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"Guest Gallery" from Ron Beck

…Martin Bronstein is on vacation
… US Open wrested from Boston and Nimick … Dutch squash hotbed
revisited … US Squash firing on "one cylinder" …

Global Gallery,
July 15, 2007

The Monthly Round-up of the Interesting and
Inane of Squash this month from Ron Beck standing in for a vacationing
Martin Bronstein

© 2007 All
rights reserved.
all photos© 2007, Debra Tessier and Fritz Borchert


Event Engine’s John Nimick: Elbowed
out by US Squash
(Debra Tessier
photo:© 2007)

We will not
pretend to understand what has gone on behind the scenes this time.
Squashtalk has learned that US Squash, who recently have begun a move
to relocate from Philadelphia (where they were headquartered for decades)
to New York, have taken the US Open away from John Nimick and given
it to the promoters of last year’s Village Open in New York. No one
has announced this takeaway, but a careful perusal of the world squash
calendars will show it is true.


I briefly spoke to John Nimick about this, and while John
is always very diplomatic and spare with his words, he was clearly
unhappy. He said, "I told them the dates in early October didn’t make
sense in terms of the Boston sports market. A few weeks later they
simply called me and told me they were taking it away and moving it
to New York."


Now, I am sure that US Squash has their reasons, but to take
away an event from the most experienced professional squash promoter
in North America would require careful thought. And to move an event
which has been running very successfully and to capacity crowds, makes
no sense. Furthermore, US Squash appears to be punishing the knowledgeable
and loyal Boston squash audience, who have supported and made this event
thrive in so many ways, by moving it to New York.

I am sure that
the US Open will succeed in New York – the Village Open was a great
event last year (though playing in front of minimal audiences) – but
the way the move took place really smells, especially because it was
done so embarrassingly quietly – not even the breath of a press announcement.

Nimick indicates
he will still be running an event in Boston, which is still in planning,
"probably at the same venue I used last year and probably in the
January/February timeframe."
Nimick will be coming up with a new name – maybe bringing back the
"Boston Open" name, which brings back the tradition of many
famous moments in professional squash, including memorable battles
between Jahangir and Mark Talbott, Jahangir and Tommy Page, and Sharif
and Victor Niederhoffer, Mike Desaulniers, Peter Briggs and others.

Good luck John!
The squash community will be supporting you.


I was on vacation
in Holland in early June, and took the opportunity to stop in on one
of the satellite events that have been organized for budding pros by
promoter Tommy Berden. By the way, Berden will be bringing the squash
world the newly rejuvenated Dutch Open this fall.

I made the
drove up from Rotterdam to Almere to visit the satellite WISPA event
going on at the time, the Almere Open.

The Almere
squash venue is in one of those newly built Dutch communities, with
newly built streets and newly built homes and newly built sports facilities.
It’s one of dozens of bustling squash centers across Holland, and the
action was fast and furious in a number of amateur divisions in addition
to the WISPA event taking place. In fact, one of the intriguing matches
happening on a random court at a random time, was women’s world #2,
Natalie Grinham against a budding dutch pro, Sebastian Weenink. A fascinating
match. Weenink has a minimum of 15" in height on Grinham, but Grinham
had the fitness and guile when it was needed most.

But the real
story there came out in some conversations I had with Berden and later
on at dinner with L J Anjema in Den Haag.

Berden is determined
to give back to squash some of what he has gotten out of it and the
event he was running in Almere – which had him running back and forth
and on the move constantly – was the SEVENTH pro event he has run in
Holland this year. He is also working with a number of the up and coming
Dutch pro players, to help them schedule themselves, get training and
get sponsorship. Berden is giving this group of players a focal point
to organize their ambitions around.

One of the
"secret weapons" employed by this group of Dutch players
is fitness trainer Alistair McCaw. Anjema regaled me with stories of
the grueling workouts McCaw has devised for a group of dedicated pro

After listening
to Anjema’s stories, I am no longer surprised that Natalie Grinham,
Anjema, Orla Noom and a few others are amongst the fittest players
on tour today.

Squash – Firing on 1 1/2 Cylinders

The current
administration of US Squash has now been in place long enough to give
them a report card on the progress and momentum of US Squash.

the report card I might give shows that an engine that should be firing
on at least 8 well oiled cylinders in now firing on only about 1 1/2.


What’s going
well for US Squash can be summed up in two words: Junior squash. By
any measure, US junior squash is going well. Tournament participation
is up. Number of players and programs is going up. Quality of the top
players is going up (though it’s reached a plateau lately.)

This is not
a surprise – many of the current volunteers and providers of donations
and funding today in US Squash are doing so as parents of players who
are in the US junior squash program.

So the bulk
of the money, mindshare and organizational talent is going there. So
that’s one "cylinder" that receives an unqualified "A".

A second area
going reasonably well is the USA teams. Hard to knock a program, that
for the first time got two finalists in the Pan Am individuals, and
got a men’s silver medal. Of course, the silver medallist is Julian
Illingworth, who is the ultimate individualist and has very largely
done this on his own – and off the record is very outspoken in his
criticism of the lack of support and knowledge of what to do on the
part of US Squash.


