What's On My Mind
by Guy Cipriano
February 24, 2015

Bobby Callahan

What’s on my mind is my dear departed  friend Bobby Callahan, Princeton Class of 1977. Bobby’s Hall of Fame career has been properly celebrated in DSR and in every squash outlet . His memorial service at the Princeton Chapel was a very special  and well deserved “send – off” to one of the great men in our game. David Bottger, Dent Wilkens, Bill Fisher , Paul Assaiante and of course Kristen and his five sons  spoke brilliantly. They  all did a great job in encapsulating his character, his personality, and his achievements. He was one of the finest men I ever had the pleasure of calling My Friend.

However they didn’t talk about the fact that Bobby liked to play a little good- natured mischief , and I was his mark on one memorable March Monday late afternoon in 1999.

That day the Jesters Club had organized an informal match with the Princeton team, minus their top three or four players.  We fielded a team of aging warriors, headed by Jeff Stanley at the top of our ladder. I was at  the bottom.

When Messrs. Fortunato, Stanley, Dawson and I got off the elevator at C floor in Jadwin Gym and walked into Bobby’s office we were greeted with full body hugs from THE COACH and kind words.

Bobby dispatched us down to the locker room on E floor to get changed while he mustered his squad.  When we got back to the courts on C floor Bobby and Gail Ramsay paired us up with our opponents who looked unfairly young , healthy and vigorous. My Jester colleagues headed down the stairs and into the courts to play.  All except for me- I was left alone with no opponent, standing with Bobby and Gail.

Then Bobby said “ Guy, we have a special treat for you. Gail and I have you set up  to play with Julia Beaver ,our women’s number one and national champion. She’s about level with the standard of  our men’s number 6 or 7. She’ll give you a good run . “  I was shocked and the sinister  expressions of glee on their faces let me know I was in for trouble. Julie strides across the lobby floor out of Gail’s office. She was tall, slender, fit, she was carrying three bats and a new ball . I was, ( and remain)  not tall, not slender, not fit, and I owned two bats. She put her arm around my shoulder and said “Let’s Go, Mr. Cipriano.” I was 43- she was 21. The future was not bright.

We went onto one of the two glass backed courts at the back of Jadwin where the exhibition courts used to be in my day, which had long passed. The warm- up began and Julia was crushing the ball. I was tinning the ball. The first game began and I was losing  badly. However I found that if I hit a very good  slow lob serve and broke it high off the side  wall she just might fudge a few and give me a chance to shoot. Game one to Beaver 9-3. I’m sweating now , but I have a plan. I get the serve and start to employ the  “ Callahan  Serve Rock”- swaying back and forth before serving the highest , slowest lob serve possible  . Kids hate that because they’re in a hurry.  Julia was still  a kid. Her returns start to come  into the middle. I could expand my not inconsiderable posterior, back her off and shoot  for the nick. Miraculously I won games two and three. I caught her napping. She thought this was a hit-and-giggle with a half- blind orthopaedic patient, and now she was in a match.

Julia was brooking no dissent in game four. She came out gunning and it was over pretty  fast. I lost. But by now she was sweating , maybe even a little nervous, and definitely annoyed .  I was warmed up, and I thought I had a chance. Game Five starts. Gail Ramsay, Bobby , and about twenty five people were hanging over the railing and behind the glass backwall, hooting , and  waiting for the show-down. Julia thought it was over, but I was able to get the serve and my racquet  somehow turned into a magic wand. I’m slotting balls into the nick like Anil Nayar. She’s getting increasingly  agitated, making more errors. 4-0. 6-2. 7-3.  I’m nicking like an old razor. The end is in sight. Then – DISASTER. THE BALL BREAKS at 8-3 for me, hand in. Callahan howls . Ramsay howls. They throw down a new ball. I let her warm  it up. I’m gasping for breath. Callahan and Gail are pretending to do The Wave in the gallery. Ugh.

I serve- Julia  smashes a length winner to have me hand out. 8-3. 8-4. I’m tinning. 8-5. Finally I get a fat return, hit a winner and get hand in. I try a hard serve and a long point ensues. Then Julia hits the ball right back at herself. It’s a clear stroke. It’s a Larry Sconzo Stewart Brauns John Humes Peter Briggs Graham Bassett  absolutely no doubt about it STROKE. I grab the ball and stick out my hand to shake her hand. But Callahan and Ramsay yell down

“HEY- THAT’S NOT THE WAY A JESTER WANTS TO END IT, RIGHT? TAKE THE HIGH ROAD CIPRIANO. PLAY A LET!!!’’ They’re laughing like two hyenas and I’m the carcass.

I’m totally trapped. We replay the point and somehow I managed to squeeze an error out of The National Champion and escape with a completely undeserved win.

The cackles of laughter from the rail  went on and on.

Julia was very gracious , knowing full well that if we ever played again she’d crush me like a walnut.

Callahan embraced me even though I was drenched with sweat – it was one of my happiest moments in squash.

Gail called me “ CHAMP!” God love that girl.

Rest In Peace Bobby C- there were no losers that day. In the immortal words of Hashim,

“ Squash Is Joy Game” and you gave everybody joy that day.

Love you, and miss you.

Guy Cipriano, Princeton ‘78

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