A UnresoA HISTORY OF SQUASH AT EXETERlved Journey
Through the Phillips Exeter Academy
A three-time U. S. national champion and future Hall Of Fame inductee was a member of the first-ever squad. One of the best women’s players in American history, also a Hall Of Famer, graced the PEA courts five decades later. Three of the coaches logged well over 70 years at the helm between them. No fewer than 10 Big Red representatives captured the New England Interschols individual trophy. And a host of alumni/ae went on to stellar careers on nationally-ranked college varsities, in USSRA and WPSA amateur and professional tournaments and as respected administrators of the sport, making an enduring mark on national and world ranking lists and as coaches, managers and decision-makers in the sport’s ongoing evolution.
What all of these figures have in common is the quality of having been part of the history of squash at the Phillips Exeter Academy, a proud and storied tradition which is now entering the 75th year of its existence. The harsh and gritty environment of the Academy courts when the program began in the fall of 1931 required one to traverse a 25-yard frigid and pitch-black tunnel to access two rows of four courts each, with a catwalk that doubled as a gallery in between. It was by any measurement a far cry from the magnificent new Fisher Squash Center, a beautifully lit and arrayed world of its own featuring ten glass-back-wall courts with gallery space for 400 spectators (500 if one includes standing room) and constituting a squash paradise in the very heart of the George H. Love Gymnasium. But the essence of the program has endured from the inaugural 1931-32 varsity team through all the coaches and decades that have followed and up to the present time.
The Bennett Years
That an official squash program began at all is largely due to the efforts of George Bennett ’23, an outstanding outfielder on Exeter and Harvard baseball teams who became an English teacher at the Academy in the late 1920’s and who is formally thanked by the editors of the 1932 PEAN “for at last securing recognition of squash as a letter sport.” Seated to Bennett’s right in the team photo for that year is senior Germain G. Glidden, whose presence on that fairly low-key 4-4 squad insufficiently foretold the glory that awaited him a few years later at Harvard, where he won the Intercollegiate individual crown in both his junior and senior years. Glidden’s successful defense of his college title in 1937 occurred just on the heels of the first of his three consecutive U. S. Nationals triumphs, with another trio of U. S. 40-and-over titles (1954-56) to follow. Shortly before his death in 1999, Glidden became a member of the first class of inductees when the United States Squash Racquets Association (USSRA) established a Hall Of Fame.
Bennett used to drive his team to away matches in his family station wagon, which could hold only five passengers in addition to the driver. It is believed to be for this reason, and due to this limitation in the capacity of Bennett’s vehicle, that the early years of interscholastic dual squash meets consisted of five-man teams, a practice that extended all the way into the 1970’s before the seven-player format began!
Bennett’s squash coaching career would extend nearly three more decades, finally ending with the 1960-61 team. He produced two more Intercollegiate champions, Jack Holt ’39, who won the college title as a Yale senior in 1943 and Glenn Shiveley ‘45, also an Eli, who won the event when it resumed after a World War II hiatus, beating former Exeter teammate Roger Sonnabend ’43 of MIT along the way in the semis. The no-frills English teacher was known for preaching depth and for his advocacy of slice as a weapon to enable his players’ shots to die quickly on the cold courts that were the norm during his tenure. Bennett was said to have embraced this approach largely as a consequence of the fact-finding trips he made in the early 1930’s to Harvard, whose legendary Hall Of Fame coach Harry Cowles had been an assistant court tennis pro at the Newport Casino in Rhode Island prior to becoming the Harvard squash coach.
In court tennis, a premium is placed on making the ball die as close to the walls as possible and one’s capacity to accomplish this is enhanced when the racquet slices across the ball rather than stroking straight-on through it. Cowles, and subsequently Bennett, correctly perceived the transferability of this concept to squash. When one of Cowles’s most devoted pupils, Jack Barnaby, succeeded him in the mid-1930’s at the Crimson helm, it became that much easier during the several decades of the latter’s glorious reign for Exeter players to transition into the Harvard program, since the racquet genealogy of both Bennett and Barnaby stemmed from Harry Cowles, their common mentor.
The Rivalry Begins
Exeter had winning teams (with two exceptions) throughout the 1940’s, even in years like 1943, when the team had to make do with no returning lettermen and a World War II-caused shortage of balls and suitable gut for racquets, which severely hampered the club squash program. Stand-out players during that time included Shively, as noted, Sonnabend, Bruce Ramage ’43, who won the school championship his senior year and that event’s runner-up, Chester Laroche ’44, who would play starring roles on a trio of Yale championship teams and (much later on) reach the final of the 1972 U. S. National squash tennis championships, during which he sustained a career-ending shoulder injury.
But it was really not until 1953, when the first squash match against Andover took place (a 5-0 blow-out in which no Exeter player dropped even a single game), and 1954, when the New England Interscholastic Association was formed, that prep school squash really began to take off.
The ’53 team lost only one match, a close 3-2 decision to Deerfield, in compiling what Bennett described in a post-season interview as “the best season in over ten years.” Stalwarts Charlie Kingsley, a letterman as a lower (rare in those predominantly upperclassmen-dominated days), Paul Marden, a three-time Lockett Cup winner as the school champion, and Roger Southall were joined the following season by Charlie Hamm and Richard Hoehn to form a juggernaut that swept to the Interschols team championships in both ’54 and ’55, with Marden taking the individual title in ’54 and Hoehn doing so the following year.
