IT HARDLY SEEMS RIGHT
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.
US SQUASH ELBOWS
NEW YORK ELBOWS
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 storied "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.
HOLLAND SQUASH REVISITED
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 players.
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.
US 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.
Unfortunately, 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 ….
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.
WHAT BADLY NEEDS CHANGE ...
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:
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 addressed.
How could the three time national champion not be the clear #1 nationally ranked player with exemption from qualifying for the US Team?
A SENIOR TOURNAMENT SERIES OR CIRCUIT
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.
Some help here please !
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.
PRIVATE SCHOOL ("INDEPENDENT SCHOOL"), COLLEGE AND URBAN SQUASH COOPERATION
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 gap.
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 them.
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.
AN ASSIST TO PROMOTERS AND DEVELOPERS
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 Courts.
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 OUTREACH TOUR COMPLETES A DECADE ON A HIGH NOTE
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.