125 Years Of Penn Squash Celebrated In Memorable Fashion
by Rob Dinerman

University Of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann and ’81 captain Brian Roberts

Howard Coonley II ’66 accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award

The Ringe Courts

A view from the coaches’ office

Al Molloy’s widow Sheila receiving a standing ovation

Presenters, Honorees, Co-Chairs and Coaches: (first row, left to right) Jack Wyant Jr., David Slosburg, Ann Wetzel, Leslie Smith Jannetta, Palmer Page, Howard Coonley; (second row) Clay Hamlin, Brian Roberts, Ned Edwards, Leslie Hill, Tony Vecchione

Dateline February 8th, 2014  --- On the evening of February 1st, nearly 400 people thronged to the Ringe Courts at the University Of Pennsylvania to participate in the 125th Jubilee,  marking the impressive chronological milestone of 125 combined years for the Penn men’s and women’s squash teams. The celebration was the largest such gathering for any sport in the history of Penn athletics and the turn-out would have been even greater were it not for a fire marshal’s decree. Its five-hour duration was equally divided between first cocktails and photo sessions near the courts and then a sit-down dinner featuring several honorees and speeches in the adjoining Hutchinson Gymnasium. The Co-Chairs were Palmer Page ’72 --- who as a junior led the Quakers to the 1971 Six-Man team championship (the forerunner of today’s Potter Cup emblematic of the National College Team Championship), while capturing the Intercollegiate Individual crown in an all-Penn final vs. Eliot Berry --- and Leslie Smith Jannetta ‘93, the captain of the women’s team her senior year and later an assistant coach to Demer Holleran for a three-year period that included the 2000 Howe Cup championship squad. Both worked closely with Penn Athletics Coordinator Loren Mead in planning an evening that came off in remarkably seamless and harmonious fashion.

     Rarely if ever has a college program staged an event that was supported by so many former and current players, coaches and aficionados --- indeed, fully one-third of all the living Penn squash alums found their way to the Ringe Courts for this occasion, a fact cited by University Of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann, who in her speech also praised the academic achievements of the Penn players, as well as the aggressiveness with which they held the T. Everywhere one looked, some  star in the vaunted Penn squash constellation could be found reminiscing about his/her varsity years or reuniting with teammates or coaches from his/her era, whether it was Joe Swain ‘75, Penn’s first-ever four-year first-team all-American, who stayed only briefly but drove down from Greenwich just to be in the ’74 Six-Man Champions photo (as were four of the five living members of that sextet, with Swain joined by Gil Mateer, Dan Roblin and Sandy Groff); or the 1987 North American Open champion Ned Edwards ‘80, one of six Penn Individuals champs (Leroy Lewis in ’38, Howard Coonley II in ’66, Page in ’71, Alicia McConnell from 1982-84 and Jessica DiMauro in ’96 were the others, four of whom were present that night), and later the Penn coach from 1990-96; or Gil Mateer ‘77, a four-time U.S. National Doubles titlist and one of the designated Decade Captains for the 1970’s; or Coonley, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award during the dinner portion of the schedule for both his on-court exploits as a collegian and for heading the Graduate Racquet Club, which in 2006 was renamed the Penn Squash Sports Board, for nearly 30 years; or legendary women’s coach Ann Wetzel ‘52, one of eight Penn inductees (four of whom served at one time or another as Penn coaches) into the U. S. Squash Hall Of Fame.

From Near And Far

      Rina Borromeo ‘01, who played a crucial role in the 2000 Howe Cup triumph, flew all the way from London to be part of this night, as did Jonathan Foster ’79 (who captained the ’79 team to its first win over Harvard in several decades and then played Edwards in an exciting all-Penn Individuals final several weeks later) from Los Angeles; Foster’s Atlanta-based teammate Eben Hardie ’80 was one of MANY other attendees whose willingness to travel substantial distances immeasurably enhanced the event, and several others from those outstanding late-1970’s squads were also present, including Pat Canavan ’80, the team co-captain along with Edwards his senior year, who has been the head pro at the New York Athletic Club for nearly 20 years. Saquib Shirazi, universally known as Squib, captain of the ’91 men’s team, currently living in Karachi, Pakistan, came the farthest distance of anybody.

      Hardie and dozens of former Penn players also wrote personalized remembrances of their college squash experiences that were included in the Program, copies of which were distributed to everyone present, as were Penn Squash T-shirts and baseball caps. Almost every living Penn captain of the past 30 years was present, and in a number of cases so were more than a half-dozen of their teammates in any given year as well. All five living members of the ’71 Six-Man Championship team (namely Page, Jeff Condon, Anil Kapur, Rick Wheeler and Charlie Jacobs) that out-scored Harvard, 33 points to 31, made it to Ringe for their photo, as did a substantial number of the team members from the ’66 and ’69 Ivy League men’s champions and the women’s 2000 Howe Cup roster and the 2008 Ivy League champion squad.

