A Tribute To The Fordham Coaching Career Of Bob Hawthorn   
By Rob Dinerman

March 31, 2011

PROLOGUE: This article was written during the summer of 2010 at the invitation of a number of Coach Bob Hawthorn's former Fordham players, the expectation being that it would be presented to him at a surprise party that they were planning to have in his honor sometime this spring, possibly in conjunction with his 80th birthday in May. Regretfully, Mr. Hawthorn passed away in early March without ever being aware of these plans or of the existence of this tribute to his long and illustrious coaching career at Fordham.
--- Rob Dinerman, March 31st, 2011

    When Robert W. “Bob” Hawthorn stepped down as Fordham squash and tennis coach in July 2010 after 54 years of dedicated and decorated service, the Bronx campus a few miles north of Yankee Stadium lost one of its truly iconic and legendary figures. In addition to being the first three-time (1974, 1984 and 1985) winner of the “Iron Major” Award as Fordham’s top coach, he had by far the longest tenure of any coach in the history of intercollegiate squash (Jack Barnaby, who led Harvard throughout the 44-year period from 1932-76, had the second-longest career), or of any coach in any sport at Fordham, the Jesuit University whose most famous athletic alumnus was Vince Lombardi, the Green Bay Packer football coach who won five NFL Championships, after whom the athletic center that houses Fordham’s squash courts is named. Like Lombardi, a member during his student days of an offensive line known as the “Seven Blocks Of Granite,” Hawthorn was a standout athlete (on the squash and tennis teams) as a Fordham collegian (class of 1953);  like Lombardi, Hawthorn was inducted (in 1977) into Fordham’s Sports Hall Of Fame; and like Lombardi as well, Hawthorn had a sports center on campus named in his honor, in his case when the Hawthorn/Rooney Tennis Center, co-honoring the late John Rooney ‘24, the longtime coach of the Fordham’s women’s tennis team, was dedicated on April 28, 1993.

   Its attractive red-brick clubhouse and gleaming array of six blue-paint-surfaced tennis courts stand in marked contrast to the nondescript clay courts on the Rose Hill campus when Hawthorn entered as a freshman 51 years ago in the fall of 1949; so do the spanking-new quartet of international-size squash courts that were converted (from five hardball courts) just this past summer, two of which have a glass side-wall and all of which afford enhanced viewing capacity in what constitutes a squash player’s paradise just yards from the impressive basketball arena where the Rams take on their Atlantic Ten conference rivals. From Fordham squash’s inaugural 1947-48 season, when Joseph Haggerty started a squash program, and for the 19 years that followed, there were no squash courts at all on campus. The Reverend Vincent C. Hopkins S.J., the team’s “first moderator” and a teacher at Fordham’s graduate and law schools, arranged for the team members to be transported to the New York Athletic Club (NYAC), at the south-west foot of Central Park on 59th Street in Manhattan, where practice sessions were held from 3:30 to 5:00 on weekdays and on Saturday mornings.

   When Hawthorn, who was by then teaching mathematics at Fordham Prep, took over the squash coaching responsibilities at age 25 in November 1956 (he would begin as tennis coach two years later), he continued using the NYAC, where he himself was a club member, as the team’s practice base, with the blessing and support of that club's longtime head pro Tom Byrne. Undeterred by the lack of any official “home” courts, Hawthorn promptly took the initiative in arranging a series of away trips to Wesleyan and Navy, as well as scheduling matches with teams in the metropolitan area such as Stevens Tech, Stony Brook, Yale, Army, Wagner, Adelphi, Princeton and Seton Hall. In 1979, with the pressure on the NYAC courts starting to build as the sport as a whole entered perhaps its period of greatest growth, Hawthorn was able to negotiate the use of the four courts at the Dunwoodie Center at St. Joseph’s Seminary in nearby Yonkers, driving the team to afternoon practice and then returning the team members to campus by 6:00.