Virtually all the members of those teams went on to distinguished collegiate careers: Kingsley played No. 1 on Yale teams that won the Intercollegiate team championship at the end of an undefeated 1957-58 season, and that the next year became the only Yale team ever to win the USSRA Five-Man team title; Hoehn, who also won the tennis counterpart to the Interschols in his upper and senior Exeter years, played a starring role in both sports on strong Dartmouth varsities; Southall played No. 2 at Williams; and Hamm was undefeated one year at No. 5 at Harvard. Those teams dominated their annual matches with Andover, which lost the first eight meets in the series (the first five by shut-out 5-0 scores) until finally breaking through for the first time in 1962, the year after Bennett’s retirement from coaching.
The gentle-mannered but quietly confident mentor would begin a season by advising each of his talent-laden late-1950’s squads that he had never lost to Andover and intended to keep it that way. Aiding him in this mission was the frequently present school Principal, William Saltonstall, better known as “Salty,” who combined the size and strength of the hockey player he had once been with fine racquet skills, competitive ardor and a quiet pride when a player he had previously been able to handle improved enough to beat him.
The 1956, ’57 and ’58 teams, led by Romer Holleran ’58 (later a Harvard captain and progenitor of three daughters who would make huge contributions to PEA squash during the decade-long stretch from 1982-91) Gail Borden ’59, a solid and reliable performer who could be counted on in the clutch, and Borden’s classmate Bart McGuire (a late-1970’s recipient of the New York squash association’s coveted Eddie Standing Award “For Sportsmanship Combined With Excellent Play”), sustained only one loss per season to a prep school opponent (Deerfield in each case) and the ’59 team did their immediate predecessors one better when it eked out a taut 3-2 battle with Deerfield and comfortably out-played everyone else.
But the 1960 lineup, boasting seniors Louis Williams and John Thorndike and uppers Frank Satterthwaite and Terry Robinson, may have been the strongest that the Academy had ever fielded to that point, winning six of its eight contests by 5-0 tallies and coming within a single point of an undefeated campaign; leading 14-11 in the fifth game of the deciding match, Thorndike yielded the last four points to Harvard freshman Jay Nelson, later a 20-time U. S. age-group champion, in the return match after Exeter had won the initial meet against the Harvard frosh. Three of the Interschols semifinalists that year---namely Williams, Thorndike and Robinson---were Exonians, with Robinson taking his semi against Thorndike before bowing to team captain Williams in the final.
Celebration And Tragedy
One of Bennett’s main hallmarks was his absolute fairness; the weekly (occasionally biweekly) challenge matches were the sole determinant of the team line-up; winners moved up (or stayed at the top in the case of those at No. 1), losers moved down. There were no exceptions and no excuses. It is a testament to the renown Bennett (who retired following another stellar season in 1960-61) earned, and to the respect and affection that his players came to have for him, that the undefeated national champion 1964 Harvard squash team, on which four of his former players (the three 1960 Interschols semifinalists and Denny Lewis) played major roles, invited him to their end-of-season victory banquet and presented him with an illuminated scroll extolling his contributions to the game. No one who was present that festive and celebratory evening could have known that within barely a year Bennett and his star protege Williams would both have died, Bennett in late March '65 at age 59 after a battle with cancer and Williams two months earlier by his own hand at the tender age of 22.
Thorndike, who was best friends and roommates with Williams at Harvard and who, like Williams, was spending the 1964-65 year in Cambridge, England, on prestigious Harvard-Cambridge Scholarships --- only two of which were awarded per year at the time, both bestowed that year on this pair of talented Exies --- gave a moving eulogy to his fallen friend at the funeral service, and even during a recent phone interview these four decades later he found it difficult to speak of what he sorrowfully termed the "unfathomable tragedy" that had abruptly truncated a life heretofore so filled with promise and success.
The large footsteps Bennett left behind upon his retirement as squash coach after his praiseworthy three-decade run were filled by Donald Dunbar, a young PEA mathematics teacher and, like Bennett, a prep school and college baseball standout who was Bennett’s assistant coach during the latter’s last few seasons. Dunbar was on the same Amherst pitching staff as Bill Wilson, PEA class of ’48, who has won a number of age-group national squash titles in the 60’s, 65’s and 70’s during the past dozen years and who as a minor league pitcher in Jacksonville in the early 1950’s had an infield behind him that featured a youthful and slender second baseman from Mobile, Alabama, named Henry Aaron.
Dunbar, who would also become a highly successful PEA soccer coach, inherited a team that had not a single returning letterman when he made his head-coaching debut during the 1961-62 season, but the experience his young squad gained during that 4-4 campaign paid off richly the following year when the team unexpectedly captured the Interschols and captain Ray Godfrey even more unexpectedly won the individual Interschols title. The latter, who as a lower had at Bennett’s behest played for a full month with his right bicep roped to his side in order to make him acquire the elbow-close-to-the-side swing Bennett preferred, had not even been a clear No. 1 his senior year, spending the winter of 1963 alternating at that slot with Gordon Black.
