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William Summers on 12 years at Princeton

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     the 73-74
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1962-74: 12 SEASONS TO REMEMBER by
William Summers

My time teaching squash to some great
gentlemen and competitors

Note: This reminiscence was prepared by
Bill Summers for the 100th Anniversary of Princeton Squash. As he was unable
to attend personally, he sent along this overview of his years at Princeton.

Bill Summers coached Princeton to its
first National Championship in twenty years in 1974. That season ushered in
a phenomenal decade of Princeton Squash prominence, though Summers left Princeton
in the Spring of ’74.

Bill Summers is the son of one of the
first US Professional Squash Champion, Jack Summers, who taught generations
of Boston players at the Boston Union Boat Club. Bill Summers was a talented
and wonderful squash player in his own right, appearing in the prestigious
Boston Open in 1972.

Among Summers accomplishments, besides
his Princeton coaching stint, included the founding of the Central NJ Squash
Racquets Association and a Squash coaching stint at Tufts University.

   

Dear Princeton Squashers:

What a great idea – 100 years of Princeton
Squash! It is a marvelous way to celebrate Princeton Squash history as well
as honoring all those outstanding men and women who contributed to its history
as players, coaches and friends.

Faith and I will be unable to attend your
gala function, but we send you all our best wishes for a most successful celebration,
and for many years to come.

I began my coaching career at the
University of Pittsburgh in 1957, and moved on to Princeton in ’62 when
Coach John Conroy encouraged me to apply for the job of Freshman Coach
as Dick Swinnerton was retiring. I was fortunate enough to earn the position,
so we moved to Princeton that fall. The Freshman teams were terrific,
and to say we had a ball is a gross understatement of the fact.

Probably what was most exciting was each
year to talk most of the top freshmen tennis players into trying squash, and
to see them take to the game like ducks to water. We were quite successful
in the win/loss column over the years, but I believe our most success was
in developing maturing young men into knowledgeable, brilliant, smart, well
balanced people who had the ability to compete at, or near the highest level,
and still enjoy what they were doing.

I enjoyed filling their heads with squash
knowledge, expanding their comfort zone, from fairly small, and compact, to
including just about everything there was to know about the game. I charted
every shot of many matches, and printed up a squash pamphlet I distributed
to all the players. Later, that was included in a squash book dedicated to
me.

There were no surprises when they played.
They had heard and seen it dozens of times when we played, so they were
familiar with all phases of the game. I must say, with all due respect,
there were those who were unable to take to direct one-on-one coaching,
so I had to devise ways of getting the information across to them. To
some, my coaching techniques were so subtle they were unaware I was still
teaching and coaching them, but I still got the message through to their
inner self.

Coach Summers
at 70

Throughout my coaching and teaching
career, From Pitt through Tufts, my main focus
was
to educate EVERY student-athlete no matter their level of expertise when
they came to one of my teams. I owed them .every bit of all I had every
single day of every single year. I do admit that I inherited great kids,
all who volunteered to play on my teams, so I was not faced with students
who were forced to come out for squash. That gave me the chance to work
with open minds, kids who got a kick out of life at every step.

I apologize for using the word “kids”,
but in my mind, I kind of adopted them as my own for the time I had them
as players, and they were my “kids”. I respected them and admired them
well beyond any understanding they may have had, and every one of them
were most important to me in my heart and soul.

That is why I kept a huge squad, and that
is why I worked so hard with those who experienced a bit of learning problem
and adapting to the program as team players even though it was an individual
effort when they were competing. It would have been the easy way out just
to kick an upstart off the team, but that wasn’t my way. Each kid was important,
and deserved the very best I could give them.

Coach Summers

And to this day, I know I was right
in giving a thousand percent to each of my students. Those who had problems
did not get kicked off the team. We worked it out together, and they ended
up as great contributors to our success in the win/loss column, but more
successful in becoming more well rounded, stable, positive individuals.
It was always my thought that if I could educate my students to be good
citizens, I would have outstanding athletes, but if I ignored the fact
they were just young men still growing up, and taught them to just to
hit a ball I would have failed my purpose as a teach and as a coach. I
was proud of every young man I coached for the way they conducted themselves,
the way they competed, the way they represented the University, and its
alumni, the way the represented their team and their coach, and the way
they presented themselves. It was my “reward”, my satisfaction of a job
well done to see these young men mature and develop into outstanding people.

It was my fortune to have been able to
work with them instead of some other coach at some other university. These
kids were the best, and they showed it every time they went out from Princeton
to compete against another team. And, better than that, they earned the respect
of the opposing coaches and players, and all those who ever saw them as competitors.
This is what I remember of my Princeton kids, and of the great times we had.

I suppose any highlights of my Princeton
coaching career would be interesting to hear, but there are three that
stand out. The first, and best, has to be the fact that I had such great
kids to work with, and play for me. The second had to be those end-of-the-season
banquets when I had the chance to lighten the entire season by presenting
the broken squash racquets awards to all the members of the team – the
Classic Stroke Award, and all the rest. Each person left me with ever
wonderment of the youthful spirit and energy, of the joyful exuberance
of life, and I chose to celebrate that individual flair with a Broken
Squash Racquets Award.

