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In Memory of Ed Hahn, Detroit’s Champion

Edward J. Hahn, Two-Time
National Champion

By Rob Dinerman, February
4 2002 © 2002

(thanks to contributions from Richard Austin, photos of Ed Hahn courtest the
Hahn family.)  

Edward J. Hahn, who stunned
the squash world more than a half-century ago by becoming the first midwesterner
to win the USSRA Nationals, then accentuated this accomplishment by doing
it again one year later, passed away on December 13, 2001 at his home in Wayne,
NJ at the age of 88. Hahn was cited by The Detroit News as the 6th most important
amateur athlete in Detriot history. (July
31, 2001, Joe Falls)

Ed Hahn Hoists one of his Veteran’s
Trophies

Born in New York, where
he later worked as a cop during the years immediately prior to World War II,
Hahn first moved to Detroit in 1934 before spending a few years managing a
health club in St. Louis. Ed served in the Signal Corps during World War Two
and was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions in combat in New Guinea. After
serving during the war years, he returned to Detroit, where his involvement
in the game began in earnest.

His brother, Joseph T.
Hahn, several years older, who would eventually serve as USSRA President from
1961-63, was a much more extroverted and forceful presence, while by contrast
Ed was content to take a much lower profile. Behind his quiet and gentlemanly
demeanor, though, was a steely determination to win, as the traditional powers
back east would discover first-hand in 1950, when that year’s National Championships
were hosted by the University Club of New York.

AN UNKNOWN ON THE EAST
COAST IN ’50

The first 53 editions of this the most important squash championship of that
era had all been won by players who hailed from either Philadelphia, New York
or Boston, were in their 20’s or at most early 30’s, had attended (or, in
the case of a few undergraduate winners, were attending) Ivy League schools
and had memberships in exclusive private clubs.

Ed Hahn with his famous black
canvas basketball shoes.

Hahn, a former basketball
player who throughout his career was clad in high-top coal-black canvas basketball
shoes, was remarkably atypical in that he fit into NONE of those categories,
a fact which also meant that he entered the rarefied atmosphere of that national
tournament as a virtual unknown. He trailed the formidable and multi-titled
Cal McCracken two games to one in the quarters before rallying through the
final two games, while in the top half’s other quarter top-seeded Diehl Mateer
was shocked by the upset-causing heroics of Pittsburgh’s Jack Isherwood, who
was spent by this career-highlight effort and offered little resistance to
Hahn in their ensuing straight-set semi.

This brought the unseeded
Hahn to the final round, where he would face a similarly unexpected finalist
in New York’s Dick Rothschild, a well-known player who was on a major run
of his own in which he had already defeated first four-time National Champion
Stanley Brinton in the quarters and then Boston’s Roger Bakey in the semis.

There was great anticipation
flowing through the packed cathedral-like gallery of the University Club’s
main exhibition courts before this final between two heretofore unheralded
contestants, but the match itself proved an anti-climax, as Rothschild, like
Isherwood before him, had already spent himself in his pre-Hahn exploits while
Hahn himself, ironically the far older player at age 37, was inexorable throughout
his 30-minute 15-4, 15-10 and 17-14 victory.

HUMIDITY AND FOOTWEAR
Both Hahn’s conditioning level and his adaptability served him well this weekend,
whose unseasonable warmth both sapped the energy of his victims and nullified
shotmaking to a degree that frustrated several of his opponents. Though possessed
of a fine touch himself, Hahn understood the limitations this weekend’s climate
imposed on that approach and he instead resourcefully ground his way to this
prestigious championship.

One other noteworthy aspect
of that weekend’s evolution was the distinctive footwear worn by both participants
in the final. Hahn’s aforementioned presentation differed dramatically from
the norm in both model and especially in color in that whites-only era, while
Rothschild played in stylish white saddle-soled shoes bound across the middle
by a brown leather band. Neither was responding to any orthopedic or medical
exigency; both simply felt more comfortable in their respective choices, which
normally would seem better suited to a Harlem asphalt playground or a country
fair than to the court environs of the University Club.

EAST COAST ARROGANCE
Though there was a certain grudging respect for Hahn’s accomplishment that
weekend in Manhattan, there was also an element, especially among the USSRA
establishment in the northeastern corridor, which viewed squash as “their”
game, that Hahn’s title had been something of a fluke. After all, rather than
defeating the top seeds head-to-head, he had instead been the beneficiary
of a draw that had broken in such a way as to allow him to win both his semi-final
and final against lesser known opponents who had knocked off the top seeds
for him and exhausted themselves in the process.

There was still a tendency
at that time for Easterners in the squash world to look down their noses at
players from other parts of the country and to regard them almost as interlopers.
Throughout the interceding 12 months between Hahn’s win in New York and the
1951 event at the Lake Shore Club in Chicago, the feeling therefore was that
Hahn was something short of a deserving National Champion who had better enjoy
his status while he could because in Illinois the title would return back
east where it belonged.

Boston’s Roger Bakey pressed
him hard in their semi-final, but Hahn survived that test and moved on to
the final, where he faced another Bostonian 13 years his junior in the person
of Henri Salaun.

MEMORABLE BATTLE WITH
SALAUN

The latter, who would go on to win the Nationals four times (in 1955, 1957,
1958 and 1961) while establishing a legendary rivalry with Diehl Mateer, was
entering his first Nationals final. He had broken a string in the only racquet
he brought to Chicago in his semi-final match and therefore had to borrow
one of Bakey’s racquets for the final, an ironic development for someone who
later became a highly successful proprietor of a sports equipment company
specializing in racquet sales, including a number of models that bear his
name! Salaun, who liked to play with loosely-strung racquets, had to make
do with Bakey’s models, which were extremely tightly strung. Though this disparity
caused Salaun some understandable adjustment problems at the final’s outset,
he nevertheless earned a two games to one lead before falling behind in the
fourth game and deciding to let that game go and prepare for the all-or-nothing
fifth.

