Chaudhry Withdraws from CSA Individual Tournament
by Rob Dinerman

February 26, 2010 -
In the wake of the unfortunate on-court incident that occurred at Yale this past weekend in the immediate aftermath of the clinching match of the annual Potter Cup competition for the intercollegiate national team championship, Baset Chaudhry, the No. 1 player and co-captain of the Trinity College squad that won this tournament for the record 12th straight time, has decided not to play in the National Individual Squash Championships, which are scheduled for the weekend of March 5-7 and which will be held at Trinity’s Kellner Squash Center. Chaudhry, a Pakistani native who won this crown in both his sophomore and junior years, will therefore not have the opportunity he must have been greatly looking forward to throughout this season to culminate his intercollegiate career in a blaze of glory by winning his third consecutive Individuals title on his “home” courts.

The announcement of the decision, which came in the form of a Trinity College press release posted on the Trinity College web site simultaneously with an accompanying statement from the Men’s College Squash Association Executive Committee shortly before two o’clock this afternoon, caps off a torturous five days of meetings, conference calls and soul-searching debate in the aftermath of the 6-3 Potter Cup final-round victory over Yale at the Brady Squash Center on Sunday afternoon. With four wins already in the books by the time that two of the three rounds (of three matches each) had been completed, the Bantams needed just one more point to lock up the A Division title and seal their 224th consecutive team victory, and they got it when Chaudhry, leading two games to love over Yale No. 1 Kenny Chan, won the third game 11-4.
After concluding his convincing conquest of the out-classed Chan with a forehand length winner down the open right side of the court, the six-foot, five-inch Chaudhry immediately got into Chan’s face, repeatedly barking harsh invectives for several terrifying seconds as he towered menacingly over his much-shorter, physically overmatched foe.

Eschewing the handshake that normally occurs after a match has ended, the Trinity star then abruptly turned and exited the court to embrace his father, who was sitting in one of the front rows.

For better or worse, ESPN, the high-profile sports network headquartered in Bristol, Connecticut, near Hartford, where Trinity College is located, obtained a tape of this aberrational, unexpected and morbidly fascinating sequence, which it then featured exhaustively throughout the following day on its much-watched Sportscenter presentation, even having NFL analyst Merrill Hoge use his telestrator to chart the enmity-filled interaction.

As a result of the foregoing, the episode received exponentially more exposure, both nationally and indeed around the world, than would ever normally be associated with a college squash event, resulting in an explosion of attention and condemnation that has overwhelmed the coaches involved (namely Trinity’s Paul Assaiante and Yale’s Dave Talbott, who initially demanded that Chaudhry be banned from the Individuals, though he had dialed his emotions  back considerably by the time that he and Assaiante appeared on ESPN’s  “Outside The Lines” feature and were interviewed by host Bob Ley late Monday afternoon) and convulsed the CSA Executive Committee.

Following a written apology to Chan, to Yale and to the college coaches issued by Chaudhry on Monday, many issues came to the fore during the course of the ensuing debate, ranging from a reference to a provocative gesture that Chan had made in Chaudhry’s direction after hitting a winner during the second game, to recognition of what a model student-athlete Chaudhry has been during his years as a collegian (solid grade-point average with a distinguished academic record, model citizen and a popular leader on campus off-court as well as on-, involved in the greater Hartford community, a “poster child for college athletics,” according to Assaiante), to the manner in which college matches, especially in a postseason tournament, are currently officiated, to concern that this one unfortunate incident would be allowed to obscure what has actually been a praiseworthy college season, one that has seen new clubs join the Association, the formation of a grant program to help fund new team development and an overall level of growth that resulted in a record 61 teams (and 585 players) participating in the team championships this past weekend in New Haven.

Tuesday’s conference call among the coaches comprising the Executive Committee, which is chaired by Princeton coach Bob Callahan, resulted in a decision to give Trinity an opportunity to handle the matter internally, pending an Executive Committee review.

After a two-day period of on-campus discussions involving key Trinity College administrative figures (not only Coach Assaiante, but also Director Of Athletics Rick Hazelton and even Trinity President James F. Jones Jr. issued statements as part of the Trinity press release announcing Chaudhry’s decision), and with a midnight entry-deadline looming late last night, Chaudhry, to his credit, determined, after what must have been an agonizing internal tug-of-war, that it would be best for him to forego the Individuals competition. Chan will be missing the tournament as well.

Ultimately, the misadventure that unfolded in the Payne Whitney Gymnasium on February 21st constitutes one of those teachable moments that in their own decidedly bittersweet way permeate the college experience with its competing themes of passionate youth and emerging maturity, as was alluded to in the opening line of the Executive Committee’s statement earlier today when it termed Chaudhry’s decision “an appropriate action and an acknowledgement that sportsmanship is at the foundation of the sport of squash.”

Coach Assaiante, who has been quite open about his anguish in the interviews he has graciously granted this week, may have summarized it best of all when in the closing passage of the Trinity College press release he noted that “Baset is one of the most beloved figures on campus and a scholar-athlete who has achieved faculty honors. He had a youthful lapse of composure and now he has voluntarily agreed to step down. It’s a classy thing to do, and we applaud him for it.”

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