USSRA Five-Man Team Championships Cancelled     By Rob Dinerman

Dateline January 8, 2004
---This weekend’s national five-man team championships, formerly an enormously popular tournament and the site just last season of one of the most noteworthy outcomes of the entire 2002-2003 USSRA schedule, has been cancelled due to insufficient entries. An attempt will be made to run the event in December, which would thereby still have it occur in calendar 2004, but even if that happens, the current season will have come and gone without this tourney being held.

     This cancellation is a discomforting follow-up to this past autumn’s Howe Cup, the counterpart team tournament for women, which DID come off as scheduled in Seattle but was plagued by a paucity of entries, the absence of a number of teams from regions, especially in the eastern states, that have historically always fielded entries a series of complaints during and after the weekend from players who did not feel that they had received their “value” for the hefty entry fee and the travel and lodging expenses they had incurred.

     This set of unsettling developments is in marked contrast to the decades of enthusiastic participation that the Five-Man Team Championship had enjoyed, particularly during the hardball glory days of the 1960’s 1970’s and 1980’s, when if anything the tournament was OVER-subscribed, even though throughout that time it occurred simultaneously and concomitantly with the National Singles tournament, which of course siphoned off the elite U. S. players, since no one was allowed to play in both the individual and team events.

      Nonetheless, the desire of players throughout the country to represent their regional association, college or club team, city, even family (there were a few family entries, the most successful of which, the Foster family, was led by 1951 Intercollegiate Individual champion Henry Foster) was such that many team entries had to arrange a lengthy and spirited series of challenge matches in the preceding months to determine their composition. And there were a number of occasions, such when  former (’67) North American Open champion Ralph Howe edged out future (’87) WPSA Apawamis and Chicago finalist Juan Mendez by one point in the fifth game of the last and deciding match of the New York vs. Mexico Team Championship Final in 1980 at Jadwin Gymnasium in Princeton, on which the excitement and quality of play generated by the team event far out-did that of the ostensibly stronger individual tournament.

     Though this prior degree of passion and commitment to the Five-Man Teams did lessen somewhat when the tourney switched to softball approximately a decade ago, interest and participation levels still remained reasonably high in recent years, though the domination enjoyed for the last several editions by the top college teams was known to have caused a decline among the non-college team entries from various regions, which were increasingly entering this event knowing that they had very little realistic chance of advancing. For the past several years, the final-round match-up has been Trinity, which is stocked with foreign-born players and has won the last five Potter Cups emblematic of the intercollegiate team championship, against a Princeton contingent that has won two straight (and three of the last four) Ivy League titles.

      The Tiger class of 2003 quartet, consisting of 2002 and 2003 Intercollegiate Individual finalist Will Evans, 2001 Individual champion David Yik, Dan Rutherford and Eric Pearson, was deemed by many the best squash class in Princeton history and had a host of great performances in the run of victories, often by irreducible 5-4 margins, over their also highly talented Big Three rivals Harvard and Yale. But probably the highlight of their decorated college careers came in last season’s Five-Man Team final, when they were jump-started by a rousing comeback Pearson win from 8-2 down in the fifth (saving a total of eight match-balls) against Trinity’s Pat Malloy, following which Yik, Evans and Yasser El-Halaby all defeated their opponents to give Princeton a 4-1 win, the more remarkable for occurring on Trinity’s home Kellner Courts turf in Hartford.


    Even with that immediate backdrop, and the allure of having this year’s tournament hosted by Yale University on its spectacular Brady Center courts, there were only a handful of entries, far too few to justify going forward with the event, which was cancelled earlier this week when it became clear that it was too late for that total to rise appreciably, or at all. The irony is that the non-college teams would have done much better this year, since neither Princeton nor Harvard (both of which are in their reading and exam period these next several weeks) nor Trinity (whose varsity is training in Hawaii until later this month) were able to participate in the wake of the date change from the early-December time slot it has been occupying to early January, which has also cost it a number of entries due to the simultaneity of the hugely popular William White Invitational at the Merion Cricket Club this coming weekend.

    A switch back to the December date would certainly be helpful, as the USSRA is clearly acknowledging by the tentative decision it has already reached to re-schedule this tournament for that time. But the more long-range priority is to revitalize the interest and enthusiasm levels of the various SRAs for fielding teams, both men’s and women’s, to represent them in national competitions like the Five-Man Teams and regional tourneys like the Lockett Cup, a New York-Boston-Philadelphia seven-man event that similarly declined significantly before disappearing altogether a decade ago, and counterpart city-vs-city tournaments in New England, the Washington-Baltimore area and around the country. These associations are the lifeblood of the national organization, and only by taking seriously and learning the cautionary lesson imparted by this week’s cancellation of a tournament which had a great tradition can the USSRA take the major steps forward that it envisions to bring squash in this country to new levels of interest and participation

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