Princeton Celebrates 100 Years Of Squash

by Rob Dinerman

November 1, 2001  -On a picture-perfect autumn afternoon, Princeton's head squash coaches, Bob Callahan '77 and Gail Ramsay, plus an immensely dedicated 15-person Steering Committee spearheaded by the efforts of alumni point person Nick Kourides '67, saw more than six months and hundreds of hours of effort pay off in a hugely successful celebration of 100 seasons of Princeton Squash.

More than 140 Tiger varsity squash alumni/ae showed up for the occasion, with their spouses and kids in tow, which with the event organizers and the current teams made for a total attendance of 225, and the entire experience was so joyous and fulfilling for everyone concerned that plans have already been formulated to ensure that this event, the first of its kind in the history of Princeton squash, becomes a regular occurrence as additional milestones approach in the future.

It was actually one hundred COMBINED years of squash whose legacy was being feted on October 20th, since the men's varsity program had its first intercollegiate season in 1931-32 and the women's debut was exactly 40 years later, in 1971-72. And there HAD been several anniversary precedents at Jadwin Gymnasium to serve as inspiration in recent years, notably the celebration last year of a century of Princeton men's basketball(which NBA stars and Tiger stand-outs Bill Bradley, John Hummer and Geoff Petrie all attended)and the party head tennis coach David Benjamin held in 1999 to mark his 25th year in that capacity, shortly before his retirement. The fact that Benjamin had also coached the varsity squash team to several Intercollegiate team titles in the mid-70's, and was therefore Callahan's coach during Bob's exceptional college career, may have provided an impetus in this regard as well.

Whatever its historical genesis, there is no doubt that the tradition of Princeton Squash is a long and exceedingly proud one, fully deserving of the festive commemoration it received on the afternoon and evening of October 20th. The men's team has won nine intercollegiate dual-match championships(seven of them, including a three-peat in 1977-79, coming in the nine-year period from 1974-82), 10 Ivy League championships, eight USSRA National team events and seven NISRA team tournament tourneys, while producing nine Individual Intercollegiates Champions one of whom, Steve Vehslage, won this crown during all three seasons of his varsity career(1959-61). Four years after his graduation, Vehslage also became one of five Tiger Intercollegiate Champions(Charles Brinton, Stanley Pearson, John Nimick and Jeff Stanley being the others)to also win the U.S. Nationals, as did Stanley's mid-1980's college teammate Keen Butcher, who lost to Jeff in an all-Princeton-undergraduate Nationals final in '87 but won this prestigious title twice in the mid-1990's.

There have been seven head coaches during the seven decades of the men's squash team at Princeton, two of whom, John Conroy (1940-69)and current coach Bob Callahan, who became head coach in 1981, just four years after completing a Tiger playing career in which he won all-Ivy and all-American honors, have held their positions for at least 20 years, and this stability has been a major reason for the program's ongoing success.

Despite the relative brevity of their history, the women's program has arguably been even more championship-laden, largely due to the legendary presence for the 20-year period from 1971-91 of one of the day's foremost honorees, five-time National Champion Betty Howe Constable, at the coaching helm. Constable was succeeded by one of her proteges, Emily Goodfellow '76, winner her senior year of the C. Otto Von Kienbusch Trophy as the school's best female student-athlete and the only woman to earn 12 varsity letters, who coached for three years after Constable retired. Goodfellow was followed by current coach Gail Ramsay, who as an undergraduate at Penn State became the only player, male or female, to win the Intercollegiates all four of her college years, and who is now entering her eighth season heading the program after a six-year stint at Williams.

Between them, this trio of mentors have generated 14 Howe Cups, 13 dual-match titles, three Ivy crowns and five Individual Intercollegiates Champions, three of whom, Wendy Zaharko('73-'75), Demer Holleran('86, '87 and '89) and Julia Beaver('99-'01)were three-time winners of this event.

In addition, the aforementioned Holleran, who culminated her glittering undergraduate career by winning both the last of her three Intercollegiate trophies and the first of six straight National hardball crowns(held, poetically justly, on her home turf at Jadwin), has amassed such a slew of national softball and doubles crowns in addition to this sextet of hardball national victories, that she is deservedly considered the best all-time American woman squash player. The only issue for debate regarding Holleran(who recently finished an outstanding coaching tenure at Penn, where she led the Lady Quakers to their first-ever team intercollegiate championship)is whether the best-ever man-woman COLLEGE combination(not just Princeton combination) is she and Stanley(who, as noted, also won the U.S. Nationals while still an underclassman)or whether that honor should instead be bestowed on the more recent and also Princeton pairing of Beaver and the Yik brothers, Peter and David, who between them have won the last three Intercollegiate men's titles while Beaver was winning the women's.

