Trilogy Of Greatness: Page, Hahn, Barnaby

by Rob Dinerman

March 1, 2002  -Squashtalk sadly notes the deaths of three great squash champions in the past 10 months. Though they differed greatly in personality, style and area of expertise, all three men shared the quality of having left a lasting and unique impact on their sport.

Tom Page, who collapsed and died on a lower-Manhattan sidewalk on April 28th at the grievously premature age of just 44, was a teenage prodigy and winner of many amateur and pro singles and doubles championships (including winning the '77 National Singles title at age 20) who, however, battled personal demons and diagnosed schizophrenia for much of his adult life.

At his scintillating best, he won the '80 Philadelphia WPSA stop (defeating Mario Sanchez, Sharif Khan and Clive Caldwell), had multiple victories over every North American (including perennial No. 1 Mark Talbott) and became quite possibly the greatest right-wall doubles player ever, especially during the three-year late-1980's period when he and partner Todd Binns dominated the tour.

His breath-taking five-game North American Open quarter-final battle with Jehangir Khan at Town Hall in midtown Manhattan was arguably the greatest hardball match ever played on this continent and the esthetic highlight of the WPSA tour, and the devil-may-care flamboyance of his all-court game made him truly a charismatic performer for more than a decade. It is a measure of the essential goodness of the man's character that, even in those last lonely years, he never lost the affection, hope and support of his peers, hundreds of whom traveled great distances with virtually no advance notice and in a mercilessly oppressive heat wave to attend the memorial service his surviving brothers, Palmer and David, arranged for him last June at the Episcopal Academy in suburban Philadelphia, where Page had spent his carefree high school years.

Ed Hahn, who peacefully passed away in his New Jersey home on November 13th at age 88, was in his own quiet way one of the most historically important figures in the history of American squash. The first 43 editions of the Nationals had all been won by players who hailed from either New York, Philadelphia or Boston, were in their 20's or early 30's, had attended (or in the case of a few undergraduate winners, were attending) Ivy League schools and were members of exclusive private clubs.

Hahn was remarkably unusual in that he fit into NONE of these categories when at age 37 he won this prestigious event in 1950(the oldest first-time Nationals winner ever) by continually playing over-achieving underdogs who had exhausted themselves in upset wins over seeded players and hence had nothing left when they then faced Hahn. This latter circumstance, as well as Hahn's midwestern roots and Detroit home base, caused the provincial Eastern establishment to initially dismiss his '50 title as a fluke, an assessment Ed emphatically disproved one year later when he successfully defended his championship with a 15-14 fifth-game final-round thriller over Boston's Henri Salaun.

He also teamed forces with his older and more extroverted brother Joe to win the National Doubles in 1956, by which time both men were well into their 40's, making them, in a reprise of Ed's achievement in singles, the oldest team ever to win the Open event. He also won the Michigan state title FIFTEEN straight times from 1948-62 and again in '64 and was Western Squash Singles Champion 11 times during this same lengthy period, but what he accomplished IN the region was less important than what he achieved FOR the region, whose entire previously understated squash profile was dramatically and permanently elevated by the Nationals breakthroughs he attained.

The foregoing made Hahn almost a pioneer and caused the Detroit News to name him the sixth most important amateur athlete in Michigan history, the man who blazed the trail that many others from the midwest would be inspired to follow in the decades to come.

If Hahn was the oldest National champion and Page one of the youngest, Harvard's legendary coach Jack Barnaby, who painlessly passed away on February 13th in his Lincoln, MA home at age 92, was unquestionably the greatest coach of all time and arguably the single most important influence on squash during the twentieth century.

From his laboratory, the Harvard squash courts in Hemenway Gymnasium, he used his singular genius to produce more squash champions by far than anyone in the history of the game. From the time he graduated Harvard as a romance languages major in 1932 and immediately became assistant to then-head Harvard coach Harry Cowles to his retirement in 1976 after 44 glorious years at the helm (39 of which were spent as head coach after Cowles stepped down in 1937), "Barnabus Rex" won 17 NISRA national titles, 16 Ivy League championships and 346 dual meets (against just 95 losses) while coaching numerous individual team members to Intercollegiate and/or Open championships.

These included Victor Niederhoffer, Peter Briggs, Anil Nayar, Henry Foster, Mike Desaulniers, Larry Terrell, Charles Ufford, Germain Glidden and Ben Heckscher, but just as important to Coach Barnaby were the players further down the Crimson varsity ladder who greatly improved during their undergraduate careers and provided crucial wins towards the Harvard dual meet tally in the Nos. 6 through 9 positions.

Unlike many coaches, who concentrate on the reflected glory they can gain from the exploits of their stars, Barnaby was always building up his second- and third-echelon players, which is part of the reason Harvard always had the most depth of any college team. He took special delight in taking players, including Niederhoffer, who had never played squash before entering Harvard, and helping them become valued varsity members by the time they were seniors.

The several books this squash professor wrote are required (and highly entertaining) reading for any serious squash aspirant, but his most important legacy may lie in the overall effect this true mentor had on the character and lives of his charges, many of whom have described him as the most important influence in their lives. He was one of the most revered figures in the entire squash world, and his contributions live on through his books and in the memories of the many people, both at Harvard and everywhere else, whose lives he touched with his knowledge, boundless enthusiasm and caring.

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