   The use of the St. Joseph’s facility occurred while the Lombardi Center was being constructed (in the wake of the latter’s death in 1970), and Hawthorn was able to ensure the inclusion of the five squash courts, personally raising more than $25,000 towards their construction and creating a much more convenient situation both for the team members (who now had access to squash courts on their own campus and without having to travel by car or subway, and who now could play some “home” matches) and for himself, since his three main places of business, i.e. the Lombardi Center, the tennis arena and Fordham Prep, where Hawthorn taught in the mornings and into the early afternoons before tending to his racquet-sports responsibilities at Fordham University, were all within less than one hundred yards of each other.

  It was during this same period in the early 1970’s that some of Fordham’s best squash teams and most renowned players began to emerge and blossom. Larry Hilbert ’72, an outstanding tennis player at Fordham Prep whom Coach Hawthorn recruited to play at Fordham, with his coach’s encouragement tried squash during the winter, benefiting from the latter’s expertise (Hawthorn, still in his late 30’s during Hilbert’s freshman year, had by that time risen to the “A” level in the demanding New York metropolitan leagues, playing for the NYAC team, and was able to beat most of the Fordham varsity players right up until he reached his early 50’s) and attaining all-American status as a squash player, while also improving his tennis game (where he alternated at the No. 1 position with his classmate Tom Porter) to the point where he played on the satellite pro tennis circuit for several years after graduation.

   Indeed, Hilbert’s experience was virtually universal among Hawthorn’s playing group in the sense that very few of what would become the members of his squash team had played the sport prior to their arrival on the Rose Hill campus; most of them were tennis players whom Hawthorn first persuaded to give squash a look and then made the (sometimes reluctant) “first try” so enjoyable and captivating an experience that the collegian became hooked on squash. This created a circumstance in which there was a significant overlap between the squash and tennis teams, with the players consequently forming a bond with each other, as well as with their coach, that markedly enhanced team solidarity and made Hawthorn teams in BOTH sports into a truly unified entity when they faced their intercollegiate opponents.


   Hilbert would eventually reach the top 10 in the World Pro Squash Association (WPSA) rankings while filling the head squash/tennis pro positions first at the Apawamis Club in Rye, then at the University Club of New York and currently at the Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, Long Island. His ongoing support for the Fordham program would take several different forms, ranging from inviting the varsity to come and practice at Apawamis and later Piping Rock with his pro staff and with some of the better-playing members, to a long time span during which he would make sure that at least one of his assistant pros was a current or recent Fordham team member; Greg Reiss ’81, who served in that capacity at Apawamis on a part-time basis as a student and for a few full-time years after graduation, noted that whichever Fordham alum held that position was expected to “pass it on” to a fellow Fordham grad when he moved on to his next career stop.

  Reiss is one of a large number of Hawthorn disciples who have gone on to follow in his footsteps by creating full-time careers for themselves for extended time periods in the racquet sports. Hilbert was soon followed in by Bill Andruss ’75, who entered Fordham as a sophomore; became the only player in the history of the school to reach the final round of the U. S. Intercollegiate Individual championships his senior year; and became the head pro at the Field Club of Greenwich in the late 1970’s, attaining a world ranking of No. 32 and a top-10 WPSA ranking while serving as team captain of the U. S. squad that finished seventh in the World Team Championships in 1981, the best result that the U. S. has ever achieved. There was a period of several years in the early 1980’s when both Hilbert and Andruss were in the WPSA top-10, making Fordham (whose varsity was the seventh-ranking team in the American intercollegiate arena at right around the same time) the only college with more than one of its alumni in the WPSA top-10 in that time frame, during which the sport was largely dominated by members of the Khan clan or products of the great Canadian junior programs.

   In addition to Hilbert and Andruss, Bill Ramsay ’82 earned six U. S. Mixed Doubles titles with his older sister Gail, winning both this crown (for the last time) and the Men’s National Doubles with Rich Sheppard in 1991, and he has been the head pro at the New Haven Lawn Club before being based more recently at the Fairmount Club in suburban Philadelphia. Tomas Fortson ’84, a finalist in the ’88 Metropolitan Open and several times the Massachusetts State Champion, has been the coach at Bowdoin College for the past decade after an earlier stint at the Allston Club in Boston and then at Groton, the Massachusetts prep school. Tim Chisholm ’91 has won the U. S. Open Singles and Doubles championships in court tennis multiple times and even qualified for the right to challenge perennial title-holder Rob Fahey for the world championship during the mid-2000’s (he is currently the head pro at Tuxedo Park).

