Barnaby – Dies at 92 in Lexington MA
By Ron Beck, Feb 14 2002
Jack Barnaby, the most
successful coach in Harvard athletic history, died Tuesday in a nursing home
in Lexington MA. He was 92.
Jack Barnaby was probably
the one most important influence on squash in the United States over the past
100 years. From his laboratory, the Harvard Squash Courts, he hatched many
of the most important squash champions in the hardball game.
Barnaby coached Benjamin
Heckscher, Charles Ufford,
Henry Foster, Anil Nayar, Jay Nelson, Dinny Adams, Victor Niederhoffer, Larry
Terrell, Dave Fish, Peter Briggs, Bill Kaplan, and Michael Desaulniers. Barnaby
coached Men’s Squash and Tennis at Harvard from 1937 to 1976. During those
39 years, Barnaby’s teams won 745 matches, 17 National Squash Championships
and 16 Ivy league titles. His squash teams had a winning percentage of 346-95
(.785) ! After retiring as men’s coach, Barnaby coached women’s squash at
Harvard from 1979-1982.
One of his most important
coaching successes was the development
of Victor Niederhoffer. Niederhoffer, who
had not played squash prior to entering Harvard, won the National Intercollegiate
Championship in 1964 and went on to challenge Sharif Khan for preeminence
in the North American Game in the 1970s.
A key to Barnaby’s
brilliance as a coach was his ability to adapt his coaching advice to
take advantage of the particular physical and intellectual talents of
Jack Lambert wrote
in Harvard Magazine in 1976: "A recurrent theme [of Barnaby] is the
importance of identifying the specific talents of each individual and
then building a winning game on those strengths–in Barnaby’s words, getting
each player “to be himself to a very high degree of excellence.” Men’s
tennis coach Dave Fish ’72, who has played and coached under Barnaby,
observes that the nine athletes on Barnaby’s varsity team might call for
nine different styles of coaching."
Barnaby was famous
for his fascination with the details of the game — and for his ability
to convey those details to his students. Victor Niederhoffer said, "Jack
was like a piano teacher, breaking the game down into exercises."
Barnaby also had
a strong emphasis on character. Dave Fish, one of his players and his
successor as Harvard Squash Coach told the Boston Globe
today that he saw Barnaby as the "John Wooden of racquet sports"
for his emphasis on good sportsmanship and good character — though he
was also a strong proponent of gamesmanship, which he covers in depth
in his books on squash.
Barnaby, for all
of his close ties to the amateur world of squash exemplified by the Ivy
Leagues, was right there when the Game went "open" in the mid
1970s in the USA. It was Barnaby’s most famous student, Victor Niederhoffer,
who was a driving force behind the opening up of the game in the mid 70s
and the formation of the World Professional Squash Association (WPSA).
Barnaby was an enthusiastic supporter of the WPSA, and was very actively
involved in the organization of the teaching pro side of the WPSA. Barnaby
largely developed from scratch (drawing on similar approaches in Tennis)
the methodology for certifying squash professionals to teach the game.
Barnaby, for all
his legendary status, was completely down to earth and loved by most of
his players. In 1979, when I was up for WPSA teaching certification, Jack
got out on court with me, gave me my test, and while hitting a few balls
with me, gave me some tips on coaching.
Jack Barnaby did
so many little things that made it clear that he cared about his players
as people as well as competitors. Peter Briggs, one of his star players
in the 70s, was especially moved when Jack Barnaby made a point of coming,
from retirement, to the Intercollegiates Championships dinner in 1994,
when Briggs was inducted into the NISRA College Squash Hall of Fame. "It
made such an impact on me at that time," Peter recently recalled,
"to know that Jack cared about me so much that he drove all the way
to the dinner to see me get that honor."
wrote a book on the game, "Winning Squash Racquets" in
1979, which summed up his knowledge of the game. Although written for
the hardball game, many aspects of the book covered the mental approach
to the game — just as relevant to today’s players.
In addition to being
a great coach, Barnaby was a fine player. He was a member of the 1932
Harvard Team that won the Intercollegiate Championship and reached the
semi-finals of the individual Intercollegiate Tournament that year. Barnaby
recalls in his book his practice sessions with the great champion Germain
Glidden was peaking to win his first Nationals in 1936, we played each
other several times a week in a rivalry I have always cherished. We usually
began in a friendly way, but always quickly developed into a serious match.
So totally did we focus on each point that we continually forgot the score.
At the end of a prolonged exchange, neither of us could remember it. We
developed the habit of asking a spectator to keep track. Each separate
point was a match in itself, requiring every atom of our attention and
effort. At the end of each of these practice matches, I always felt fatigued
mentally as well as physically."
Jack Barnaby was
honored as a charter member of the NISRA College Squash Hall of Fame in
1990. The new Harvard Squash complex is named in Barnaby’s honor. In addition
to playing a key role in the fledgling WPSA, he had also served as president
of the US Professional Tennis Association and the Youth Tennis Foundation
of New England.
But more than any
of those, the place that Jack Barnaby, the coach and mentor, retains in
the thoughts and hearts of generations of Harvard Squash and Tennis players,
was far more meaningful to him than any other honor.