But in the Interschols tourney in late-February, he managed to knock off first Larry Terrell (who was only 14 at the time but who seven years later would win the Intercollegiate Individual crown), then Rick Sterne (later ranked in the USSRA top 10 and the winner of the 1989 U. S. 40-and-over event) and finally a heavily favored Larry Heath, who would win the U. S. Junior tournament the following autumn and who had badly defeated Godfrey in the Deerfield-Exeter dual meet a few weeks prior to the Interschols.
Throughout his subsequent squash years, first at Yale and later in the New York amateur leagues, Godfrey would evince a capacity to come up with a noteworthy win when it was least expected. Certainly the most dramatic of these breakthroughs came in the early 1970’s when he knocked off the redoubtable Victor Niederhoffer when the latter was right in the midst of the four consecutive U. S. national championships he won from 1972-75. But the first of Godfrey’s eyebrow-raising results occurred in that 1963 Interschols, which catapulted Godfrey and his talented teammates Black, Chris Gadsden (the PEA captain the following season and a ’68 Yale captain as well) and Craig Stapleton (who would become a solid collegian at Harvard) to a 3-2 season-ending win over Andover, avenging a loss by that same narrow margin in late January.
Andover Takes Over
However, led by their coach Lou Hoitsma (who would guide the Big Blue from 1958-80) and a host of gifted racquet athletes, Andover would completely dominate the rivalry for the ensuing decade-plus, sweeping through 22 consecutive E-A meets, usually by lopsided scores, while seizing a half-dozen Interschols team titles and producing some of the strongest rosters, in any sport, in the school’s history. The 1970-71 squad, as one example, featured three players (Seth Walworth, Steve Sherrill and Frank Dupont) who cracked the strong Yale starting nine as freshmen the following season, and the Andies were led by captain Peter Blasier, the Interschols Individual finalist that year and later Harvard’s captain and No. 1, and Dick Cashin, who would become an Olympic medal-winner as an oarsman. Bill Kaplan, who would win the Interschols two years later (i.e. in 1973) and become Harvard’s captain and No. 1, and Tom Raleigh, a solid member of mid-1970’s Princeton teams that won Ivy League and national college titles, were not even able to make the Andover starting seven that year.
While Andover was fielding immensely powerful teams year after year throughout that time, the Exeter program was struggling through a transition period during which a number of instructors tried their hand as coaches (in addition to Dunbar, Nick Moutis, Hamilton Bissell ’29 and Dave Thomas all took turns at the position) and the team mostly posted records at or near the .500 mark. Certainly a number of excellent players represented the Academy during that time, most notably Dave Fish ’68, a highly ranked junior tennis player who quickly picked up squash and eventually captained both teams first at Exeter and later at Harvard.
In fact Fish, after a few years as Barnaby’s assistant during the closing stretch of that New England icon’s 44-year run, ascended to the head position of the Crimson squash and tennis programs in the fall of 1976 and began a coaching record that has become fully the equal of the two giants (i.e. Cowles and Barnaby) that preceded him. During his 13 years at the squash helm before he decided to devote himself full-time to tennis, Fish’s teams never lost to arch-rival Yale and annexed numerous Ivy League and national collegiate championships, and the inspirational impact of Fish’s low-key presence may have been best expressed when his out-manned but determined 1989 team routed a far superior Yale squad to give their revered and beaming-with-pride coach the best possible good-bye present.
A Coaching Career Is Born
Dave Fish '68 went on to coach squash and tennis at Harvard. But neither Fish nor the co-presence of his teammate/classmate Rob Shapiro (another Harvard-Cambridge Scholarship honoree in 1972-73, eight years after the Williams/Thorndike selections) were able to surmount Andover’s fearsome depth, especially with the late-1960’s switch from five-man lineups to seven. However, the Exeter program did receive a boost when in the fall of 1968, shortly after Fish’s graduation, Werner Brandes, a German instructor, began a run as head squash coach that would extend all the way through the 1991-92 season. Brandes discovered the sport almost by accident during the winter of 1966; the team’s No. 1 player that year, Peter Wilson, was one of his dorm advisees in Wentworth, and Brandes, an American Studies enthusiast who had been a basketball and team-handball player in his native Germany, would often show up in the gallery of the old courts to watch him play.
Brandes immediately gained an appreciation for the athletic, psychological and strategic aspects of the sport and the imagery it conjured up for him as being “three-dimensional billiards” and “geometry in motion.” After completing his dissertation in late January and mailing it to Munich, Brandes made a celebratory trip to the Academy bookstore, where almost as a lark he purchased several comic books and, more pertinently, a sturdy Maine Line squash racquet.
That spring, Wilson practiced a fair amount on his own in preparation for his (ultimately quite successful) college career at Yale and gave Brandes some squash pointers, thereby launching his faculty advisor’s career as a squash coach. Soon Brandes was competing with some of the other faculty members (Jeff Fleishman, Ed Wall, Harris Thomas and Dave Robbins most prominently among them), and making the obligatory trip to Cambridge for a lesson with Barnaby himself. Armed with the invaluable information and advice he received during his hour-long session with the legendary Crimson master, Brandes was ready for his move into the PEA head coaching position, which occurred in the fall of 1968 when David Thomas became the Head of College Placement and later Dean of Students, positions which precluded him from continuing as varsity coach.
