Ed Hahn Obituary

by Rob Dinerman

February 7, 2002  -Edward J. Hahn, who stunned the squash world more than a half-century ago by becoming the first midwesterner to win the USSRA Nationals, then accentuated this accomplishment by doing it again one year later, passed away on December 13, 2001 at his home in Wayne, NJ at the age of 88. Hahn was cited by The Detroit News as the 6th most important amateur athlete in Detriot history. (July 31, 2001, Joe Falls)

Born in New York, where he later worked as a cop during the years immediately prior to World War II, Hahn first moved to Detroit in 1934 before spending a few years managing a health club in St. Louis. Ed served in the Signal Corps during World War Two and was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions in combat in New Guinea. After serving during the war years, he returned to Detroit, where his involvement in the game began in earnest.

His brother, Joseph T. Hahn, several years older, who would eventually serve as USSRA President from 1961-63, was a much more extroverted and forceful presence, while by contrast Ed was content to take a much lower profile. Behind his quiet and gentlemanly demeanor, though, was a steely determination to win, as the traditional powers back east would discover first-hand in 1950, when that year's National Championships were hosted by the University Club of New York.

The first 53 editions of this the most important squash championship of that era had all been won by players who hailed from either Philadelphia, New York or Boston, were in their 20's or at most early 30's, had attended (or, in the case of a few undergraduate winners, were attending) Ivy League schools and had memberships in exclusive private clubs.

Hahn, a former basketball player who throughout his career was clad in high-top coal-black canvas basketball shoes, was remarkably atypical in that he fit into NONE of those categories, a fact which also meant that he entered the rarefied atmosphere of that national tournament as a virtual unknown. He trailed the formidable and multi-titled Cal McCracken two games to one in the quarters before rallying through the final two games, while in the top half's other quarter top-seeded Diehl Mateer was shocked by the upset-causing heroics of Pittsburgh's Jack Isherwood, who was spent by this career-highlight effort and offered little resistance to Hahn in their ensuing straight-set semi.

This brought the unseeded Hahn to the final round, where he would face a similarly unexpected finalist in New York's Dick Rothschild, a well-known player who was on a major run of his own in which he had already defeated first four-time National Champion Stanley Brinton in the quarters and then Boston's Roger Bakey in the semis.

There was great anticipation flowing through the packed cathedral-like gallery of the University Club's main exhibition courts before this final between two heretofore unheralded contestants, but the match itself proved an anti-climax, as Rothschild, like Isherwood before him, had already spent himself in his pre-Hahn exploits while Hahn himself, ironically the far older player at age 37, was inexorable throughout his 30-minute 15-4, 15-10 and 17-14 victory.

Both Hahn's conditioning level and his adaptability served him well this weekend, whose unseasonable warmth both sapped the energy of his victims and nullified shotmaking to a degree that frustrated several of his opponents. Though possessed of a fine touch himself, Hahn understood the limitations this weekend's climate imposed on that approach and he instead resourcefully ground his way to this prestigious championship.

One other noteworthy aspect of that weekend's evolution was the distinctive footwear worn by both participants in the final. Hahn's aforementioned presentation differed dramatically from the norm in both model and especially in color in that whites-only era, while Rothschild played in stylish white saddle-soled shoes bound across the middle by a brown leather band. Neither was responding to any orthopedic or medical exigency; both simply felt more comfortable in their respective choices, which normally would seem better suited to a Harlem asphalt playground or a country fair than to the court environs of the University Club.

Though there was a certain grudging respect for Hahn's accomplishment that weekend in Manhattan, there was also an element, especially among the USSRA establishment in the northeastern corridor, which viewed squash as "their" game, that Hahn's title had been something of a fluke. After all, rather than defeating the top seeds head-to-head, he had instead been the beneficiary of a draw that had broken in such a way as to allow him to win both his semi-final and final against lesser known opponents who had knocked off the top seeds for him and exhausted themselves in the process.

There was still a tendency at that time for Easterners in the squash world to look down their noses at players from other parts of the country and to regard them almost as interlopers. Throughout the interceding 12 months between Hahn's win in New York and the 1951 event at the Lake Shore Club in Chicago, the feeling therefore was that Hahn was something short of a deserving National Champion who had better enjoy his status while he could because in Illinois the title would return back east where it belonged.

Boston's Roger Bakey pressed him hard in their semi-final, but Hahn survived that test and moved on to the final, where he faced another Bostonian 13 years his junior in the person of Henri Salaun.

The latter, who would go on to win the Nationals four times (in 1955, 1957, 1958 and 1961) while establishing a legendary rivalry with Diehl Mateer, was entering his first Nationals final. He had broken a string in the only racquet he brought to Chicago in his semi-final match and therefore had to borrow one of Bakey's racquets for the final, an ironic development for someone who later became a highly successful proprietor of a sports equipment company specializing in racquet sales, including a number of models that bear his name! Salaun, who liked to play with loosely-strung racquets, had to make do with Bakey's models, which were extremely tightly strung. Though this disparity caused Salaun some understandable adjustment problems at the final's outset, he nevertheless earned a two games to one lead before falling behind in the fourth game and deciding to let that game go and prepare for the all-or-nothing fifth.

