Excerpt, Rob Dinerman's Selected Squash Writings Volume 2

This is the opening passage of the chapter in Rob Dinerman's A History of Harvard Squash, 1922-2010 that covers the legendary coaching career of Harvard's Jack Barnaby.


   The Harvard men’s squash team was dead in the water on this dreary, frigid late-February 1962 afternoon in New Haven, and everyone shoehorned into the undersized gallery on the fourth floor of Yale’s Payne Whitney Gymnasium knew it. One year earlier, in 1960-61, the Crimson, captained at the time by future U. S. National Security Advisor Tony Lake and having lost the top five players from the 1960 Ivy League championship team to graduation, had come incredibly close to completing and culminating what would have been a miracle undefeated season before falling agonizingly short in a 5-4 loss to Yale in which several airtight matches, including Lake’s, had barely slipped away. Now, with the Ivy League title yet again coming down to the season-ending Harvard-Yale meet between the two undefeated arch-rivals, the Yale formula that had worked so well all season was once again playing out exactly as the Elis, top-heavy with stand-out products of the venerable Merion Cricket Club junior program, had laid it out.

   All year long Yale had successfully relied on its powerful top trio of Ralph Howe (who would capture the Intercollegiate Individual title that year and the next), Bob Hetherington and George West to sweep the Nos. 1-3 slots. They also knew that they had a guaranteed win in senior three-year letterman and former No. 5 player Joe Holmes at No. 9, which meant that they only had to pick up one match in the Nos. 4-8 slots to clinch the team outcome. They had already gotten the expected wins from Howe, Hetherington and West, as well as the needed mid-lineup victory from Fred Smith, who edged out John Vinton by a single point at No. 7.

   For their part, the Harvard players, beset by illness for much of the season (with three of their number, including captain Roger Wiegand, felled for long stretches by mononucleosis), had mustered four wins of their own, including one by Wiegand after he trailed Yale’s Charlie Frank 2-0, 14-11, to deadlock the team tally at four matches apiece. But in the last remaining match on court, at No. 9, the dependable and undefeated Holmes, a talented racquets man in several sports and later an eight-time national age-group platform-tennis champion, three-time national squash tennis doubles champion and two-time national squash tennis singles runner-up, though surprisingly pushed to a fifth game (after leading two games to love) by Crimson sophomore John Francis, had inexorably marched to a commanding 11-6 lead. The outcome, and with it a second straight undefeated season, Ivy League title and 5-4 win over Harvard, now seemed well in hand.

   Certainly no one in the arena, not the visibly confident Elis (including in particular one young woman in front who was wearing a Yale scarf and boisterously cheering every time Holmes added to his tally), not the increasingly discouraged Harvard supporters, and not anyone else, could have possibly sensed it at the time, but in the nine spellbinding points that followed, all of which landed in Francis’s column, a dynasty of unequaled proportions would be born, the history and trend of the most venerated rivalry in college squash would be permanently transformed, and the legend of the greatest coach in the annals of college squash would be burnished to a degree that still reverberates today, more than a half-century later. Francis’s nine-point run to glory jump-started a Harvard dual-meet winning streak over Yale that would span TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS, as well as a 15-year skein from 1962-76 in which the Crimson teams, led by their bespectacled and avuncular but peerless coach John Morton “Jack” Barnaby II, who retired at the end of that 1975-76 campaign, would earn either the regular-season NCAA nine-man national championship or the postseason six-man championship, later christened the Potter Cup, or (usually) both. Never before or since has a college squash program accomplished this feat over such a lengthy time span.

    By the time Francis’s match ended, he had become so overcome by ecstasy blended with exhaustion as to render him nearly incoherent for a few moments. He would become a legendary figure in his own right by again displaying his penchant for season-rescuing eleventh-hour comebacks two years later when, as a senior, he rallied, this time at No. 8, from 10-14 to 17-14 against Cuthbert “Cuffy” Train in the deciding match of Harvard’s season-defining 1964 5-4 victory over Princeton. In both matches Francis relied heavily on his hard serve (which he would “save” for crisis moments) to key those late-fifth-game comebacks. In both matches he benefited by the several errors each of his opponents committed as the momentum swung against them. And in the Holmes match he wouldn’t have even played at No. 9 had he not barely (15-14 in the fifth) survived a challenge match against No. 10 player Clark Grew just prior to the Yale meet.