The impact Brandes would make on the Academy varsity squash program during the considerable span of his 24-year head coaching tenure was profound and enduring. He was a firm believer in Barnaby’s philosophy of “coaching deep,” and, like Bennett before him, he ran an active challenge-match ladder (two matches per week, even during the heart of the schedule) and developed a methodical series of drills and practice routines, including a “Princeton points” session, so named because it was used at the Princeton summer squash camps, that would force the players to focus on long “percentage” exchanges during decreasing-point tiebreaker sessions (i.e. best-of nine, then best-of five, then best-of-three, then two one-pointers), with the winner staying in the court and the loser having to move to the right. All of these techniques were designed as strategy sharpeners and attention getters, as well as to make his charges (most of whom entered Exeter having never played squash before) learn to focus and to cope with pressure.
With the help of Chuck Kinyon, a phys-ed instructor who later became the Director of Racquet Sports at Dartmouth, Brandes also organized the Exeter Open, an annual tournament that by its ninth and last edition in 1984 had become a fixture on the USSRA amateur circuit, with more than 100 entrants from as far away as Chicago, Washington D.C., Atlanta and Philadelphia. In addition, he ran the Bavarian Open (faculty championship); drove his varsity players to Boston for informal matches against MIT and the Union Boat Club (assisted by club member Joe Bowen, who moved to Exeter upon his retirement in the mid-1970’s and became a loyal supporter of Exeter squash); supervised the Lockett Cup (the annual school championship) and the Warren Williams event (for club players); planned several early-1980’s co-ed Christmas vacation trips to the squash-rich Philadelphia region to give PEA’s best players additional match experience against top schools as Haverford, Episcopal and Shipley; and revived the annual matches between the PEA faculty and their Andover counterparts that had been so popular during the 1940’s and 1950’s, when both schools actually entered faculty teams which traveled into Boston every Tuesday evening to compete in leagues run by the Massachusetts regional squash association. These events often drew as many as 20 to 25 participants a side under Brandes’s organizational leadership while creating a bond between the faculty members of these now co-ed two schools that belied the rivalry that existed when their respective varsity teams clashed at the end of a sports season.
Brandes frequently drove to Boston to see high-profile squash events like the Boston Open, a major stop on the World Pro Squash Association (WPSA) tour, the Boston Eye-Opener in Allston, important Harvard Ivy League meets and Massachusetts-hosted national junior tourneys. During these trips, he befriended such high-profile Boston-based squash standouts as Mohibullah Khan, one of only four players to win both the British Open and North American Open, the most important softball and hardball titles respectively. Mo Khan came up to play an exhibition in 1970 to dedicate the 12-court squash complex that arrived that year with the opening of the George H. Love Gymnasium.
The advent of those courts brought Exeter back into the limelight of east coast squash and allowed the Academy to play a prominent role in the popularity explosion that the game was undergoing nationally and indeed world-wide during the early 1970’s. They attracted such elite Boston-based amateurs as Lenny Bernheimer and Tom Poor, both ranked in the USSRA top-ten, who would occasionally dash up I-95 in a Datsun 280 Z during their lunch break to give a demo and hit with the varsity before heading back to Boston. Both won the Exeter Open, as did Ron Beck, Charlie Duffy and Greg Zaff, who at one time ascended to the No. 2 ranking on the WPSA pro hardball circuit. As proof of the regard that his colleagues gained for him during his tenure, the New England Interscholastic Team Trophy for the best seven-man team based on regular-season competition came to be known as the Brandes Cup.
It was a coaching tip Brandes delivered to his senior captain Arif Sarfraz ’72 that helped get the latter to the finish line of the Interschols that year. The Pakistani native had managed a hard-earned two- games to one final-round lead over Middlesex star Bill Strong, who had prevented what would have been the first all-Exeter final in the 12 years since Williams-Robinson by edging Sarfraz’s teammate Bob Fisher in a five-game semi. But Strong was coming on by the end of the third game and the match was definitely still in the balance. During the between-game break, Brandes urged Sarfraz, whose crisp forehand rail was his most potent weapon, to consistently attack the left-handed Strong’s relatively weaker backhand rather than steer the ball over to Strong’s forehand, which had produced most of his winners to that point.
Sarfraz responded with a perfect application of this stratagem, which enabled him to race out to an early lead and close out the match in decisive 15-6 fashion to give the Exeter program its first Interschols individual champion since Godfrey’s heroics nine years earlier. Sarfraz would be one of three Exeter captains---Thor Kayeum ’74 and Bill Fisher ’75 were the others---to be in the starting lineup of the 1976 Princeton squad that defeated reigning champ Harvard in the season-ending Intercollegiate team tournament.
Hammy: The Little Giant
Throughout a coaching career that ultimately spanned nearly a quarter-century, Brandes was inspired immeasurably, as were his predecessors and successors, by the continuing and invaluable presence of the aforementioned Bissell, affectionately known as “Hammy”, whose association with the Exeter squash program lasted for virtually SIX DECADES in one capacity or another and was one of the significant components of the recognition this diminutive dynamo deservedly acquired as “Mr. Exeter.” In addition to becoming a fine player with amazing longevity in his own right (he in fact played No. 1 for Exeter in the annual faculty match against Andover until well into his 60’s), he pinch-hit as head coach several times during sabbaticals (including 1955 and 1963, both years in which Exeter swept the team and individual Interschols), while serving at various times as assistant coach, JV coach, unofficial cheerleader, godfather (in the GOOD sense of the term!), historian and mentor.