Years later Salaun lamented this decision, feeling that had he pressed the 38-year-old Hahn all the way through the fourth game he might not have rescued the game but at least he likely would have depleted him and left him more vulnerable in the fifth game. Instead, a fresh Hahn got on a hot shooting spree, volleying a series of sharply-hit nicks and winners that brought him to a seemingly insurmountable 10-1 lead.

Twenty-four years later, in the semi-finals of the 1975 Veterans (i. e. 40-and-over) Nationals, the 49-year-old Salaun, who this time found himself operating from the opposite end of the age gap in his match with 40-year-old Pete Bostwick, would face the identical formidable deficit and close to 12-14 before surrendering that match and with it his last chance to add a seventh National Veterans title to a trophy chest which has been swollen by national age-group crowns at every subsequent age-group level.

In Chicago, Henri would actually exceed the dimensions of his later rally against Bostwick and balance Hahn's enormous edge with a 12-3 run of his own that squared the fifth game at 13-all! A beleaguered Hahn called "no-set" and after a pair of split points, with the 1951 National Championship riding on a single point, Hahn's patience through a nerve-wracking series of left-wall exchanges paid off when Salaun impetuously tried to blow a rail by Hahn and, perhaps in part due to the unfamiliar tightness of his borrowed racquet, over-hit the ball to such a degree that it soared just above the back wall boundary and landed in the first row right in the unwelcoming lap of a fan who had placed a bet on Salaun to win! With his successful defense, albeit by an irreducibly slender margin, of the National title, Hahn had created a legacy for himself that could no longer be challenged.

Not that his 1950 accomplishment should have been questioned in the first place, especially in view of the Canadian Singles championship he also won that year, but there were many more important titles to follow. Despite being age-eligible for the Veterans event by 1953, when he attained his 40th birthday, Hahn continued to play, and play well, in the regular Men's event until 1958, when he emulated his 1950-1951 Men's duet by winning the Veteran's tourney in both 1958 and 1959. That latter win, like its counterpart eight years earlier, required him to rally from a two games to one deficit, this time against Victor Elmaleh, now age 83, who was always regarded as a tough competitor, and who recently recalled how mentally tough Hahn showed himself to be in winning those last two games of their final 43 years ago.

When the National Seniors flight (for players age 50 and over) was inaugurated in 1967, Hahn won the event that year and again in 1969 at age 56. He also teamed with his brother Joe to win the Men's National Doubles in Philadelphia in 1955, even though both were well into their forties at the time, which made them the oldest team ever to win this title, a replay of Hahn's status in becoming the oldest winner of the Singles several years earlier.

He combined with Howard Davis(one of his teammates 30 years earlier when Hahn led the Detroit team to the 1947 USSRA National Team Championship) to win the Senior Doubles in 1967, where they defeated defending champions Treddy Ketcham and James Ethridge in the final. Ketcham, who teamed with Ethridge to defeat Hahn and his partners in several other Senior Doubles finals, fondly recalled his left-wall battles with Hahn and remembered him, like so many others interviewed for this article, as quiet and a gentleman off the court and also quiet but a fierce competitor on it. By compiling this plethora of achievements in both singles and doubles on the National level, Hahn paved the way for those from the midwest and West Coast who followed his example and thereby helped ("forced" might be a more accurate word) the USSRA to expand its previously limited horizons.

His record in regional competition was phenomenal and extended over the course of several decades. For example, he won the Michigan State Singles title for FIFTEEN straight years from 1948-1962 and again in 1964. He also won the Detroit City Championship several times in the early 1960's and the State Doubles crown, which wasn't inaugurated until late in his career, on four occasions, the last of which occurred in 1967, by which time he was 54 years old.

Additionally, Hahn was Western Squash Singles champion 11 times during this same lengthy period, a testimony to both his ability and his longevity, while serving as President of the Michigan Squash Racquets Association and for many years as the Michigan representative to the USSRA Board of Directors.

Elected to the Michigan Amateur Sports Hall of Fame in 1976, he also subsequently became a member of the New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame after moving to that state in 1967 to join his brother Joe as Sales Manager of Joe's Clairmont Cadillac in Montclair, where he worked for 15 years before retiring in 1982 at age 69. His older brother Joe, a USSRA Honorary Life Member who was National Veterans runner-up seven straight years from 1950-56, died in April 1982 at age 76; his son Tommy ran Clairmont Cadillac for a number of years after his father's death.

Ed is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Vivian, their son Eddie Jr., and daughter Mary Ann Hayes, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren. He deserves to be admiringly remembered for his quiet and good-humored nature and ready and genuine smile which belied the mental tenacity with which he competed, and for the manner in which, through his presence and accomplishments, he led by example, significantly broadened squash's heretofore provincial profile and helped make it truly a national game.

This first appeared on squashtalk.com

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