Betty Howe Constable 1924-2008
by Rob Dinerman

Sept 17, 2008 - Squashtalk has learned of the death on September 9th of Betty Howe Constable, 84, the legendary player, coach and member of probably the leading family in the history of women’s squash in the United States. Five times the winner of the U. S. Women’s Nationals (in 1950 and from 1956-59 after several early-1950’s years spent giving birth to her three children, Margo, Kacey and Howe), she later coached the women’s squash team at Princeton (where her husband, Pepper Constable, had been a legend himself as a star running back during the 1930’s) throughout the 20-year period from 1971-91. During those two decades, she compiled a 117-15 mark (73-11 in the Ivy League, which was formed in ’83 and whose titles Constable’s teams won in ’89 and ‘91) that featured 10 undefeated dual-meet seasons (highlighted by a five-year stretch from 1977-78 through 1981-82 that encapsulated 40 consecutive dual-meet wins) and 12 women’s intercollegiate team championships (namely from 1973-76, from 1978-81 and in ’83, ’84, ’89 and ’91), an event that Constable herself helped develop and organize, and that became known as the Howe Cup, in recognition of the iconic role that her family --- whose exploits included the national titles that her sister Margaret Howe, better known as Peggy, won in ’52 and ’53, and that their mother, also named Margaret, who in her later years donated the permanent Howe Cup trophy, annexed in ’29, ’32 and ’34 --- played in the history of women’s squash in this country.

Constable also captured the 40-and-over singles in ’64, ’72 and ’73; teamed with Peggy Carrott to win three-straight 40-and-over doubles from 1972-74; was a member of six Wolf-Noel American squads that competed against Great Britain; and founded the early-season Princeton Invitational, an event that attracted the top college players and that was re-named the Constable Cup in her honor. She also was the recipient in 1978 of the Achievement Bowl, one of the most prestigious citizenship awards bestowed by U. S. Squash, and was literally a first-ballot inductee into the U. S. Squash Hall Of Fame, having been a member of the first class of inductees in 2000, five years before her induction into the College Squash Association Hall Of Fame. Three of Constable’s protégées, namely Wendy Zaharko ’75 (in ’72, ’74 and ’75), Nancy Gengler ’80 (in ’76) and Demer Holleran ’89 (in ’86, ’87 and ’89), won a combined seven intercollegiate individual crowns, and Holleran culminated her college career with a senior season in which she won the Individuals, as just noted; served as team captain for a team that won both the Ivy League title and the Howe Cup; and notched her first (of six straight) U. S. Women’s Nationals on her “home” Jadwin Gymnasium courts on the Princeton campus; and was selected as the recipient of the Betty Richie Award “for excellence of play, contributions and leadership.”

Holleran recently emphasized how much of a factor the chance to be coached by Constable was in her own decision to attend Princeton, noting, “I liked the idea of being influenced by someone who was a great champion.” One aspect of the Constable persona that permeates the comments of almost every one of Constable’s former charges (as well as her on-court opponents from her glory-years throughout the decade of the 1950’s) interviewed for this article was what Holleran called “her (i.e. Constable’s) fierce will to win. She instilled that. No holds barred. Not being lady-like. You go out there to win. She made that clear….I loved her competitiveness, a very combative spirit.” Another gifted Tiger alumna, Mary Belknap McKee ’92, a prominent member of the ’89 and ’91 Howe Cup champion varsities, both acknowledged Constable as a “remarkable human being” with an “amazing sense of humor” and “generous heart,” and echoed Holleran’s prior point with her declaration that “She was probably the most competitive individual I’ve ever met.”

Even some of the players on the Princeton MEN’S team occasionally came into Constable’s line of fire in her pursuit of excellence for her women’s team --- Arif Sarfraz ’76, a top player on Ivy League champion Princeton teams, recalled one afternoon “when Betty TOLD me to vacate the court as it was time for women’s practice,” adding that he slammed the door on his way out to demonstrate his displeasure but apologized soon thereafter, leading to a lasting friendship. She was known as a player for a deadly forehand reverse-corner and for aggressive court positioning, as well as for a lob serve whose effectiveness was abetted by both her left-handedness and the cold-court environment that characterized squash facilities in those days.

Though slowed considerably by a stroke she suffered during the early 2000’s, Constable faithfully and enthusiastically attended the Princeton women’s home matches (which culminated in Howe Cup titles each of the past two years) until very shortly before her death. Current Princeton women’s coach Gail Ramsay, now entering her 15th season in that position, fully summarized the reaction on campus to the sad news when she stated, “We will dearly miss Betty and her everlasting love and loyalty for Princeton squash. She was an inspiration to her players and a trailblazer for women in sports.” A memorial service will be held at 2:00 on the afternoon of September 28th at the Princeton University Chapel, with a reception to follow.

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