Though recently retired from the singles tournament competition she dominated, with both balls, for so long, Demer did show her still- immaculate racquet preparation and stroking skills in an exhibition match she played with Meredeth Quick '01, while the Yik brothers did the same on the men's side and demonstrated the agility, stamina and skill that has enabled them to dominate the Intercollegiate championships over the past several seasons---three straight and possibly counting, given that David won his title last year as only a sophomore and therefore still has two more seasons of eligibility remaining!

Notwithstanding the formidable record of these impressive team and individual successes and the understandable pride with which these accomplishments were recalled, the theme of this celebration was much more one of re-connection than of self-salutation, and this tone suffuses many of the post-event letters and recollections, one of which typically marvels at "the wonderful ways I re-connected with more than twenty real friends, people I no longer think of as being part of my past." There were captains from the mid-1930's exchanging Princeton tales with members of the current varsity, reunions and reminiscences galore and promises made to better stay in touch in the future.

After a festive opening brunch, the courts were dedicated, especially the spectacular brand-new Laporte Squash Lounge, with brief speeches honoring the various court donors. Then the proceedings moved for the afternoon to the squash courts where, remarkably, 65 players had signed up for a singles alumni tournament, as well as 11 teams for doubles.

The singles players, who ranged in age from just-minted alumni to 80-year-old Ed Hobler(whose refusal to bow to his advanced years is symbolized by the 11 age-group national titles he holds), were so numerous that they had to be split up into six round-robin flights based on age and current skill level. Many old "grudge" challenge matches were replayed(as any current or former college player knows, challenge matches are often at least as intense as dual intercollegiate matches, at all levels of the roster), and some spirited attempts made to re-establish the pecking order, at least for one day, though of course everyone was mindful that at a certain point one's squash persona becomes too firmly fixed to be altered in any direction by any eleventh-hour present day renovations.

That said, and even with the comradery that permeates this kind of competition, the quality of the play was surprisingly high, even among some of the older contestants, and it became very clear that a Princeton alumni/ae team would fare extremely well against its counterparts from the other Ivy League rivals.

 At the reception that evening following the squash matches, current women's team captain Anne Minkowski, daughter of John Minkowski '73, entertained the more than 200 attendees with a performance by her a capella singing group, Shere Khan. Throughout the sumptuous dinner, representatives from each decade of Princeton squash spoke of their teams' accomplishments and regaled their listeners with stories about life at the school during their era.

In particular, Bill Foulke '34, Princeton's first winner of the individual intercollegiate crown, spoke of his conversion from football to squash and ensuing love of the game. Hastings Griffin '43, who traveled up to the event by motorcycle from Philadelphia, was recognized for his 20 different national titles (in several racquet sports) and Peter Yik '00 and Julia Beaver '01 gave moving tributes on behalf of the current generation of players.

Former coaches Benjamin and Constable gave brief speeches as well, and Goodfellow, who has lived in Princeton ever since her mid-1970's graduation and been involved with the women's team throughout that time(in addition to the three early-1990's years she served as head coach), was lauded for this lengthy period of her ongoing participation and support.

The grand finale of the evening's program was a "History of Princeton Squash" video production that had been assembled in recent months tracing the highlights of the program from its inception in 1931 right through to the present. As the party ended, the alumni/ae retired to the Laporte Lounge for a post-dinner reception. Many sensed that they had been part of an important occasion not only in Princeton squash history but also in Princeton history, and the entire program was injected with an exhilarating feeling of renewal and rejuvenation as it enthusiastically prepares for what will surely be an exciting and challenging 2001-2002 intercollegiate season.


Robert E. Wood II '60, P '87    Court One
James W. Zug '62 and Kirk Kitson '62    Court Two
Thomas H. Tarantino '69    Court Three
Lisa Micou Meers '85 and Robert Meers '72    Court Four
Anonymous: in Honor of Haverford School    Court Five
William D. Zabel '58    Court Six
William F. Achtmeyer '77    Court Eight
Trumbull Richard '39 and H. Van B. Richard '36    Court Nine
Donald J. Sutherland '53    Court Ten
John H. Laporte, Jr. '67    Laporte Lounge
Hastings Griffin '43


00's Peter Yik/Julia Beaver
90's Ben Fishman '94/Connie Taylor '96
80's Rob Hill '85/Risa Williams McMillian '85 &Joanne Sherry Ramsay '85
70's Bill Fisher '79, Sally Fields '76
60's Nick Kourides '67
50's Jim Farrin '58
40's Hastings Griffin '43
30's William Foulke '34


This first appeared on

Back To Dinerman Archive