Movin' On Up

     At the time the festivities officially began at 5 PM, the entire squash area was still buzzing from the thrilling 5-4 win that the Penn women’s team had just attained over a tough Yale contingent, with No. 1 player Anaka Alankamony edging out Eli senior (and 2011 Individuals winner) Millie Tomlinson, 11-8 in the fifth, in the deciding match after being behind two games to one. The freshman Alankamony’s wins that week over her Princeton and Yale opponents would earn her the Player Of The Week designation by the College Squash Association. Less than a week earlier, the Penn men’s team had, by a decisive 7-2 tally, recorded its first win over Princeton in the 40 years since the ’74 squad had done so en route to the Six-Man crown. This breakthrough marked the fourth time in recent months (previously vs. George Washington, Dartmouth and Williams) that a loss a year ago had been avenged this season; the Quaker sweep of the Princeton men’s and women’s teams late last month had never happened before 2014. Both Penn varsities thereby sent the unmistakable message that they are on the ascent, and the current Penn players spent the evening savoring their recent accomplishments, meeting and mixing with their squash forebears and getting a first-hand feel for the tradition they have joined.

    The Ringe Courts facility was festooned with memorabilia of past Penn glory, with slide shows on big screens placed near the courts, enlarged articles from The Daily Pennsylvanian chronicling Penn triumphs and team pictures and photos as well. In its own way that collage constituted a pictorial history of Penn squash, whether in the form of news accounts of Quaker victories (a number of which were written by Cindy Shmerler ‘81, a varsity squash player herself and later a sportswriter for the New York Times), team photos of high-achieving rosters, candid shots of players hoisting their coaches in spontaneous celebration, even a memorable photo of the 1979 U. S. Team that competed in the biennial World Team Championships, three of whose four members (Edwards, Foster and Mateer) were Penn players --- no other college has ever placed as many as three of its alums on an American national squash team roster.

Glorious Past

     Some of the achievements associated with Penn squash are truly extraordinary. Included in this category are the nine straight years --- from 1965-66 through 1973-74 --- in which the men’s team placed either first or second in the college team rankings, a skein all the more noteworthy for the 50 consecutive losses that the team had previously sustained throughout a nine-year period (1948-49 through 1956-57) shortly prior to the legendary Al Molloy’s arrival in September 1959; the 15-year period in which the women’s Nationals was won by Barbara Maltby ’70 (1980-81), Alicia McConnell ’85 (1982-88) and Holleran (1989-94), all of whom played prominent playing or coaching roles at Ringe; the enormous accomplishments of Hunter Lott Jr. ‘36, an EIGHT-time U. S. Doubles champion who helped fund the Ringe Courts (Penn had no squash courts during his mid-1930’s college years and had to practice at the old University Club on 16th Street and Locust) and was literally a first-ballot U. S. Squash Hall of Famer (as were Maltby, winner of Penn’s Best Female Athlete Award in 1969-70, her senior year, and McConnell) as an inductee in the inaugural class of 2000; and a women’s coaching ledger so stable that there have been only four coaches in its 46 years of existence, three of whom held their positions for at least nine years. Wetzel, who won the U. S. Nationals in both singles and doubles in 1964, started the women’s team in 1968 as a club sport (it became a varsity sport starting with the 1973-74 season) and spent 24 years at the helm before retiring in 1992. Holleran, who won a combined 27 U. S. National singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles, then held that role from 1992-2001, following which Jim Martel coached for three years until the arrival in the fall of 2004 of the current coach, Jack Wyant Jr., who headed the women’s program for his first six years before taking the reins of the men’s program as well beginning with the 2010-11 campaign.

    The men’s team has been blessed with exceptional continuity at the coaching position as well, with Wally Johnson, whom Lott termed the best all-around athlete he had ever seen, serving from 1928-59 (other than a one-year sabbatical in the mid-1950’s), followed by Molloy from 1959-90 --- two men covering a stretch of SIXTY-TWO YEARS! Edwards then took over for his revered former coach for six years, followed by Jim Masland for three leading up to the 11-year period (from 1999-2010) during which Craig Thorpe-Clark headed the program. The coaches who were present for the Jubilee (Holleran, Edwards, Thorpe-Clark, Wetzel and, of course, Wyant) were showered with affection by their grateful former protégés throughout the evening, as was Malloy’s enormously popular widow, Sheila, whose son-in-law, the Reverend John Galloway, delivered the Invocation, and who herself was moved to tears by the prolonged standing ovation that she received in response to Page’s salutation of her in his opening remarks after everyone had moved to the Hutchinson Gymnasium for dinner.

     Page also recognized Howard Butcher IV ’59, whose father in the late-1950’s gave Penn 95% of the cost of building the squash courts and naming the facility for his close friend Thomas B. K. Ringe, who had died at a young age. The Butcher extended family has been closely allied with Penn squash for decades, with sons and nephews that represented the Red and Blue well into the 1990’s.

