Former Crimson Coaches Honored at Harvard Club Gala   
By Rob Dinerman

February 3, 2008 -
More than 150 members of the extended Harvard squash family streamed into the Harvard Club Of New York this past Saturday afternoon and evening to attend the Friends Of Harvard Squash Alumni Day, which was co-chaired by Rick Sterne ’68, Jon Masland ‘90 and Hope Nichols Prockop ’91, three of the organization’s officers, and expertly coordinated by Richard Chin, the long-time head pro of the host club. The energy and spirit that suffused this five-hour mixing of the generations of Harvard squash was remarkable to behold, and it is a testimony to the title-filled history of this revered program that practically everyone present had played a prominent role in forging the record-shattering Crimson legacy, either by serving as team captain, or winning a decisive victory in a season-defining dual meet or coaching a team to an undefeated season.

   The latter phenomenon seemed especially pertinent, for the multi-front event program (which started with a hit-around with members of the current varsity squads, followed by cocktails courtside and a buffet dinner in the third-floor Biddle Room) noticeably and promptly evolved into an extended ceremony honoring and celebrating the three living former Harvard coaches, namely Dave Fish ’72, captain of championship tennis and squash teams and men’s squash coach from 1976 (when the legendary Jack Barnaby’s retirement ended 44 glorious years at the helm beginning right after his graduation from Harvard in 1932) through 1989; Steve Piltch, women’s coach from 1986 through 1992 and men’s coach from 1989 through 1992; and Bill Doyle, coach of the men’s and women’s team from 1992 through 1999 (seven women’s and six men’s Ivy league titles in those seven years).

   Before Fish, Piltch and Doyle spoke, some of their former players gave “introductory” speeches: Mark Panarese ‘78 on behalf of Fish, Jenny Holleran ’90 and Jeremy Fraiberg ’92 on behalf of Piltch and Libby Eynon Welch ’95 and Andy Walter ’97, the last male Harvard alumnus to play on four undefeated national-championship teams, on behalf of Doyle. Each of these five alumni/ae was team captain of Crimson team championship varsities and Holleran, Fraiberg and Welch all won the Individuals crown during their senior years as well. Their speeches were filled with praise, affection, gratitude and respect for their respective mentors and for the lasting, indeed ongoing, contribution their coaches had made not only to their squash careers but to their overall Harvard experience and subsequent lives. Those players also each gratefully acknowledged their realization, in some cases belatedly, of the degree to which the three honorees, like Cowles and especially Barnaby before them, were not so much coaches as educators, in Piltch’s case literally so, as when he left Harvard in the summer of 1992, it was to become head-of-school of the prestigious Shipley School in suburban Philadelphia, a position he continues to fill today.

   The coaches themselves, who in some cases appeared nearly overwhelmed by the applause and appreciation being showered upon them, gave speeches that, for all the differences in the eras in which they coached and in the players they mentored, contained remarkably similar themes (this was true of the remarks that current men’s/women’s coach Satinder Bajwa had made during the cocktail hour as well) ---- all three cited the importance of “process” over “outcome” as a major element of their coaching days at Harvard, all spoke movingly about the continuing relationships they formed with their former charges and all emphasized what an honor and how humbling it had been to be allowed to tread the hallowed ground on which such immortals as Barnaby and his predecessor Harry Cowles had stood.

   To put the Harvard squash tradition in its proper perspective, it must be understood that, while Trinity men’s teams under the enormously successful Bantam coach Paul Assaiante haven’t lost a team meet since Harvard last defeated them in the ’98 Potter Cup (i.e. postseason nine-man team championship) final, the Crimson’s championship tradition extends over not one but nearly EIGHT decades, back to when three-time U. S. Nationals champion Germain Glidden ‘36, two-time U. S. Nationals champ Beekman Pool ’32, Barnaby himself and ’40 U. S. Nationals winner Will Patterson ‘36 were performing under Cowles’s tutelage in the early 1930’s. Signs of the unique quality of that longstanding tradition were present everywhere one ventured in the Biddle Room Saturday night ---- in the presence of Charles Ufford ’53, who won the Individuals his junior and senior years and who even now conveys an immensely dignified and courtly aura; of Matt Hall ’67, who played on the championship teams of the mid-1960’s and whose daughters Colby ’02 and Louisa ’04, both present Saturday evening, (in Louisa’s case after flying from her current base in Texas) each captained championship squads nearly four decades later (just as Holleran’s father, Romer, class of ’65, had done at Harvard as Hall’s teammate); of Fraiberg ’92 and his sister Jordanna ’94, BOTH of whom won the Individuals during Jeremy’s senior year, the only brother/sister duo to achieve that feat ever, let alone in the same season; of David Boyum ’85, a former WPSA top-10 player, and his sister Ingrid ’87, both of whom captained undefeated teams; of Daniel Ezra ’98, who was No. 3 on Harvard’s ladder when he won the Individuals in ’96, joining his older brother Adrian ‘94, a three-time entry on that exclusive list.