With US Squash
going into a (closed) brainstorming session this August, from which
they are presumably going to emerge with some new "strategic initiatives,"
I would offer them a few suggestions:

These are a mess and largely nonexistent. I have long argued to anyone
who will listen that:

are NOT ratings. (Ratings are a "lifetime" judge of skill level;
rankings are your performance in a defined group of competitions
over a defined time period.)

Without Rankings
that the community has confidence in and aspires to, you will not
have the hook that draws the 900 college players graduating from
CSA competition into continuing competitive squash. It’s that simple.

Last time I
checked, US rankings were put into the hands of a (highly capable)
junior parent. There are major differences between what can make a
good junior ranking systems and a good senior one. These have not been

How could the
three time national champion not be the clear #1 nationally ranked
player with exemption from qualifying for the US Team?

Grade: "F"


US Squash
is scratching their heads. Why is adult participation "down" (they
measure this by participation in US Squash activities, by any other
measure there are more players!). Why is women’s participation "down"?

I can suggest
a clear reason: No structure or even partially organized national tournament
series. In the "old days" there was a well established tournament "circuit"
that ran from November to end of February, practically every weekend.
There were well understood "elite" events – the top five or six events
-and then the rest. (This tied back to rankings by the way). Based
on one’s performance in these events, one would earn a US ranking and
a seeding in the national tournament.

Some concentrated
focus in rebuilding a men’s and a women’s national tournament circuit
– with yearly national rankings tied to that circuit – would have major
beneficial fallout in many dimensions.

To date, their
only focus has been on a few "team selection events" – wholly ignoring
everyone out of the top eight in men’s and women’s squash.

Grade: "F"

Beyond the
Boston and New York Interclub leagues, which have decades of momentum
and tradition, this most fundamental of participatory squash focal
points is largely nonexistent, or at least so invisible we don’t
know about them.

Some help here
please !

Grade: "D"


There is a
very small, very dedicated cadre of qualified tournament referees in
the USA. This is a thankless task and US Squash, over the past four
years, has done almost nothing to support and bolster this activities.

I am not the
person to suggest what the details of such a program will be. What
I do know, is that this is an area requiring strong focus and leadership.
There are not enough qualified referees at present to support the
growing population of professional, national and junior tournaments.

Grade: "C"


US Squash has
almost completely dropped the ball on working with independent schools,
colleges and Urban squash programs. In fact the Urban squash programs
recently started their own national association to fill that yawning

The part that
US Squash doesn’t fully understand is that none of these three programs
need US Squash. Each of the three are growing, thriving, and firing
on all cylinders. But US Squash badly needs to work cooperatively with

Private School
squash represent, conservatively, 1500 high school age squash juniors.
Their activities, match play and facilities are totally under the radar
of US Squash. I am sorry, it has never made any sense to me that the
highly organized and high quality private school dual matches do not
count for national junior rankings.

CSA college
squash (by way of full disclosure, I serve as executive director of
college squash) represents about 900 of the best and most active squash
players in North America, and most of the best and largest and newest
squash facilities. But US Squash continues to pretend that college
squash doesn’t exist. No US Squash representative has attended the
finals of the national college championships in recent memory.

Urban squash
has grown up in full view of US Squash over the past ten seasons. But
US Squash here has completely dropped the ball (with the exception
of the short stint Palmer Page had as US Squash CEO, when he aggressively
pursued an Urban squash agenda – he realized its critical importance.
By the way, Palmer put his money where his mouth is, he is still a
big supporter of Urban Squash) The most important
movement in squash in American in the past five decades has happened
in ten short years without US Squash even coming up with a simple view
of how to participate and work with that phenomenon.


What’s the
latest big thing happening at US sports clubs? Well US Squash probably
doesn’t know. But it’s the conversion of racquetball courts to climbing
walls !!!

US Squash needs
to follow the lead of best-in-class national governing bodies, such
as New Zealand, who developed a strategic plan to help club owners
and promoters to develop best-in-class business models and to actively
promote participation. And the Kiwis have seen the payoff through an
upswing in activity over the past few years.

US Squash should
develop a business model for both a new fitness facilities and an existing
club. A pro forma business plan should show a fitness facility
owner how and why to invest in building squash courts will improve
their overall profitablility and membership. This should be done in
cooperation and partnership with court builders McWil and Anderson

To tie this
back up to the first topic (top of the page), I attended a session
a few years back hosted by John Nimick, in which he was trying to urge
US Squash to focus on sports club owners and getting sports clubs to
invest in squash. No followup ever from US Squash.

I would be
happy to pursue some of these ideas, constructively, with US Squash,
in their August "brainstrorming" meeting – but they haven’t invited
me and haven’t answered my emails to them.


WISPA Stars Grinham, David and Fitz-Gerald
in the world’s southernmost squash court
photo:© 2007)

Rumor has it
that the WISPA annual outreach tour, in which top WISPA stars visit
a developing squash region to catalyze the growth of women’s squash
(and squash in general) has run its course. This year’s tour, which
criss-crossed South America, may be the last of a series.

If so, it went
out on a high note. One of the most creative and valuable of the WISPA’s
various programs, this tour, which has gone to China, Nordic Coutries,
Eastern Europe, Africa, Russia and South America has been a brights
spot on a yearly basis.

By every account,
this year’s tour, which featured retired star Sarah Fitz-Gerald with
Rachael Grinham and Nicol David, was a rousing success.