   In a way it was poetic justice that Francis, who forever afterwards would be affectionately referred to by Barnaby as “my clutch player,” emerged from that 1962 clash with Yale sporting the hero’s mantle. Barnaby more than any other coach recognized that a win at No. 9 counted just as much as a win at No. 1, and he consciously made a point of boosting his lower-tier players in accordance with a philosophy of “coaching deep” that made everyone in the Crimson program truly feel like an important member of the team, no matter their position on the varsity ladder. Barnaby is best known to history for the extraordinary numbers that his teams compiled during his nearly 40 years at the helm --- 17 national crowns, 16 Ivy League titles, 10 postseason six-man championships, 378 wins, a .929 winning percentage (91-7) in Ivy League competition. Eight of his players (namely Kim Canavarro in ’40, Henry Foster in ’51, Charlie Ufford in ’52 and ’53, Ben Heckscher in ’56 and ’57, Victor Niederhoffer in ’64, Anil Nayar in ’67, ’68 and ’69, Larry Terrell in ’70 and Peter Briggs in ’72 and ’73) won a total of 13 Intercollegiate Individual championships, and four members of that octet  --- Heckscher, Niederhoffer, Nayar and Briggs --- went on to win the U. S. Nationals as well.

    But these statistics, compelling as they are as measurements of Barnaby’s coaching accomplishments --- while contemporaneously guiding the men’s varsity tennis team as well throughout that four-decade span to a 371-158 record and six Eastern Intercollegiate Tennis Association  (EITA)/Ivy League titles --- barely scratch the surface of how many lives he deeply affected, how far his influence extended, how he reveled in the achievements of “supporting cast”  players like Francis, whose successes meant at least as much, perhaps more, to him as those of his superstars, and how enduring and inspirational a legacy he had created by the time he passed away in February 2002 at the age of 92. He is survived by Charlotte, his wife of 61 years (known as Chussy, and still alive at age 98 as of this Spring 2014 writing), and their three children, John Robbins “Rob” Barnaby, Charles Spencer “Chip” Barnaby and Margaret Bouton Barnaby, as well as one grand-child, Nicholas Robbins Barnaby, the son of Chip and his wife, Cynthia Birr.

    Briggs singled out Coach Barnaby as the only constant in his life during the turbulent period of the late-1960’s and early-1970’s while the Vietnam war raged, the civil rights movement convulsed American youth and a host of other contentious issues roiled every college campus in America. Glenn Whitman, who as a member of the class of ’74 succeeded Briggs as captain and whose runner-up finish in that year’s Intercollegiate championship marked the eighth time in a nine-year period in which a Harvard player reached this tournament’s final, praised the freedom which Jack granted to his players to integrate their commitment to the squash team into the larger context of their overall liberal arts educational experience at Harvard.

    Dinny Adams ’66 admiringly noted his coach’s unique ability to develop players of widely varying traits, maximizing each player’s potential and talents --- an especially meaningful statement coming from a player who, despite having what he described as somewhat limited athletic skills, played No. 1, won many matches for Harvard, served as team captain and later made it into the top 10 in the United States Squash Racquets Association (USSRA) rankings. He also played No. 1 on the first American team entered in the World Team Championships in softball in Johannesburg in 1973.

    Jay Nelson ’62, who went undefeated during his two varsity seasons and contributed a key win to that 5-4 dynasty-launching ’62 victory over Yale, later earning more than 25 national age-group titles, related how heavily his mentor’s obvious respect for the game had influenced the way Nelson himself came to view a sport that he had previously under-valued. And Dave Fish ’72, captain of the Harvard squads in both squash and tennis, who courageously succeeded Barnaby as head coach of both programs and went on to compile an enormously impressive record in his own right, marveled at the extraordinary and rare blend of professorial sophistication and boyish enthusiasm that imbued his role model’s attitude throughout Jack’s seven decades of direct association with Harvard racquet sports.