent play ending with a service floor, side not coming off back. Had big lead in 4th. Peter Nance won the boys. The ceremony was very moving—national anthem, podiums, flags, processions, etc. Girls went to the disco.
It was very exciting to watch Alicia in the finals of the individuals. I always admired her. She had a tremendous amount of grit. She struggled and pulled it out. When you are just getting star ted as a player, it was great to have her as a role model.
It was pretty humbling listening to the national anthem. To play for your country. We saw the broader scope of the game.
On an off-day we took a tour of a Volvo factory, something educational to learn about Sweden. We were wearing our USA uniforms. Someone threw something at us, pelting us. We were naïve. We were proud of our heritage and didn’t understand that other people would have different opinions.
Wednesday, April 2, 1980
Rest Day. Picked up at 10:30 to go to Fars Hatt Hotel. From there we took bus to Volvo plant. The tour was very interesting. Then into Goteborg.
Thursday, April 3rd , 1980
We lost the coin toss but Finland elected #3 first which is what I wanted. Kathy won handily against Outi [Ristimaki]; Alicia was a half-step slow and Katja [Sauerwald] played beautifully. Karen started off miserably; I was very worried, but she pulled it out in 4. Wish she’d hit the ball harder. So we won 2-1. Patrice played for the Irish reserve and lost to Scotland 3-1 in a strong match. I marked and Kathy refereed.
Friday April 4, 1980
At 8:00 I went to the party for the coaches—snaps and Swedish smorgasbord—50 kroners. Home by 11:15 and played cards with Karen, Evan and Tony. Bed at 1:00.
On one of the last nights, there was a fire at the hotel. We were in a car going past back to our billets and flame was shooting out of the roof. Everyone was outside, all the players, coaches, standing in the snow.
Saturday April 5th, 1980
Arrived at club and they were getting everyone out and back over to hotel for a head count. The hotel had caught fire. Fortunately, no one was hurt but some teams lost their belongings. Instead of starting the match at 4:00, we started at 5:00. Karen lost badly; Alicia played well and won soundly. So all hinged on Kathy. She won the first game, dropped the second and third, won the 4th and the 5th. I was a nervous wreck as I wanted her to win so badly. The girl was obnoxious and played the rules to her ad vantage. I had seen her operate against Ireland on Thurs.
We didn’t have huge expectations. There was no pressure. The other teams had expectations. We just charged ahead. It was fun to see everyone dig in and go to it. For all of us, we hadn’t been on a squash team before, so it was exciting to be there as a team.
Sunday April 6th, 1980
Happy Easter. Up at 8:45 and at courts by 10:00. I played Otto Zethelius [Swedish SRA official] and won 6 straight games. Then back home and lunch. Ian picked us up at 3:00pm. Kathy beat Lena Friden easily; Alicia won handily; Karen lost and maybe played 5% better. All she does is lob. And also stands back way too far to receive serve on the backhand. We won and for that I’m glad. Diane won in 4 over Bitte Almgard in the reserve match. After our match I played Eva Clark 6 games—won all easily but was fun.
They videotaped all the matches. That was a new thing. They were for sale but expensive so I didn’t get one. My dad was so upset that I didn’t purchase one.
Monday April 7th, 1980
Up at 7:00 and car picked us up at 8:15 for 9:00 match against the Irish. WE WON!!! Called Fred at 2:00 Swedish time and 7:00 U.S. time. He was excited. Kathy won in a close 5. She came back from 2-1 down. In the 5th she was down 4-2. Alicia won in 4. The girl was good but Alicia kept making good gets. She hit the ball hard so I didn’t tell Alicia to hit short—didn’t think she should change since she was winning. I do think she could have won more handily if she were used to that pace. Karen played decently but lost in 4. A nice ceremony complete with procession. Nat’l anthem, flag, etc. The girls gave me the trophy and they each got a medal. The boys’ ceremony was afterwards.
Went to banquet at 7:00. Arrived at hotel at 7:30 and had a beer with the coaches. The girls arrived gave me three Swedish crystal figures—so cute of them. Then Tony Birgersson [tournament official] gave us a bottle of champagne. Dinner was great—beef, asparagus and beans. Speeches galore—I was about 5th following the Irish and before that New Zealand & Scotland. I told a joke and then said I would read an Irish speech.
After the music started and Peter Nance & Alicia had the first dance, Olaf Svensson [tournament official] and I were the next up.
I’ll never forget when the national anthem played for us after we won the team event. Any time I hear the Star-Spangled Banner, it reminds me of 1980. Whenever I hear it. There is nothing like representing your country and then winning.
They only had four gold medals for the team event. So I never got one. They said they’d send one but never did. So Alicia gave me hers.
Alicia had all the moves. She was a great dancer. She knew all the words to every song. She got out there with Peter Nance. I had a crush on the New Zealand team.
It was a very social trip. There were five women’s teams and nineteen men’s teams, far more boys than girls.
On the last night, we filched the sign on the bridge. We felt mischievous. Someone took the sign down and we got all these players to sign it. We traded shirts after matches. Everyone wanted U.S. gear. There was a lot of swapping and a lot of camaraderie. We all spent a lot of time in the sauna in the women’s locker room. The culture felt so different: all these people speaking different languages.
Tuesday April 8th
Up at 6:00 to be downstairs by 6:30. Karen got in at 3:30, so it was hard for her to get up. Matts picked us up and said Diane & Patrice weren’t out and ready. Their apartment door was locked. I called and woke them up. Told them to get dressed and out just as fast as they could. Matts took Karen to the bus and I stayed. On the way back he picked me up and we went over—it them forever. Finally they came—I wasn’t very happy. We got to the airport around 8:00am. Alicia & Patrice slept—mostly Alicia. The rest of us cashed our money, ate and looked over our souvenirs and generally talked. We left at 10:00. 4 of the 6 of us got seated in the business section of a totally booked 747 flight. I arranged for a small bottle of champagne for everyone. They never did charge me. Vince and Larry Sconzo met us at the airport with the Staleys, along with Victor [Von Dracek] from Squash News. At home in the house by 4:30pm N.Y. time.
That was an amazing thing. We literally bumped into Hashim Khan in the Copenhagen airport. It was the icing on the cake. Hashim was the legend. It was my first photo with him.
When we met Hashim at the airport, we were all wearing our Swedish beanies, these little hats we had gotten.
On the flight back to the States, they announced that the U.S. girls squash team was on board and they had just won the world juniors. They served us champagne, these little bottles.
It was a political issue. We were told it was a world championship. We weren’t aware of any problems when we were there, only afterwards.
It was official. Some countries—Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa—still had national women’s associations. Since the event was being run by a joint association, mostly dominated by men, they didn’t want to participate. It was all political. Janet Shardlow was the head of the women’s association in England. She said that if England wasn’t there, it couldn’t count.
The women’s event was sometimes called the World Juniors and sometimes the Swedish Open. Everyone in Kungalv treated it like a world championship. Nothing was different from the girls to the boys.
We all got along so well. We had such a good time in Sweden. We played against each other in college. I went back to Sweden a lot as a professional tennis player. I never thought I’d go back.
Afterwards, we all played against each other in college. Alicia played No. 1 at Penn, Patrice No. 1 at Princeton, Kat No. 2 at Trinity, Diana No. 1 at Harvard. But the six of us never got together again in one place, all these years later.