His wily left-handed racquet skills used to delight and bedevil Exonians on both the squash and tennis courts; so did the black shorts (sawed off charcoal-grey flannel slacks that kept his upper legs warm) he favored, which team members used to joke were selected to give him an advantage, since the black squash ball would be harder for an opponent to pick up against the background of those shorts. Hammy’s inspirational contributions to an Exeter squash season were limited only by the frequent two- and three-week forays (over 400,000 miles in all) he had to make each year to other regions in fulfillment of his Academy obligations in student recruiting as director of scholarships and later on as associate director of development in the alumni affairs office.
His son Jack, class of ’58, enthusiastically recalls the squash team breakfasts at his father’s house early in the morning before the players headed off to the Interschols with Hammy’s pep talks still ringing in their ears, and Coach Brandes frequently pulled his car into 11 Elliott Street, where Bissell and his wife Sally lived, when the team returned to campus after away matches so his players could regale Hammy with detailed reports of that afternoon’s action. Jack Bissell described poignantly how in the fall of 1987, when his mother was dying of cancer, one of her last acts was to ask her son to make sure to give Hammy a “modern” technifiber squash racquet (he had stuck with his wood model long after it had fallen out of vogue) as a present on her behalf.
Hammy’s official retirement in 1976 after a 43-year career was in name only, as he continued to coach club squash until 1992, by which time he was 81 years old. He was a big advocate of what he called the “Good King Wenceslas” theory of hitting the ball “Deep and Crisp and Even” and his frequent advice to beginners, particularly applicable to the original cold Thompson courts, was to “keep yourself warm, keep the ball warm, and keep your opponent warm (and eventually tire him out).”
There is a permanent “Hammy Spot” on the concrete in the foyer of the gym near the courts on which he used to rest his head while sitting and waiting to check in arriving players. Permanent as well is the impact this immortal Exeter icon (who died in November 2000 at the ripe age of 89) would have on all things Exeter, partial proof of which is his honorary class membership in SEVEN PEA classes, an all-time record that is likely to stand forever, in addition of course to his actual graduating class of 1929. Bell House, the admissions office on Front Street across from Tan Lane, was re-named Bissell House a few years ago in honor of this great man.
Going Coed: The Spruill Kilgore Era BeginsThe 1973 team, led by upper captain Mark Papas, an Interschols finalist, placed third overall in New England before ending its season on a down note with a 7-0 shellacking at Andover’s hands, but the next year the long skein of Andover domination was first threatened in an early-season encounter in which the Blue barely escaped by a 4-3 margin, and then ended when Interschols finalist Thor Kayeum concluded his PEA career by leading his team to a 4-3 triumph in a heartwarming season finale. That 1973-74 year also marked the competitive debut of an Academy girls team, coeducation having come to Exeter during the fall of 1970. That first girls team, which ended an otherwise almost winless season (1-6 pre-Andover) with a 5-0 rout of Andover, was coached by Jane Scarborough, but the following year Spruill Kilgore, a mathematics teacher, took over the girls squash program and headed it until the late 1990’s.
Though she had barely played squash prior to arriving at the Academy in the fall of 1972, Kilgore became so dedicated to the game that she sustained a bad enough case of tennis elbow to have to start learning to play left-handed, an experience that actually enabled her to learn more about proper stroking technique than she would have done had the injury not occurred (this was also the case for Stewart Grodman and the late Tom Page, both of whom were top American players whose stroking skills increased when late-1970’s shoulder injuries forced them to play left-handed for several months). During the early years of girls prep school squash, essentially all the girls at all the New England prep schools started as beginners, a situation that didn’t change until the following decade.
However, during this late-1970’s time when the girls program was finding its footing, the boys team was having a major resurgence, going a combined 82-17 (including four sweeps of the home-and-home series with Andover) during the six-year period from 1975-76 through 1980-81. Three of those teams (1976-77, 1978-79 and 1980-81) were undefeated New England Interschols team champions; the first of those units, led by seniors Mitch Reese and Marty Cannon, who squared off in the Individual finals, gave Exeter its first team Interschols title in 14 years.
Reese and Cannon played before an almost empty gallery at St. Pauls, since by that late-weekend stage most of the other schools, demoralized by the degree to which the Big Red had dominated the weekend, had left the campus and were heading home. After Reese barely eked out a close first game, Cannon came down with bad cramps in both thighs (likely a consequence of this being his fourth match of the one-day event) and the final two games proceeded to a pre-ordained and light-hearted conclusion, not always the case when two teammates oppose each other with an important title at stake.
That team was also bolstered in mid-season by the late-January arrival of Geordie Lemmon, who entered as a second-semester lower and found himself playing at No. 5 on just his third day as an Exonian, having been installed in that slot by Coach Brandes, who was aware of Lemmon’s standing as a highly nationally ranked junior player and felt he needed his presence in the lineup for a tough match that week against a strong contingent from Deerfield. Lemmon would ascend to the No. 1 position by the beginning of his upper year, reaching the final of the ’78 Interschols and winning the ’79 title as a senior. That 15-0 1978-79 team, featuring undefeated season-long performances from Lemmon, John Fisher and Cedric Antosiewicz, was so far superior to the rest of the New England prep school field that Brandes actually sometimes only utilized three or four of his regular starting seven.