   Chisholm’s early 1990’s teammate Andrew Cordova ’93 has for the past decade been the head pro at the Maryland Club in downtown Baltimore, in which capacity he runs what is considered one of the top squash programs of any club in the country and serves as Tournament Chairman for the Maryland Club Open, a major annual stop on the International Squash Doubles Association (ISDA) pro tour, on which he himself has been ranked in the top 25. Chris O’Connor ‘93, Cordova’s classmate, a finalist in the 5.0 Skill Level Nationals this past spring, became an assistant pro first for Hilbert at Apawamis and then under J. D. Cregan, who succeeded Hilbert at the University Club when the latter moved on to Piping Rock. Dan Sleasman ‘93, Cordova’s co-captain, became an assistant pro at Racquet & Tennis and then at Apawamis and is currently very involved in squash in Albany, where he grew up.

  John Cerga ‘97, one of (as noted) numerous Fordham Ram racquets torch-bearers to have worked under Hilbert (others include Chisholm, Reiss, O’Connor, Dan Driscoll ‘79 and Bob Hawthorn Jr. ‘83, one of Coach Hawthorn’s seven children, all of them Fordham graduates) and used that time to jump-start their careers in racquet sports, is the head pro at the Garden City Country Club in Long Island, as is Alex Bancila ’99 at the Cherry Valley Club also in Garden City. Eddie Kapur ’95 is the head squash pro at Sports Club/LA in midtown Manhattan, which has hosted the prestigious Quentin Hyder Invitational for the past half-dozen years, with Kapur serving as Tournament Chairman for this massive event. Ed Sarasola ‘82, one of the few exceptions to the “converted tennis player” model (others were Ramsay, Fortson, Cordova and Tim Thomas ‘92), recorded perhaps the most noteworthy dual-meet win in Fordham history when he knocked off Princeton’s John Nimick shortly before Nimick won first the Intercollegiate crown in 1981 and then the U.S. Nationals one year later en route to eventual induction into the U. S. Squash Hall Of Fame.

   Neil Tarangioli ’77, a fierce competitor during his college years, runs a well respected tennis program at Concordia College. And Jim McNamara ’79 is currently a highly ranked age-group tennis player, having been inducted in 1989 into the Fordham Hall Of Fame, a distinction he shares among Hawthorn products with Hilbert (in 1979), Andruss (in ’82), and Lawrence Brown ’59 (in 2000). Andruss was also the recipient of the Lombardi Award as Fordham’s Male Athlete Of The Year in 1975, as was Ramsay in 1981 and Guy Gebbia ’96 in 1995.

   Because such an overwhelming percentage of his squash teams were composed of talented racquet athletes who however had never played squash prior to the arrival at Fordham, Hawthorn would initially emphasize getting good depth on the ball and relentless retrieving, delaying the “finesse” and shot-making parts of the game until his charges had first mastered the basics. The reputation that Hilbert and Andruss both deservedly acquired on the WPSA tour for their solid all-around play, for their competitiveness and staying power, and for their invulnerability to “bad losses” to players below them, were natural outgrowths of the Hawthorn approach, which caused the afternoon sessions he ran to be mostly oriented towards practice matches and challenge matches among the team members in order to give his players as much actual game exposure as possible – repetitive drills and off-court running were not a very prominent part of the team’s practices. He would spend part of the time playing against different team members and the rest roaming from the galleries of one court to another, sometimes shouting instructions down when he saw a mechanical or shot-selection mistake, and often entering a court himself for a hands-on demonstration of how he wanted his protégés to execute a certain shot.


