Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The PST and the AFL -- Joe McManus and Al Davis Not So Far Fetched

I was recently doing some reading on one of the most successful, actually the most successful, sports merger in the history of sports. That would be the merger of the American Football and National Football Leagues back in the late 1960's. If you read about this incredible merger you realize that it was the older established league, the NFL, which approached the AFL about a merger. The AFL was young and innovative and well funded, it reached out to markets where organized football didn't exists. It created new markets and even ventured into markets where the NFL had a strong foothold. Al Davis, probably more famous for being the much maligned owner of the Oakland Raiders (a powerhouse AFL team) was the visionary commissioner of the AFL. Many credit him for putting the AFL in such a great situation that this merger was able to take place, a merger that was intiated by the older and more established NFL.
What does this have to do with squash, which is what I write about? While I was reading about the football league mergers I couldn't help but make connections to what the Professional Squash Tournament (PST) organization founded and headed up by Joe McManus is doing alongside the older and much more established Professional Squash Association (PSA). When I stop to think about what McManus is doing for squash I get really excited. While I couldn't attend the recent PST tour stop in Southampton, Long Island (close to where I live) because of coaching commitments, I followed the draw along with my son who played in it, his second PST event (which he admittedly said he stunk at), and saw some of the local players whom most people otherwise wouldn't see, except for some grainy footage on YouTube. One such player, Dylan Murray, no doubt a young "phenom" beat one of the local standouts, Ely Slyder. The other match of note, pitted Faraz Khan, a young junior, and son of my good friend and former coach Farid Khan, against a very experienced professional player, Ned Marks, who happens to play my son quite frequently in the city. When I read about this and hear about it, it was such great news. What McManus has done has provided a venue for up and coming players or local established players the opportunity to get into the next round or two and play a world class player. This is not only a huge advantage for up and coming players, but it is also an added boon for squash fans to see these up and coming players. I saw Dylan Murray play years ago and then watched him on a clip from YouTube and this kid already exhibits professional level footwork and racket skills.
The AFL used to showcase all of the black standout football stars and the cast offs from the NFL. Funny thing, those castoffs, many of which, became NFL stars when the leagues merged. McManus has come up with such an intelligent formula for providing opportunity for players and fans alike to be part of great young talent and world class players. For a young player to play a Bradley Ball or John White if they get through the draw is fantastic. What a measuring stick and opportunity to come out of a match with a former number one just to have that experience. I took a clinic with John White years ago and he is such an incredible character, so down-to-earth and a reminder that you don't have to be coached by world class coaches to reach number 1 in the World (White will state he was never coached and with a smile doesn't advise any young player to copy his style). The best part of the clinic was the opportunity to play points with him. While I was certainly not at my fittest at the time and will admit to waddling a bit on court during a very busy time in my technology career when I just couldn't get to the courts as often as I liked (along with too much order in Chinese takeout lunches and dinners), I enjoyed those points like you wouldn't believe. I had never been on the court with someone who hit the ball where I had no idea, absolutely none, where the ball came from nor where it was going. I tried to imagine how anyone could compete with this guy, he held the ball for what seemed like forever and with this bionic wrist snapped his racket and redirected the ball. He did that shot where he swings and misses purposely and then snaps his second stroke to hit a fierce cross court the screeches by and dies in the back.
McManus has proven an innovator. His "no-let" rule is widely criticized as well as well received. Not unlike the AFL's implementation of the two point conversion. Innovation breathes new life into something tried and true. Our sport is the greatest sport on the planet, but when I receive an email about Mathew seeking revenge against Ashour at the Rowe British Open in September (Mathew recently lost in 5 to Ashour at the Australian Open) I stop and wonder, is it that predictable on the PSA that they can pick finalists based on world ranking ( Mathew number 1 and Ashour number2) a month in advance? The PSA is incredible because of the players, but the PSA isn't just about the top 50 players in the world. There are so many others whom we never see or hear about. Maybe in some of the overseas minor tournaments you would see the lower ranked players, but for the most part I have always liked the qualifiers at the NY Tournament of Champions (TOC), I like to see the young up and coming players. McManus has taken it a step further, he's garnered some young local talent and put them in a professional tournament when they might not otherwise have the opportunity to play professional level squash.
Do I hope some day the two squash governing bodies will merge, only if the PST keeps its identity and continues to bring innovation while at the same time guarding the traditions of the sport. If a US born men's player ever reaches world class stature in the squash world, I hope the credit goes to McManus for the efforts he has put forth in giving young US players the opportunity to experience world class play. I hope someone like Dylan Murray who has great talent gets enough of a taste of professional squash to want to pursue that calling, a calling whose beginning may well have started in these PST events. As for my son, it's a dream come true that he will play in as many PST events as he can this year, and when I get that phone call from him telling me he won his first PST match it will be a great day, and one of many to come.

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