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US Nationals in New York – Part I of III

US Nationals in The Big
Apple – A Historical Celebration

By Rob Dinerman, November
2001      [part II]      [part
III]

When the Harvard Club
of New York hosts the still continuing U S National Hardball Championships
in late February 2002, it will mark the 90th playing of this prestigious tournament
and the seventh time it has been held in New York. The US Nationals is traditionally
a revolving tournament, having been held at virtually all of the important
squash centers in the USA during its history.

It will be a first for
the 44th Street venue, though, since on all previous occasions it had been
the main gallery courts of the University Club, with their majestic galleries,
cool temperatures and distinguished ambiance, that had provided the setting
in which the mutitudinous battles were joined.

Vintage New York Crowd

The solid maple walls
that were constructed more than 75 years ago by Brunswick, the
renowned
bowling-alley company, at the behest of Arthur Lockett, a multi-millionaire
squash enthusiast after whom the famed annual Tri-City competition between
New York, Boston and Philadelphia was named, characterized those now long-gone
arenas. Just as was the case with the William White Invitational and the cathedral-like
courts at the Merion Cricket Club, the horde of contestants at those New York
Nationals were always inspired not only by the competitive forum the University
Club provided but also by its rich legacy in the overall history of the National
Championship.

New York hosted the Nationals
six times in the past 62 years, the first of which was won in 1940 by a 29-year-old
Philadelphian named Arthur Willing Patterson. Eight years earlier, Patterson
had captained a Harvard squad that featured two-time (’32, ’33) National Champ
Beekman Pool and Jack Barnaby, destined to become the greatest college coach
in squash history until his retirement in 1976 after 44 glorious years at
the helm.

Though somewhat obscured
during his undergraduate days by those prominent teammates (as well as by
a freshman on that ’32 team named Germain Glidden, who would sweep to three
straight National titles in the mid-30’s), Patterson quietly developed a solid
game based on sound fundamentals, excellent conditioning and great cool. This
latter attribute would serve him well in his Nationals semi-final with Dick
Wakeman of Boston, especially in a do-or-die fourth-game overtime which Patterson
survived 18-14 before pulling through the fifth 15-9.

Patterson’s appearance
in the finals of this 18-man field, while not shocking, was a surprise to
some. He had always been a consistent player who frequently hovered near a
draw’s late rounds, but was thought not to possess the firepower needed to
win this championship, especially against a power-hitting opponent like Sherman
Howes of Boston, whose severe drives had always brought him victory over Patterson
in the past, and who was accompanied throughout the weekend by his personal
coach (a decided rarity in those understated days), Eddie Standish.

But for this match, Patterson
devised the unique strategy of hitting everything at an angle, and breaking
the ball sharply in on the less nimble Howes, forcing him to extemporize
from these unusual positions. This novel approach enabled Patterson to
grab two quick games and reach another fourth-game overtime, which he
knocked off to emerge with an unexpected 15-10, 15-8, 9-15, 17-14 triumph.
Underrated throughout much of his career, Patterson parlayed his several
traits to victory in this prestigious tournament and thereby finally gained
the enduring fame that had previously eluded him.

One decade after Patterson’s
achievement, the action returned to the University Club, where a virtual unknown
from Detroit named Eddie Hahn shocked the experts by becoming the first midwesterner
ever to win the national title, a feat even more surprising for his being
37 years old at the time. Forced to rally from a 2-1 deficit in a second-round
encounter with the formidable Calvin McCracken, Hahn then benefited greatly
from a stunning quarter-final upset of the top-seeded Diehl Mateer at the
hands of Pittsburgh’s Jack Isherwood, who was spent by this great effort and
offered little resistance to Hahn in their straight-set semi. Hahn then faced
the local favorite Dick Rothschild, who himself had pulled off a major upset
over Philadelphia’s four-time national champion, Charlie Brinton, which Rothschild
followed with a four-game victory over highly-regard Roger Bakey of Boston.

However the much-anticipated
clash between this pair of unheralded finalists turned out to be anti-climactic,
as Rothschild was fatigued and jaded by his long weekend of play while Hahn,
despite his advanced years, inexorably pounded his way to a 30-minute 15-4,
15-10, 17-14 win to earn the title which he would successfully defend one
year later (disproving the "fluke" theory that initially arose)
in Chicago. Hahn was aided not only by his excellent conditioning but also
by the unseasonably warm weather, which gave the ball a lively character that
blunted Rothschild’s normally effective short game.

This would not be the
last time that the court conditions of the University Club’s two exhibition
courts (which were relatively exposed to the outside weather) would affect
the tenor of a National’s competition. This is not a denigration of but rather
a tribute to the achievements of the eventual champions, who were thereby
able to demonstrate the crucial capacity to adapt and adjust to all aspects
of the competitive environment that confronted them.

One other noteworthy
detail about this final concerned the distinctive footwear of both participants.
Hahn was clad in high-top, coal-black canvas basketball sneakers, while
Rothschild’s feet were covered by old-fashioned saddle-soled shoes of
white leather bound by a brown-leather band across the middle. Neither
man was responding to any orthopedic difficulty or other medical exigency;
both simply felt more comfortable in their various selections, which seemed
respectively more suited to a Harlem playground or country fair than the
sacred turf of the University Club’s main gallery court. The presence
of unusual sneakers would resurface several decades later in this thematic
history of the New York Nationals, of which more anon.

[ Proceed to
Part II]
  … also …  [Part
III]

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