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STILL
SWINGING AWAY

by Rob Dinerman


THE CONTINUING SAGA OF PETE BOSTWICK

 


New York. August 12, 2001 (rev Sept 14)
© 2001 Rob Dinerman for Squashtalk.com

In 1986, shortly after succeeding the
legendary Bob Lehman, who for more than four decades had been single-handedly
responsible for making the MSRA Annual Yearbook essentially the squash Bible,
I began a series looking back at MSRA legends of the past, re-examining and
paying tribute to their outstanding careers and updating the readership on
“Where They Are Now.”

Pete Bostwick Jr. in 1975; P. Mecca photographer

PREMATURE R.I.P.
It was pretty much a requirement that to be profiled one’s career had to be
essentially over, and of the three subjects chosen for the 1986-87 Yearbook(Glenn
Greenberg, John Reese and Pete Bostwick), the latter seemed the least likely
to have any significant achievements left in him –not only was he a full
decade older than the other two, he had also been plagued in the mid-80’s
by mounting hip problems which understandably were making the game increasingly
painful for him and which, in fact, resulted in hip replacements(on both legs!)
by early 1987. He seemed doomed to become another example of a long litany
of zealous athletes governed too much by their heart and not enough by their
head who wound up crippled by the very games they played and loved for so
long(for TOO long, in fact).

But while Greenberg and Reese(both of
whom were enormous fixtures in squash on both the regional and national fronts
for more than a decade)cooperatively adapted to squash retirement, Bostwick
spent several necessary recuperative seasons on the sidelines and then returned
in time to play in the ’90 55-and-over Nationals in Rochester, where he reached
the final and thus began a streak during which he played in 11 consecutive
Nationals, reaching the finals of both the 55’s and the 65’s, while also winning
the National ’55’s and 60’s singles crown and 11 out of 12 National 55’s Doubles
titles in the sport of court tennis, in which exacting discipline he had won
both the National Open and amateur championships several decades earlier.

READY FOR THE 01-02 SEASON
Only a torn meniscus in his left knee this past winter, which required arthroscopic
surgery in January, sidelined him during the 2000-2001 season and, with the
injury fully rehabilitated as of this late-summer writing, the 67-year-old
Bostwick fully plans to return to the competitive arena this autumn.

As should be evident from the foregoing,
Pete is one of the most multi-talented racquet and all-around athletes of
his (highly extended) era, having won several dozen national titles in court
tennis, tennis, hard racquets and squash over a period of five decades of
nearly constant competitive play.

GOLF AND HOCKEY DAYS
His days of athletic stardom date all the way back to ’53, when as a prep-schooler
at St. Pauls he won the New England Interschols in tennis, continued through
the New England Intercollegiate Golf title he won as a senior at Middlebury
in ’58 (while captain of the tennis team) and include a full quarter-century(’58-’83)as
a key member of the renowned St. Nicks hockey club. Mike Karin, an all-American
hockey player and hockey
teammate at Middlebury called Bostwick “the greatest amateur athlete I’ve
ever known.”

By playing in the U.S. Amateur championships(the
forbear of the U. S. Open)at Forest Hills in ’52 and later qualifying for
and competing in the ’59 golf U. S. Open at Winged Foot, he became one of
only three men(Ellsworth Vines and Frank Conner being the others)to play in
the Open championships in both of these sports; in fact Bostwick’s two-round
total of 153 at Winged Foot, while missing the cut by three strokes, was actually
one shot better than the score posted by Jack Nicklaus, who would win the
U.S. Amateur title a few weeks later and thereby launch what would become
a truly legendary career in that sport.

SQUASH TITLES
Pete’s two National squash titles were the ’75 National 40’s(keyed by a rousing
five-game semis over the shotmaking maestro Henri Salaun, who led 2-0 before
bowing to an inspired Bostwick rally)and the ’80 National 45’s, in which he
defeated defending champion Les Harding en route to the cup. He also won the
hard racquets Open Championship in ’69 and ’70 and annexed both the U. S.
Open and amateur titles in court tennis, in which sport he held the world
title from ’69-’72 before being dethroned by his older brother Jimmy.

By accomplishing this trifecta, Bostwick
became one of only three men(accompanied by Ralph Howe and Dick Squires)to
win National championships in three different racquet sports — and both Howe
and Squires depended on a doubles title in at least one of their three sports
to qualify for this elite list.

In fact, Bostwick’s exposure to and success
in such a plethora of sports, which poses a hindrance for many competitors(due
to the difficulty of navigating the often minor but always present tactical
and stroking differences between these games) actually became an advantage
for Pete, who often “cross-pollinates” i. e. uses a tactic from one racquet
game while playing another, thereby confusing an opponent unaccustomed to
the unfamiliar ploy confronting him.

GAME INNOVATIONS
As one example, Bostwick was one of the first hardball squash players to employ
the “working boast,” a kind of modified crosscourt very integral to hard racquets
but heretofore unknown in squash, and for years he was quite successful in
throwing his opponents off-balance with this maneuver, sometimes to a degree
that turned the entire flow of a match in his favor. That shot was in the
80’s used very frequently by such elite squash players as Gary Waite and Mark
Talbott, but its use in the late 60’s and early 70’s was unheard of before
Bostwick introduced it into his game and eventually into THE game. The heavier-than-normal
slice Pete puts on his finesse squash shots(especially his roll- and reverse-corners)also
has its roots in another racquet sport, namely court tennis.

This rare ability to convert a potential
hindrance into an advantage is not just confined to his drawing on a diverse
racquet background while molding a squash arsenal; when Bostwick’s hip problems
cut sharply into his mobility, he reacted both by sharpening up an already
potent short game and by becoming better than he had ever previously been
at anticipating what shot an opponent was about to hit.