The 17-0 1980-81 roster, which whitewashed Andover 7-0 in both meets, featured Interschols finalist Jim Faulkner and Julian Benello, who won the second-tier division of the Interschols individual event and later was an all-American at Yale. In 1988 Benello, who was pursuing graduate studies in the cognitive sciences at Cambridge University in London, boarded Pan Am Flight 103 and when that plane exploded and crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 190 passengers and crewmen, his squash racquet, improbably, was found completely intact amidst the wreckage and rubble. It was eventually delivered to Benello’s younger brother, a high school student at the time.
The Holleran Dynasty
This early-1980’s era represented a defining time in the careers of a number of Exonians past and current. Satterthwaite, who had enjoyed several years in the WPSA top ten (and come within a single point of accomplishing what would have been a huge win over perennial world No. 1 Sharif Khan) when that tour established itself in the late-1970’s, was winding down his career, though he did have one last hurrah when he won the 1984 WPSA 40-and-over division. Rob Dinerman ’72, a club basketball player as an Exeter student who had nevertheless lettered in squash all four years at Yale, was launching a pro career in which he would win more than 50 Open tournaments, attain a top-10 WPSA ranking, defeat Khan twice, albeit when the latter was well past his prime, and reach the finals of the U. S. Hardball Nationals in both 2004 and 2005. Lemmon was playing No. 4 (and serving as team captain) on an undefeated Harvard squad behind Canadian prodigy Brad Desaulniers and two underclassmen, Kenton Jernigan and David Boyum, who would face each other in the final of the 1983 U. S. Nationals during Lemmon’s senior year.
Kingsley, after an outstanding post-Exeter playing career both (as noted) at Yale and in USSRA amateur competition, was well along in an administrative run that included two years as USSRA President, two stints as tournament chairman of the U. S. Nationals, two captaincies of the U. S, team in the annual U. S. vs Canada Lapham-Grant competition, 10 years of being the U. S. representative to the World Squash Federation, the chairmanship of the USSRA Hall Of Fame committee and, currently, positions as a trustee of the USSRA Endowment Fund and as President of the Skillman Associates of Yale University.
And Demer Holleran ’85, whose father, Romer, had been a two-time PEA squash captain in the late 1950’s, and who herself was destined to become statistically the greatest woman squash player in U. S. history in terms of national Open titles won----six hardball, six softball, 11 women’s doubles and eight mixed doubles, hence 31 overall, not counting the several U. S. junior titles she won prior to and during her Exeter years and the three Intercollegiate crowns she earned at Princeton----would enter the Academy as a lower in the fall of 1982 and immediately and dramatically transform the girls program.
She was strongly assisted in this undertaking by younger sister Jenny, who herself would become an Interschols finalist as a senior in 1986 and an Intercollegiate champion in 1990; Sue Safford, the No. 1 player prior to Holleran’s arrival; and Vic Hoyt, who went on to star at Middlebury and to become a pro at the Apawamis Club in Westchester. Sheila Morrissey and Cindy Cameros played important contributory roles as well, as did Gwyn Hardesty, who later took up running (becoming a member of the U. S. Olympic team that competed in Barcelona in 1992, her event being the 10,000) and is currently a math teacher and cross country coach at the Academy. Demer Holleran led the Big Red to three consecutive Interschols team titles (1983-85), while also winning the school BOYS championship (no other girl had even entered the event before), and Exeter girls squash sustained only one loss (sacrificed to give lower team members tougher competition while the starters sat the meet out) during her varsity career.
The boys team was struggling a bit during that mid-1980’s period, and running into some bad luck as well: Sven Krogius was ahead of his Andover opponent two games to one and 7-4 in the fourth of a pivotal match during the midseason meet in ’83 before sustaining such severe cramps in a hamstring that he had to default, thereby giving this arch-rival a 4-3 win. Exeter’s most memorable upset victory of that era came in late-February 1987 at the expense of a heretofore dominant Andover team that came swaggering into Love Gymnasium in possession of an undefeated record (including a lopsided 6-1 prior win over Exeter that wasn’t even as close as the not-close score) and the New England Interschols team trophy. Their top player, Richard Chin, had reached the final of the Interschols A event and would become a four-time first-team all-American at Cornell and later a three-time finalist (’94, ’97, ’01) at the S. L. Green U. S. National Championships, and Chin’s teammates seemed to hold a major edge over their Exeter counterparts throughout the team order.
The Little Engine That Could
But the Exeter players, inspired by their awareness of the fact that Coach Brandes, who was due to be away on sabbatical the following year, might therefore be coaching his final match ever, played way above their heads, in several cases winning rematches against over-confident Andies who had soundly beaten them just a few weeks earlier. Even the losses were well-played, as when No. 1 Dan Morgan took a game off Chin before falling in four. But PEA No. 5 Sang Chung pulled off a big early win in three overtime games and Steve “Frantic” Fraga, who had previously been thrashed (15-7, 6 and 8) by Chris Strain, his Andover opponent, this time pushed the issue to 11-all in the fifth and managed to prevail 15-12 in an important swing match, following which senior In Kim survived a third-game tiebreaker (during which his left eye took most of the brunt of a vicious backhand follow-through) to go 2-1 up, then made that advantage stick by closing the match (and clinching the meet in the process) out 15-12. The Andover team, so sure of victory that it had disrespectfully left their regular No. 4 at home to cram for a history exam, sheepishly boarded the bus home having learned the hard way that pride often goes before a fall.