And, finally, as far as the win/loss
column is concerned, our spectacular 5-4 win over Harvard AT HARVARD
in ’74 to win the National Intercollegiate Championship for the first
time since ’55 was the highlight of my 12 years at Princeton. And, it
happened to be my last year. That was special because it was the culmination
of everything we had put into the sport, all the hard work, all the practices,
all the travel, all the sacrifice, the ups and downs of emotion, and still
to put that match in its perspective at that time, and to put everything
on the line; all the knowledge, all the maturity, all the skill and abilities,
and still play as sportsmen, by the rules, was their finest hour.

I remember thinking about the upcoming
match earlier on and how I would present the match to my players. I knew I
had great kids, and I reminded them constantly of that fact, that they were
smarter, and knew as much, if not more squash than the opponent did, and to
win all you had to do is win the last point. a tongue-in-cheek comment, but
with reason. It told them that to win, you had to do your best ALL THE WAY.
Part way would not get the job done. And by concentrating on the last point,
whenever that might come up, I knew they had it in themselves to win the last
point. And, if enough players could achieve that goal they would win the match.
But, in any case, as I always told them, regardless of their win or loss,
they were still winners with me. And still are.

And finally, just before the Princeton-Harvard
squash match began to determine the championship of the intercollegiate
world, I had a team meeting as we always had prior to any match, and I
remember telling the team one simple fact – if we are to beat Harvard
today we must have their help. When you go in the court, get loosened
up, and
get into the flow. Be
cool, and patient. Once you feel comfortable in chasing down balls, and
getting them back to the front wall, and getting back into position, then
let them show you where to play the baH for passing shots, getting out
of trouble, getting the edge, holding the offensive, where to serve the
lob serve, where to hit the hard serve for advantage, in other words,
let them show you how to play squash IN THEIR COURTS. They know their
courts like the back of their hands. They will teach you that same information.
And once they have shown you, then use that information, go to work, and
win the last point. GO PRINCETON! And nine Princeton University
Squash Team gentlemen went into the Harvard courts, and played the match
of their young lives. It was an achievement that spoke volumes of what
Princeton was all about back in those days, and of what those players
were all about, and still are. I still applaud you for your achievement
that day, and for what you put into it to be there that day – well prepared
mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Please extend our greetings, and best
wishes to all those with whom I had the high privilege of coaching and teachingl
hope they are all doing well, have wonderful families, and are enjoying their
lives. I thank you, Bob, and them for the pleasure of being their coach and
teacher those 12 marvelous years. Being associated with Princeton as a coach
and as a teacher were some of my finest years. Squash brought us together,
but we ended up being fine human beings.

Before closing, I would be negligent if
I failed to mention John Conroy and Betty Constable. John Conroy was the Head
Squash and Tennis Coach as well as the Department Head of Physical Education
when I got there, and working with him as his assistant was the best thing
that could have happened to me. I learned a great deal about the Princeton
image, and about organization. John was well organized, and unflappable. We
used to refer to him as “Silky John" because he was smooth, quiet, and
unassuming, and he did a great job with every one of his teams, He established
himself as the Dean of squash back in those days, and every one respected
him, and what he had to say.

There never has been another John Conroy.
And for Betty Constable, she was the first Women’s Squash Coach when Princeton
went co-ed in ’69, and she set a standard as a coach and as a person that
has been the hallmark for other coaches to try and reach ever since. I met
her my first year in ’62 as soon as squash practice began in November. Coach
had set up the practice schedule, posted it, and all the players checked it
to see their assignment for the day. “Constable” was listed. I went upstairs
in the old gym court complex, and there she was, the only woman in the courts
warming up with the number 1 player. And then when they got to playing, she
was good. There was a give and take between the two that was fascinating to
watch. You know she was already a top woman squash player in the country,
and we were privileged to have her work out with the Varsity. If you beat
her, you earned that win. She was one tough squasher, and a fabulous lady
to boot. It was a pleasure working with her, and her players. To say she was
the perfect person for the job would be quite an understatement, but she was,
and she was quite a coach.

So, Princetonians, there you have it.
It has been a few years since my days at Princeton, and a lot of water has
gone over the falls including my retiring from coaching in ’92 (the last century),
and Faith and I celebrating our 48th wedding anniversary this past July. We
are living in Grafton, NH, on 71 acres on the side of a mountain which we
call “Paradise”, we are in our 70’s, feeling great, miss coaching the kids,
but not any of the travel, and all the other stuff that goes with the territory,
we play golf together, I get in around 130 rounds a year, and carry a 6 handicap.
We now spend our winters in Florida to get away from the cold, and bad roads,
and return late April each year. The foliage at this time of year is spectacular,
and we are grateful for each day we have together.

I have to tell you all that none of this
would have been remotely possible if Faith had not been by my side through
thick and thin, the good times and the bad. She was, and is, the wind beneath
my wings.

Thank you very much for taking time to
read this letter, and for allowing me to reminisce on my days at Princeton.
To you and yours, and to all I had the privilege of coaching, thank you, and
God bless.

Bill Summers, Grafton NH, November
2001