LATE SQUASH BLOOMER
Because of the extent and diversity of his athletic commitments, Bostwick
did not take up competitive squash in earnest until ’71, when at the age of
36 he reached the quarters of the Nationals and won the prestigious Apawamis
Invitational, defeating the redoubtable duo of Palmer Page and Tom Poor in
the final two rounds and thereby earning the No. 8 season-end ranking. In
fact, Bostwick’s most salient squash legacy may be that of being the oldest
player to effectively compete at the highest echelon of the sport’s amateur
ranks; two years after those ’71 exploits, he reached the quarter-finals of
the Men’s Nationals while earning another top-ten ranking, and the following
season he almost repeated his Apawamis win, rallying from down 1-2 to defeat
the formidable Jay Nelson and pushing Mexican star Juan deVillafranca to the
limit in the ensuing final before bowing 15-13 in the fifth.

As late as ’77, at the age of 42, he recorded
a top-15 national men’s ranking while for nearly two decades playing a major
role on the highly successful Racquet and Tennis A Team, for which he won
a crucial match in the ’81 play-off finals in five games against a much younger
and stronger opponent to help clinch another league title. After the 1974-75
season, during which he won his first age-group National squash championship,
the MSRA awarded him the coveted Eddie Standing Trophy “For Sportsmanship
Combined With Excellence In Play.”

Bostwick, Sr.,
Legendary Polo
Player

ATHLETIC ROOTS
Bostwick’s main source of athletic
inspiration, as so often happens in the
case
of outstanding performers, were the achievements and example of his father,
Pete Sr., who was a world-class polo player and a huge contributor to six
U. S. Open Polo Championships. Many aficionados of that demanding sport feel
that the Greentree team the senior Bostwick played on, especially during the
glory years of ’35 and ’36 when most members were at their peak, may have
been the greatest contingent of all time, featuring as it did such luminaries
as Tommy Hitchcock(widely regarded as the world’s greatest player of his era),
Jack Whitney, John Hays and Gerald Balding along with Mr. Bostwick.

The latter’s proficiency in and devotion
to his chosen sport remained literally to the last moment of his life; in
January of ’82, while riding out for the final period of a close polo match,
the 72-year-old Bostwick suffered a massive heart attack and died almost immediately,
slumping forward onto the neck of but(apocryphal-sounding but actually true)never
falling off his beloved mount, a testimony to the bond the two had formed
over their many years of collaboration and (as family members noted once they
had recovered from their shock)a poetically appropriate ending to a wondrous
and very fulfilling life.

There are athletic genes on Pete’s mother’s
side as well, particularly in the accomplishments of his two great-aunts,
the Curtis sisters, Margaret and Harriet, who between them won a total of
four national amateur golf championships(playing eachother in fact in the
finals one year), with Margaret adding a national amateur tennis title as
well. The annual United States-vs.-England amateur women’s team golf competition,
the female counterpart to the Walker Cup, was named the Curtis Cup as a tribute
to the mark they made upon the sport.

As befits a legacy of this magnitude,
and however low-key their acknowledgement of this phenomenon, the Bostwicks
are a family that think dynastically, at least as far as sports(racquet sports
in particular)are concerned, and it is therefore not surprising that a number
of Pete’s children have made their own mark, sometimes with the partnership
of their famous father. His only son(another Pete), also played for the R
& T A Team, also played hockey for St. Nick’s(even also had hip problems),
while serving as MSRA President in the late 80’s, winning the Big Apple Open
in ’86 and collaborating in the winning of the national father-son court tennis
doubles championship in 1989.

Oldest daughter Catherine(better known
as Cackie), a basketball, field hockey and tennis legend at Pete’s alma mater
St. Pauls, was thought at one time to be the most talented racquet athlete
in the entire family, reaching in fact the final of the Women’s Squash Intercollegiates
in ’77(as a freshman, and in her first year of squash!) before a severe knee
injury the following year abruptly truncated what had to that point been a
meteoric rise in several racquet sports.

Though the recovery process from such
a searing mishap was slow and frustrating, she has recovered enough to co-earn
the father-daughter No. 7 national senior tennis ranking, with the pair winning
a number of Mixed Doubles tournaments in the Locust Valley part of northern
Long Island, where Pete lives and where he worked as a principal of a successful
brokerage firm until his retirement six years ago.

Another daughter, Janet, is the assistant
squash pro at the same Apawamis Club in Rye, NY where Pete enjoyed some of
his greatest squash achievements three decades ago, while the fourth child,
Lilly, is a solid squash and tennis player at Piping Rock, the Long Island
club to which the family has belonged for several decades. There are as well
a total of eleven grandchildren, many of whom will doubtless be eager to carry
the family banner in the years to come.

Notwithstanding the sheer statistical
measurements of the tally of titles, records and rankings comprising the swollen
resume of this remarkable sportsman, probably Pete’s most striking and enduring
characteristic is the continuing eagerness and enthusiasm he exudes for the
games he is constantly playing.

STILL SWINGING AWAY
Nearly a half-century after his first meaningful racquets victories, he seems
as excited as ever about whichever event is next on his brimming schedule
and the competitive challenge that he knows it will provide. In marked contrast
to those of even reasonably comparable vintage and achievement, who often
convey the impression either of knowing it all or being weary of it all, or
both, Pete remains highly interested in and willing to re-examine his views
on shots and stratagems. One gets the strong impression that he is still keen
to experiment with and refine his game; that his quest for perfection in these
tantalizingly(and occasionally maddeningly) imperfect racquet sports continues
as passionately as ever; and, in the ultimate triumph of the human soul, that
his incandescent youthfulness of spirit, undimmed by either his long list
of successes, his aching joints or his inexorably advancing years, has kept
and will continue to keep this extraordinary athlete, in a very real sense,
forever young.

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