Fight To Save Yale Club Hardball Court

by Rob Dinerman

June 9, 2002  -Galvanized by the smug, gloating tone permeating the open letter that outgoing Yale Club President Peter Wells recently wrote the membership triumphantly reporting that the Executive Council's project to "enhance the athletic facilities" in a summer-long renovation that would eliminate the club's famed exhibition hardball court was swiftly "proceeding as planned," even in the face of a membership-wide poll in which 371 of the 565 respondents (66%) voted against the renovation, an Ad Hoc Committee wrote a two-page eight-point letter to the Council dated June 3rd detailing the many flaws in the way the Council has proceeded and requesting a reconsideration of the entire project that would give the members an opportunity to have their voices heard.

The Ad Hoc Committee is composed of a half-dozen members who have been at the Yale Club for more than 25 years and is led by Bill Rubin, who co-founded the prestigious Eastern State Veterans Invitational with the late Bill Riesenfeld in 1971, and who along with Riesenfeld received a major award from the USSRA in 1995 marking quarter-century milestone of the event's existence. Mr. Rubin and his dedicated band of Committee members are currently considering their options, as well as the ramifications of allowing the cherished court to disappear and the cost of whatever attempts they choose to prevent this from happening.

The planned elimination of venerable but still serviceable hardball court would of course mean the end of the now 32-year-old event, and Mr. Rubin and his group are fortified not only by the unexpectedly compelling two-thirds vote that just occurred but also by the supportive urging they have received from dozens of longtime members of the American squash community who over the years have played in the Eastern States tourney, as well as other Yale Club-hosted events like the Yale Club Invitational and a host of metropolitan regional championships (like the New York States and the Metropolitan Open) that were played on the exhibition court and made it one of the icons of the American game.

Almost from the time the renovation project was announced late this past winter, and certainly from the moment significant opposition to it almost immediately surfaced, the renovation's main proponents have engaged in an unseemly level of stonewalling and other defensive tactics. President Wells highlighted his introductory remarks at the first meeting with the Ad Hoc Committee that quickly formed to express their opposition by peremptorily and preemptively asserting that the Council's project was a "fait accompli." Wells subsequently canceled a planned meeting with the Ad Hoc Committee on the very day it was scheduled to occur and attacked one of many members desiring the continued presence of the exhibition court as "selfish and petty" for stating his views.

His loss of composure has been replicated by several other Club officers as well. The Athletics Committee chairman, whose current Committee contains a lower percentage of squash players that at any time in that body's history, declined to respond when asked what had been decided in an important early-spring Council meeting, saying that he had been asked not to discuss or even disclose the results of that session. And Club General Manager Alan Dutton has taken the "evasion" tactic one step further by refusing to return repeated messages left with his secretary and on his voicemail by members whom he knows are not in favor of the project.

Incoming President Fred Leone, who served a previous term as President in the mid-1990's, took over the subsequent exchanges after the first meeting chaired by Mr. Wells. Like a large majority of the Council members, Mr. Leone himself has never played squash and doesn't even use the sixth-floor athletic facilities, acknowledging that he is also a member of a health club and gets his exercise there. Part of the reason for his driving the renovation project (which would replace the existing court and 125-seat gallery area with an expanded exercise area for stretching and machines) stems from his stated view that this upgrading of the exercise facilities would attract new members who now belong to health clubs.

However, neither the outgoing or incoming President nor the Council as a whole at any time offered any financial projections or estimates of how many members it would take or over what period of time to recoup the capital expenditure of the sixth-floor renovation, which is expected to exceed a half-million dollars and further cost the club significantly more money in lost revenue while the floor is completely unused for the entire summer and the members are inconveniently dispersed to other nearby private clubs by reciprocal arrangement.

The Council's position was significantly undermined by the aforementioned two-thirds late-May vote solidly opposing the project's going forward, and by the discovery that the initial premise that the area created by the renovation could eventually be converted into a fourth softball court was flawed due to structural and engineering issues and the enormous additional cost that would be involved.

During the late 1990's, when it appeared that the club's fifth-floor swimming pool might have to be sacrificed in a project involving that floor's locker room facilities, a Save The Pool Committee was formed which threatened to go to the New York newspapers and/or bring a lawsuit. In the end, the plans were scrapped and the pool was allowed to remain.

Rather than threaten similar action in this case, the Ad Hoc Committee exercised their right under Club by-laws to to petition for a special meeting of the entire club membership to vote on the proposed renovation project, only to be informed, the two-thirds vote notwithstanding, that such a meeting would not be allowed to occur.


This first appeared on

Back To Dinerman Archive