Honored Guests

     Page’s comments preceded the showing of an impressive video entitled “This is Pennsylvania Squash,” during which leading Red and Blue figures like McConnell, former No. 1 and current assistant coach Gilly Lane ‘07 (a four-time U. S. Nationals finalist), Edwards, Clay Hamlin ‘67 and Coach Wyant took turns emphatically listing some highlights of Penn squash’s impressive statistical history --- eight intercollegiate singles titles, six intercollegiate doubles titles, 36 U. S. National championships, 67 women’s all-American honors since 1981, 24 men’s all-American honors since 1984, etc. Later there were five honorees who gave speeches at the podium during the course of this part of the event, namely Jessie Hill ’76 (who spoke by video from New Mexico) and David Slosburg ‘74, a member of Penn’s Board Of Overseers of the Department Of Recreational And Intercollegiate Athletics, both of whom are significant long-time financial supporters of Penn squash whose generosity, along with many others’, has funded the overseas training trips the teams have made in recent years and given the players the best possible equipment and training facilities; Coach Wetzel, still displaying a level of energy and even feistiness that belies that fact that she is well into her ninth decade, who seconded comments that Ms. Hill had made about the importance of putting something back into a program that so many of them have gotten so much out of; Brian Roberts ’81, the CEO of Comcast and a Penn all-American, No. 1 player and captain his senior year; and Coonley, who was given his Lifetime Achievement Award as he ascended to the podium by his presenter, Douglas Kramer, who earlier in the day had been elected the incoming Chair of the Penn Squash Sports Board, succeeding Coonley.

      In Coonley’s acceptance speech he explicitly paid tribute to Coach Molloy and Hunter Lott, the former for the relationship they developed that went “far beyond that of coach and athlete” and the latter for personifying the philosophy that “it’s all about the kids.” Emphasizing “the experiences we have had, the memories which we carry with us, the friendships with teammates and opponents which endure, and the life lessons which we have been given,” Coonley concluded that, “Tonight marks a significant turning point in the history and trajectory of Penn squash. There is a really positive energy in the air and all of us, hopefully, just by being here are choosing to be active participants in that turning point and in the next 125 years, so to speak.”

     Roberts, fresh from the intriguing experience of having watched the Penn women oppose a Yale varsity on which his daughter Amanda is a member, remarked with relief that he wound up with the best of both worlds, with Amanda winning her match while Penn won the dual meet. He then publicly thanked four people who had a profound effect on his squash career and life, naming two teammates, Foster and Edwards, and two coaches, Molloy and his Germantown Academy coach George Haines ‘66, who was later a legendary figure at Haverford School and whose widow, Liz, was in attendance. Haines, a math teacher at Germantown who had decided during the 1972-73 school year to start a squash team, successfully recruited Roberts, an eighth-grader at the time who had just been cut from the basketball team, to be part of the first squash team, which had to take the SEPTA train to the Gwyned Racquet Club in order to practice. During Roberts’s senior year, Haines recommended him to Molloy, under whom Roberts, aided significantly by Edwards and Foster, steadily progressed to the No. 1 position and first-team all-America status, while learning valuable life lessons along the way as well.

Lessons Learned

    Roberts recounted an example of the latter, which occurred during his sophomore 1978-79 season when Penn recorded its first dual-meet victory in two decades over Harvard, with Roberts’s first-ever career win over his longtime nemesis Joe Somers at No. 9 giving Penn its fifth point and hence clinching the eventual 6-3 triumph. Roberts got to bask in his accomplishment during a raucous celebratory team dinner in Boston that night, but just two days later, on Monday afternoon, he found himself having to defend his No. 9 standing in a challenge match against Hardie, who prevailed on that occasion and hence displaced Roberts to the No. 10 slot (only the Nos. 1 through 9 matches count in the official dual-meet tally) for the upcoming Princeton meet later that week to decide that year’s national championship. Monday had been the designated challenge-match day throughout the season, and in requiring Roberts to face Hardie that day, the old-school coach, a former Marine, was conveying the important lesson that the rules apply to everyone and do not get suspended even when one has had a noteworthy recent achievement. One memorable photo that was on display was of Roberts, Edwards, Foster and Molloy when they were counselors at the Broad Street Squash Camp in the summer of 1980, which was run by Foster, Broad Street’s general manager at the time, and which may have been the first of the junior summer squash camps that proliferated throughout the U. S. during the decade of the 1980’s.

    Although the speeches varied considerably in terms of delivery, focus and length, the speakers all conveyed common themes in expressing gratitude to the program, affection for their former teammates and coaches and a continuing commitment to the cause; Slosburg insightfully observed that the Penn squash program personifies the dual characteristics of “Tradition And Passion,” both of which were on visible display throughout the evening. Every speaker, including Coach Wyant in his concluding remarks, also ended with exactly the same emphatic exhortation which could assuredly be regarded as a concise but cogent summary of the entire magical evening as well: “Go Penn Squash!



Author Rob Dinerman, the Editor of Dailysquashreport.com, has been closely following college squash for four decades. He has spent the past several years writing histories of squash at various prep schools and colleges, including the Phillips Exeter Academy and St. Paul’s School. In his current extended project, he is writing histories of squash at Harvard during various coaches’ eras.


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