Years later Salaun lamented
this decision, feeling that had he pressed the 38-year-old Hahn all the way
through the fourth game he might not have rescued the game but at least he
likely would have depleted him and left him more vulnerable in the fifth game.
Instead, a fresh Hahn got on a hot shooting spree, volleying a series of sharply-hit
nicks and winners that brought him to a seemingly insurmountable 10-1 lead.

Ed Hahn as a Veterans
Player.

Twenty-four years later,
in the semi-finals of the 1975 Veterans (i. e. 40-and-over) Nationals, the
49-year-old Salaun, who this time found himself operating from the opposite
end of the age gap in his match with 40-year-old Pete Bostwick, would face
the identical formidable deficit and close to 12-14 before surrendering that
match and with it his last chance to add a seventh National Veterans title
to a trophy chest which has been swollen by national age-group crowns at every
subsequent age-group level.

In Chicago, Henri would
actually exceed the dimensions of his later rally against Bostwick and balance
Hahn’s enormous edge with a 12-3 run of his own that squared the fifth game
at 13-all! A beleaguered Hahn called “no-set” and after a pair of split points,
with the 1951 National Championship riding on a single point, Hahn’s patience
through a nerve-wracking series of left-wall exchanges paid off when Salaun
impetuously tried to blow a rail by Hahn and, perhaps in part due to the unfamiliar
tightness of his borrowed racquet, over-hit the ball to such a degree that
it soared just above the back wall boundary and landed in the first row right
in the unwelcoming lap of a fan who had placed a bet on Salaun to win! With
his successful defense, albeit by an irreducibly slender margin, of the National
title, Hahn had created a legacy for himself that could no longer be challenged.

AGE GROUP FEATS
Not that his 1950 accomplishment should have been questioned in the first
place, especially in view of the Canadian Singles championship he also won
that year, but there were many more important titles to follow. Despite being
age-eligible for the Veterans event by 1953, when he attained his 40th birthday,
Hahn continued to play, and play well, in the regular Men’s event until 1958,
when he emulated his 1950-1951 Men’s duet by winning the Veteran’s tourney
in both 1958 and 1959. That latter win, like its counterpart eight years earlier,
required him to rally from a two games to one deficit, this time against Victor
Elmaleh, now age 83, who was always regarded as a tough competitor, and who
recently recalled how mentally tough Hahn showed himself to be in winning
those last two games of their final 43 years ago.

When the National Seniors
flight (for players age 50 and over) was inaugurated in 1967, Hahn won the
event that year and again in 1969 at age 56. He also teamed with his brother
Joe to win the Men’s National Doubles in Philadelphia in 1955, even though
both were well into their forties at the time, which made them the oldest
team ever to win this title, a replay of Hahn’s status in becoming the oldest
winner of the Singles several years earlier.

DOUBLES DOMINANCE
He combined with Howard Davis(one of his teammates 30 years earlier when Hahn
led the Detroit team to the 1947 USSRA National Team Championship) to win
the Senior Doubles in 1967, where they defeated defending champions Treddy
Ketcham and James Ethridge in the final. Ketcham, who teamed with Ethridge
to defeat Hahn and his partners in several other Senior Doubles finals, fondly
recalled his left-wall battles with Hahn and remembered him, like so many
others interviewed for this article, as quiet and a gentleman off the court
and also quiet but a fierce competitor on it. By compiling this plethora of
achievements in both singles and doubles on the National level, Hahn paved
the way for those from the midwest and West Coast who followed his example
and thereby helped (“forced” might be a more accurate word) the USSRA to expand
its previously limited horizons.

REGIONAL ROUNDUP
His record in regional competition was phenomenal and extended over the course
of several decades. For example, he won the Michigan State Singles title for
FIFTEEN straight years from 1948-1962 and again in 1964. He also won the Detroit
City Championship several times in the early 1960’s and the State Doubles
crown, which wasn’t inaugurated until late in his career, on four occasions,
the last of which occurred in 1967, by which time he was 54 years old.

Additionally, Hahn was
Western Squash Singles champion 11 times during this same lengthy period,
a testimony to both his ability and his longevity, while serving as President
of the Michigan Squash Racquets Association and for many years as the Michigan
representative to the USSRA Board of Directors.

HALL OF FAMER
Elected to the Michigan
Amateur Sports Hall of Fame in 1976, he also subsequently became a member
of the New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame after moving to that state in 1967 to
join his brother Joe as Sales Manager of Joe’s Clairmont Cadillac in Montclair,
where he worked for 15 years before retiring in 1982 at age 69. His older
brother Joe, a USSRA Honorary Life Member who was National Veterans runner-up
seven straight years from 1950-56, died in April 1982 at age 76; his son Tommy
ran Clairmont Cadillac for a number of years after his father’s death.

Ed is survived by his wife of more than
60 years, Vivian, their son Eddie Jr., and daughter Mary Ann Hayes, four grandchildren
and two great grandchildren.
He
deserves to be admiringly remembered for his quiet and good-humored nature
and ready and genuine smile which belied the mental tenacity with which he
competed, and for the manner in which, through his presence and accomplishments,
he led by example, significantly broadened squash’s heretofore provincial
profile and helped make it truly a national game.

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