   His teams were also known throughout the college ranks for clean play and good sportsmanship, but also for never giving up and competing full-bore right to the final point. Hawthorn’s induction in the spring of 2006 (marking his “golden-anniversary” 50th year at the helm of Fordham squash) into the College Squash Association’s Hall Of Fame is a compelling tribute to the esteem and respect with which his coaching colleagues regard him --- so was the naming of the Hawthorn Division as part of the annual end-of-season college team championships, as well as the number of his fellow college squash coaches who attended a celebratory 50th anniversary dinner that Fordham held in one of its main ballrooms that May, which drew a huge turnout among his former squash and tennis players, hundreds of whom traveled to the Rose Hill campus to honor their life-long mentor.

   Many of those alumni also show up each autumn to play in the “Hopkins Invitational,” an annual squash and tennis tournament named in honor of the squash team’s first moderator and effectively constituting a massive and festive reunion of the players who have been coached over the years in those two racquet sports by Hawthorn, who just this past spring was the 2010 recipient of the Jack Coffey Award presented “to a Fordham administrator, alumnus or coach for outstanding contributions and dedication to the athletic program.” This designation had to have been especially meaningful to Hawthorn since it is named after the legendary Fordham athletic director who hired him more than a half-century ago.

   In addition to carrying a full teaching load at Fordham Prep and to coaching two varsity sports at Fordham University, Hawthorn became a registered nurse in 1988, serving in that capacity for nearly 20 years by working on weekends and during the summer months at nearby Calvary Hospital and Rosary Hill. He also started and conscientiously oversaw a program in which Fordham Prep students would volunteer their time helping out at these two metropolitan-area hospitals, both of which treat terminally ill cancer patients. This latter undertaking was fully in keeping with Hawthorn’s life-long devotion to the “helping” professions.

    So too was the full cooperation he provided when Citysquash, the Bronx-based youth-enrichment organization that utilizes squash as the “hook” to provide educational opportunities for under-privileged inner-city youth, approached him about the possibility of using Fordham’s five hardball courts for their youngsters to practice on. Impressed with Citysquash’s mission, Hawthorn immediately granted permission (a kind of full-circle payback for the NYAC and St. Joseph’s courts that his own teams had been allowed to play on decades earlier), and Fordham is now reaping the reward for Hawthorn’s generosity, since Citysquash is funding the conversion into four international-courts in what has become a mutually highly beneficial relationship for both entities.

   The most mutually beneficial relationships of all for Hawthorn (who lives with his wife Eileen in New Rochelle, NY), of course, are the hundreds he has developed with his legion of former players, who marvel at how he continues to “bleed Fordham maroon” (to quote one of his former captains) and who have nothing but praise for the continuing manner in which he has enriched their lives. Reiss, who after his years as Hilbert’s assistant forged a successful career as a salesman for Head and then Dunlop before assuming his current position as the squash coach at Milbrook Academy in upstate New York and as the head pro at the club on weekends, said unequivocally that he “owes it all to Bob,” a sentiment that is heartily echoed by dozens of his former Ram disciples.

   Andruss fondly recalled the road trips in Hawthorn’s station wagon to places like Lancaster and Williamstown, where “the banter was lively and Bob’s sarcastic wit was always on display.” He also remembered the practice sessions at Dunwoodie, which “came to mean hours together with players helping each other – a habit he instilled in all of us”;  Hawthorn’s emphasis on “respect, fair play, gentlemanly behavior and hard work, all the while cognizant of the fact that we represented Fordham”; and the day he was playing No. 1 in an away match at Army, glancing up at the gallery and seeing his coach, “the lone civilian among 75 cadets screaming their lungs out, giving me a little smile that conveyed his message to me that ‘we may be out-numbered but I’m behind you all the way.’ ”

   Andruss, currently a realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty in Greenwich, may have best summarized the enduring impact that his beloved coach (who will turn 80 years old this coming May) has had when he recalled a kick-off dinner that Andruss’s parents hosted for the team prior to his senior (1974-75) season. “I can still see Bob saying grace as all nine of us sat around the dining room table. We were his second family, we were his team of young men, and we looked up to him. Years later, I look back and I know that he was our mentor, a natural teacher, and it was clear that he cared. He embraced us and he never let go of us.”

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