  There were so many memorable moments that these and so many others in attendance generated during the years they spent proudly wearing the Crimson uniform --- Fish’s last team surprisingly and convincingly out-playing heavily-favored Yale 6-3 in ’89 and thereby extending Harvard’s consecutive unbeaten skein over Yale to 28-0 and giving their beaming-with-pride coach the best possible good-by present while preserving his career undefeated (13-0) dual-meet record against Harvard’s foremost rival; Doyle’s ’94 squad, trailing Yale 4-1 in New Haven’s unfriendly confines, rallying to a 5-4 triumph with both the Ivy League and National titles at stake when Tal Ben-Shachar saved three match-balls against him and edged Jamie Dean 18-17 in the fifth game of the last match of court, perhaps the most dramatic of the 21 dual-meet wins that Harvard has recorded during current Yale coach Dave Talbott’s coaching career, now in its 25th campaign; Holleran successfully going for broke in the ’90 Individuals final against Eli star Berkeley Belknap with a tin-defying backhand reverse-corner serve-return winner on simultaneous championship-point at 17-all in the fifth.

   Piltch wryly referred in his speech to the slogan stenciled onto the shirt given to everyone who attended Barnaby’s 80th birthday in autumn of ’89 being “The Older We Are, The Better We Were,” but the truth is that Harvard’s rosters were filled with student-athletes who WERE really good, in some cases breathtakingly so, as when in ’73 (another year in which a 4-1 deficit turned into a 5-4 victory, this time over Penn) the final rounds in the end-of-season A, B and C tournaments (with each teams nos. 1 and 2 players entered in the A draw, Nos. 3 and 4 in the B flight, etc.) were effectively reduced into a premium-priced team challenge match, with all six finalists wearing the Crimson colors. In 1991-92, six Harvard players made the 10-man first-team all-American slate, and four of them occupied the semifinal slots of that year’s Harry Cowles Invitational, which Fraiberg won over Adrian Ezra in the final. And in 1983, the final of the U. S. Nationals was between Boyum and Kenton Jernigan, Harvard’s No. 1 and 2 players, with Jernigan prevailing for the first of his three-straight titles in this event.

   Notwithstanding the foregoing, one major element that many of the speeches emphatically referenced was the degree to which at Harvard the No. 9 player was regarded as just as important and valued a team member as the No. 1 player, a phenomenon that was fully embraced by players and coaches alike and one which not only infused the varsity program with a team and community atmosphere rarely found in an “individual” sport like squash but also may in substantial measure have played a role in the many Harvard dual-meet triumphs in which the deciding match wins were provided by the bottom half of the Crimson lineup.

   Intermixed with the celebratory atmosphere was a strong awareness, especially given the presence of so many members of the current varsity on hand, that the defining stretch of this 2007-08 intercollegiate season looms directly and imposingly ahead. The essence of the entire season will be compressed into a stunningly brief and hectic period in which the Harvard men will face Trinity this Wednesday, Penn and Princeton over the weekend and Yale next Wednesday (all four season-defining matches in one torrid Wednesday to Wednesday span), with the Potter Cup weekend just two days following the Yale meet. In such an environment, the importance of any injury to or sub-par performance by any members of this year’s starting nine will be magnified as they go up against the best that the top tier of the intercollegiate field has to offer. The pressure on coach Bajwa and his youthful charges on both the men’s and women’s teams will be considerable, but so will the opportunity, especially now that those players received a first-hand sense Saturday afternoon and evening of the grandeur of the tradition that they have the privilege of representing.

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