USSRA Centennial Dinner A Resounding Success By Rob Dinerman

October 5, 2004
- In one of the most spectacular squash happenings ever staged, the United States Squash Racquets Association (USSRA) gave itself a 100th birthday party at the University Club of New York this past Saturday evening, and more than 600 squash aficionados, close to triple the originally anticipated number, turned out to join in the celebration. The speech given by Sharif Khan at his induction ceremony into the U. S. Squash Hall Of Fame, throughout which he rejoiced at how strong the state of the game has become, could have been the cornerstone of the entire evening, given the eloquence with which he paid tribute to the game at which he and his iconic family excelled so mightily for so long.

Khan, whose total of 12 North American Opens (during the 13-year period from 1969-81) and 28 major championships dwarfs those of everyone else in the history of the hardball squash on this continent, was one of six inductees, four of them living, who comprised the class of 2004 that were officially welcomed in the Hall Of Fame during the course of the evening.

   The others were two-time North American Open Doubles champion Peter Briggs, whose introductory speech was given by Peer Pedersen, Briggs's doubles partner during their recent successful runs to the 45-and-over 2002 U. S. National and 2004 Worlds titles; Demer Holleran, the all-time record holder in terms of national titles won and statistically the greatest woman squash player in U. S. history, who was introduced by Dinny Adams, a former early-1960's Harvard teammate of her father, Romer, and longtime family friend; Aggie Kurtz, a pioneer on both the women's playing tour and the women's intercollegiate coaching front, where she made her mark during 17 years at Dartmouth, who was introduced by one of her star players, namely Kris Shutz Brownell, who later followed Kurtz's footsteps as Dartmouth coach; and the late Ned Bigelow, a USSRA administrator of unparalleled excellence and Harry Cowles, the first of the Harvard trilogy of legendary coaches that would later include his star disciple Jack Barnaby, also a Hall OF Fame member, and Barnaby's foremost protégé Dave Fish, who combined to man the Crimson helm for 67 resplendent years from 1922-1989. Cowles's grand-daughter was overcome by emotion at the bestowing of this honor upon her ancestor, and her son gave a stirring speech of gratitude at the manner in which his great-grandfather was praised both for the extraordinary coaching record he compiled and at the impact the "Rules To Live By" that he created affected the lives of the student-athletes he mentored.

    That latter theme of high on-court achievement combined with service to the sport permeated many of these speeches, ranging from Pedersen's citation of the enormously positive role model Briggs has become during his tenure directing the squash program at the Apawamis Club for well over a decade, to Brownell's celebration of the far-reaching nature of Kurtz'z influence during her long career coaching squash and lacrosse in Hanover, to the tribute paid by Sharif to his father Hashim, to the salute given by Adams to what Holleran accomplished first in coaching the University of Pennsylvania to its first women's national college championship in 2000 and then to her coaching success just this past week in guiding the U. S. women's team to its first top-eight finish in a full decade at the World Team Championships in Amsterdam, an event from which Holleran had flown on its final day that very morning, arriving in Newark less than three hours before the beginning of the evening's festivities!

    There were other honorees as well: seven people or foundations who gave the USSRA $50,000 or more in the past year were recognized and thanked for their beneficence during this crucial period in the expansion of the game in this country, and Richard Chute, the legal counsel to the USSRA for nearly 30 years and an active Massachusetts-based A player for many years, received the President's Cup, an annual award presented "to that person who has made a substantial contribution to the game of squash."

But the prevailing tone of the evening was geared far more to the "Your Squash, Your Teams, Your Community" theme than to honors or awards. In his welcoming remarks, Eric Fast, a co-chairman of the Centennial Dinner and parent of two daughters on Ivy League varsities, marveled at how enthusiastically the prospect of this dinner was embraced by the entire squash community. "Wouldn't miss it for the world," "Mark us down for a full table," "What a great idea-anything we can do to help," were frequent responses, resulting in fact in an OVER-subscription to the dinner to an extent that nearly overwhelmed even the considerable capacity of the host club's seventh-floor banquet facility and necessitated the installation of television screens in adjacent rooms so that attendees allocated to those areas could watch the speeches through that medium.

    The weekend had its share of active competitive opportunities as well. Most noteworthy of these was a $ 15,000 invitational pro singles tournament presented by the University Club and won by its head pro Damien Mudge in an exciting four-game final over Viktor Berg, but there were also a pair of "season kick-off" open/amateur doubles events, an MSRA Open that was won by Eric Vlcek, the only top-10-ranked ISDA player entered, and Kip Gould, over the Jernigan brothers, Kenton, who in the 1980's along with Jamie Bentley formed the top pro doubles team for several years, and Kevin, one of a dozen former USSRA Presidents who came to the dinner, as well as a "Century" tourney for teams with a combined age over 100, which was won by Kit Tatum and Ken Leung over Dan Frisch and Joel Rosenman.

    Within a day of the hugely successful event that he and his staff had put together, USSRA CEO Palmer Page and the association's current President Kenneth Stillman were on their way to the World Squash Federation's annual meetings in South Africa, during which Mr. Stillman is expected to be named one of the three WSF first vice-presidents, which would be the first time a USSRA official has been so designated, yet another hopeful sign of the next 100 years being as productive and successful as the first 100 have been.


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