Harry Conlon, 1952 National Champion
YOUNGEST PLAYER TO WIN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP IN USA
SquashTalk Player Profiles
2004, By Rob Dinerman © 2002 SquashTalk
"SQUASH NOMAD" FIT SQUASH IN AROUND THE WORLD
youngest player ever to win the U. S. Nationals and the first to do so
while an active member of the armed services of the United States, Harry
During the next several years, he would go over to the University Club almost every day after school to practice by himself, receive coaching from his father if he was not too busy or practice with club players such as Henry Jocoy, Jinx Johnson, Bob Rich or Bill Johnson, among others, who might come in during the afternoons without a scheduled partner.
From a truly inauspicious beginning in the autumn of '47 as a participant on the YMCA team in the newly formed C class Buffalo league, the slender but cat-quick teenager swiftly perfected all the front-court shots and developed rifle-like shots off the back wall. After losing the '50 city singles final to local legend Monty Pooley, Conlon won that event the following year, but his squash prospects appeared to be effectively doomed, or at least severely constrained, when a few months later he joined the United States Air Force following his high school graduation and was assigned to Scott Field, Illinois, with duties in cryptography.
However, by chance his base commander was a club-level squash enthusiast from nearby St. Louis, and when the latter realized the talent level of his young charge he encouraged him to play regularly both on the base and in St. Louis. This fortuitous circumstance enabled Conlon to participate in a number of tournaments in the area during the 1951-52 season, including the Western Championship, the biggest event in the region, where he lost in the final round to the reigning two-time National Champion Ed Hahn.
TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Conlon, by contrast, largely eschewed the volley, preferring to play many balls off the back wall, where his exceptional late wrist action enabled him to whip the ball past his bigger but less agile opponent, often wrong-footing him and keeping him off balance both with this stroking style and with his penchant for attempting daring shots even from difficult positions when he thought the benefit was worth the risk. Merion by that juncture had produced more than a half-dozen National Champions, while Buffalo was considered a backwater squash city, but it was the Buffalonian Conlon who eventually prevailed, surmounting two difficult mid-match lost overtime games in the process and drawing relentlessly away in the mid-portion of the decisive fifth game of the exciting, back-and-forth 15-12 14-15 15-11 16-18 15-8 victory that ensconced him, at age 19 and only four short years removed from his debut as a Buffalo C player, as the youngest person ever to win this championship, a distinction he still holds today.
The following year Conlon made a memorable attempted defense of this title, despite being stationed virtually throughout the intervening 12 months in Thule, Greenland, where there are no squash courts, despite not playing in a single competitive event during that time (while all his competitors were honing their games in the dozen tourneys comprising the amateur circuit) and despite taking only a couple of weeks' leave just before the '53 Nationals to prepare for it. Inspired by the occasion and by the supportive presence that weekend of his hometown fans (the Nationals was held in Buffalo that year), Conlon barely edged out another future USSRA Hall Of Famer, Henri Salaun, who would get his revenge in another exciting five-game match in the Nationals five years later and who along with his great rival Mateer would win seven of the next eight Nationals during the period from 1954-61
His duties also took him at various times to North Africa, Guam, Alaska, Seattle, Mississippi, California, Colorado (where he won the state singles and doubles titles), and Washington D. C., the most squash-friendly of his stations, where he served three separate tours, during which he was able to win the Woodruff-Nee and Saucon Valley invitational tournaments while reaching the finals of the prestigious Harry Cowles, Gold Racquet and Atlantic Coast Invitationals. During the latter stages of Conlon's 26-year career in the Air Force, he was stationed at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where his duties primarily revolved around the Cadet Athletic Department. He eventually became the Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of all the cadet athletic fields, field house and gymnasium and assisted (completely understandably) with the Cadet Club squash program.
his country for more than a quarter-century, Conlon retired in 1977, settled
in Colorado and spent 20 years working for a telephone company before
retiring for good in 1997. Now in his early 70's, he was elected to the
Buffalo Squash Racquets Association Hall Of Fame in 2002 (joining such
inducted luminaries as '73 Nationals runner-up Bob Hetherington and '79
North American Open finalist Gordy Anderson), though he was unable to
attend the induction ceremony in person. His good lifelong friend and
contemporary Ed Jocoy, himself well placed for a number of years in the
USSRA amateur and age-group rankings and the son of one of Conlon's first
practice partners more than a half-century ago, accepted the plaque on
Conlon's behalf and paid tribute to the accomplishments of one of the
most unique figures in the history of squash in this country.
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