In Kim, one of several heroes of this thrilling three-hour classic, traveled to Ithaca the following September with high hopes of playing for Cornell as one of four freshmen (Chin foremost among them) that were expected to make a substantial impact, but chronic elbow and shoulder problems that resurfaced that autumn forced him to give up those aspirations. However, when the girls coach, a part-time graduate student, had to withdraw in midseason, In Kim took over this role for the second half of the schedule (wearing a jacket and tie in an attempt to conceal the age gap between himself and his coaching counterparts) and found himself applying the same coaching methods and dictums that he had been receiving from Brandes less than a year before!
The latter did in the end resume his squash coaching duties upon his return to campus in the fall of 1988, leading the program for four more years. His last team, the 1991-92 squad, was the most international and multicultural team Brandes ever coached, consisting of Matt Willey (Scotland), Pierre Bastien (France), Kabir Mulchandani (Mumbay), Rajeesh Alla (Pakistan), and Tim Filla (Ireland) along with Americans Mike Kane and Quentin Palfrey. They overwhelmed Andover 7-0 and 6-1 to send their popular longtime coach out on a winning note. By that stage Brandes had understandably had more than his fill of the coaching and of driving the team to away matches. He also was aware that his 21 seasons of coaching were starting to approach Bennett’s record of 28 and Brandes had too much respect for Bennett (who was also regarded as one of the greatest English teachers in the school’s history) to want to “crowd” that mark too closely.
By the time Brandes stepped down, having compiled a 210-97 career won-lost record (a .687 winning percentage), the Exeter girls were still riding the Holleran wave (with youngest sister Lauren ’91 taking over after Demer and Jenny had moved on) and in the midst of a run from 1991-94 of four consecutive Interschols team titles that exceeded the three-straight which had occurred approximately one decade before. After dropping one match (to Milton) in 1990 and placing second that year in the team Interschols, Coach Kilgore’s crew, led at various times by Holleran, Molly McDonough ’91, Margaret Hartigan ‘93, Katherine Hennessey ’93, Jen Ginn ‘95, Lucy Cummings ’93 and ’94 classmates Priscilla Marshall (who won the Interschols Individuals her upper and senior years) and Becca Birch, four-year members of the varsity who both went on to play for Yale, went undefeated for all four succeeding years before finally plummeting to earth in 1994-95 by dropping two matches and finishing second in the Interschols.
During the six-year period from 1990-95, the Exeter girls went a combined 71-4 and Rina Borromeo, a Filipino tennis stand-out who entered Exeter in the fall of 1993 having never before played squash, wound up commandeering the No. 1 position her last three years and concluding her hugely successful career by capturing the Interschols individual crown as a senior in 1997. That year the boys team, which math instructor Tony Greene had inherited from Brandes, went 14-0, part of an impressive five-year spurt from 1994-98 in which there were two undefeated seasons (also 1993-94, when BOTH Exeter’s boys and girls teams went undefeated for the only time in school history and when one-year student Hayden Felice won the Interschols individuals ) and a 62-12 overall mark.
Borromeo was similar to many varsity-squash Exonians in being first introduced to the sport after they had entered the school. It is a tribute to the coaching staff over the years that they were able to accelerate the learning curve of such a mentally and physically demanding game in time to enable the Academy to field so many successful teams over so long a period of time. In fairness, though, and Borromeo’s experience aside, it should be noted that many of Exeter’s interscholastic individual winners and finalists HAD been exposed to the game prior to their time at Exeter.
Demer Holleran, as has been discussed, had already acquired several USSRA junior titles as a young teenager; Hoehn, whose father was the squash and tennis coach at Dartmouth, was steeped in racquet sports as a youngster (he vividly remembers Barnaby’s visits to the family home every time Harvard played an away squash or tennis match at Dartmouth); Williams and later Lemmon had learned the game as participants in the famed junior program at the Merion Cricket Club in suburban Philadelphia; Sarfraz had played a lot of squash as a boy in his native Pakistan; Reese had attended school in England the year before he enrolled at Exeter; and his classmate and Interschols co-finalist Cannon had been an outstanding grade-school racquetball player in his native Tennessee.
The Switch To Softball
By the time Borromeo graduated in the spring of 1997, it had been five years since the interscholastic game had made the change from hardball to softball, starting with the 1992-93 season (and spurring the colleges to do the same two years later), and the Academy’s lack of 80-square-feet-wider international courts (which also utilize high tins and different boundary lines) were starting to become a tangible detriment to the school’s ability to attract the kind of squash-devoted students every prep school program depends upon in order to thrive. This growing need was answered by the generosity of Exeter trustees Theodore Shen ’62 and Steve Mandel ‘74, who were concerned that the squash program might die out at Exeter, or at least that top students who loved squash would choose other schools to pursue their interest. As a result of their involvement, three “regulation” courts were built in the old gymnastics room adjacent to the Cage during the summer of 1997, and on January 14, 1998, this new era in PEA squash was officially inaugurated.
Another sign of the Academy’s continuing commitment to the excellence of its program and the varsity teams that represented it was given a few years later, when in the fall of 1999, and for the first time ever, a boys and girls coach was hired solely for his squash background and exclusively to guide the program. Kirk Randall had coached teams at MIT and Dartmouth, then spent 18 years as the head squash pro at the University Club of Boston before his arrival at Exeter six years ago.
He is understandably delighted by everything about the Fisher Squash Center, which allows coaching techniques and practice options that had never previously been available, and which also provides the opportunity for the Academy to host the kind of major junior and adult national tournaments that are bound to enhance the PEA’s squash profile and attract students committed to squash. So too is former coach Kilgore, who guided the girls team to seven Interschols team titles (with Demer Holleran, Marshall and Borromeo winning a combined six individuals between them) and who retired coaching squash in 2000, having been at the helm for 23 of its 27 varsity seasons to that point and having by that time long since attained the status of being one of the true pioneers of New England girls prep school squash.
Exeter alums continue to make a significant mark on the American squash scene at all levels. Kingsley, as noted, currently heads the USSRA Endowment Fund and the Friends Of Yale Squash (Skillman Associates). Karen Adair (now Schmidt-Fellner) ’79, the No. 1 and team MVP her upper and senior years, is the vice-president of the USSRA women’s committee, as well as team manager of the U. S. women’s team, and the Greenwich Academy girls team she coaches has won the New England team Interschols in each of the past nine years, a record by a wide margin.
Demer Holleran now coaches the U. S. women’s team on which she played No. 1 for many years; in October 2004, she flew home from Amsterdam on the last day of the World Team Championships, arriving in New York that evening just in time for her induction into the USSRA Hall Of Fame at the association’s Centennial Dinner at the University Club. She is in the process of opening the Fairmont Athletic Club, a squash and fitness center, in suburban Philadelphia, set to open sometime within the next year. In 2000 she coached the University of Pennsylvania women’s team to the first (and only) Ivy League and national intercollegiate squash titles that school has ever won (men or women); her Exeter co-alumna Borromeo played in the top four of that undefeated squad.
Holleran also won the prestigious William White doubles event (with another of her former Penn players, namely Jess Dimauro) at Merion last January, as did her fellow Exeter Interschols winner Priscilla Marshall (now Lukens) in the hardball singles division. Dinerman reached the men’s hardball final that weekend and returned to Merion seven weeks later to attain the final of the U. S. National Hardball Open. He is ranked as well in the top 40 of the International Squash Doubles Association (ISDA) tour and has co-won (with partner Joyce Davenport) the New York mixed doubles title each of the past two years. Lemmon has been a force in doubles as well, winning the 1990 U. S. National Doubles with Dave Proctor and teaming up with Jamie Heldring to garner the Philadelphia A championship just this past spring.
Furthermore, the rosters of today’s leading college powers are liberally peppered with recent Academy graduates. Todd Ostrow, Patrick Haynes and Aaron Ligon, all class of ’02, are prominent members of the Harvard, Brown and Stanford squads respectively; Duncan Ma ’03 plays for MIT, as does Nelson Schubart ’04 for Tufts; and Tony Maruca ’04, who was Exeter’s No. 1 his last two years, is in the midsection of the strong lineup at Williams. His younger brother Michael, class of ’07 and currently listed fifth in the New England prep-school rankings, has been Exeter’s No. 1 since the beginning of his lower year (as was Ostrow), raising the likelihood that by the time he graduates, the name Maruca will be atop the PEA ladder for five consecutive years, though Michael is constantly pushed in practice and during challenge matches by his classmate Ed Casserley.
All three of Haynes’s sisters, namely Crosby ’00, Schuyler ’03 and Breck ’05, continued their squash careers on good college teams: Crosby, who was Exeter’s No.1 during Randall’s first year as PEA coach, played all four years at Dartmouth, and Schuyler and Breck are prominent members of the Bates and Brown squads respectively. Their father, Pat Haynes ’70, starred on Academy teams in both squash and tennis. Kate Mandel ’03, who played No. 1 her senior year, is now a member of Yale’s two-time defending national champion contingent. And Leah Stork ’08, who played No. 2 as a prep last year, seems set to take over the No. 1 position this season.
Maruca, Stork and Co. are today’s torch-bearers of an immensely proud tradition that has had, and continues to have, an enormous influence on squash as it is played and governed throughout the country and indeed the world. Everyone who has ever wielded a racquet while representing the Academy, or who has coached and/or taught those who have, whether in the heat of a varsity meet against a prep-school rival or in any other setting, has added to and enriched that tradition. This essay has constituted an attempt to portray that noble three-quarter-century history in its full substance and to pay tribute to those who have contributed to it. It is a past that has been permeated by heroes and champions, and with the arrival of the Fisher Squash Center and all that it stands for, an even brighter future clearly beckons.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Rob Dinerman expresses his gratitude to Julie Quinn, head of the PEA Communications Department, Edouard L. Desrochers, the PEA Archivist and Librarian, the Academy’s Alumni Records office, current head coach Kirk Randall, former head coaches Werner Brandes, Donald Dunbar, Spruill Kilgore and Tony Greene, former longtime Andover coach Lou Hoitsma, class of 1972 President Chloe Gavin Beatty, Bruce Bernstein ’72, for suggesting to the author that he write this history, Jack Bissell ‘58 and the dozens of former Academy squash players whose information, perspective, anecdotes, reminiscences and opinions, conveyed in phone and personal interviews and email exchanges, constitute the lifeblood of this document.
(This article first appeared on SquashTalk.com)