Friday, September 4, 2020

Old Squash Players – They Don’t Fade Away They Just Play Pickleball

The Squash world is amazing. I love all the different types of people you meet and when you come to know their life stories, some can be remarkable, some tragic, some inspiring. But it’s not often I’ve come across someone with whom I have had a squash connection to that spans close to 35 years. I played this young man once in 1990 when I was playing at Park Place Squash near City Hall in Downtown Manhattan. I’ve written about Park Place Squash before and how this basement hole of a place featured the first International squash court in the country. Lionel Hope who came over from South Africa and was a trader for Merrill Lynch brought the likes of Jahangir Khan, Sharif Khan, Anders Wahlstadt, Chris Stevens, Richard Chin (right out of Cornel University) and many others to his club. The American hardball game was past its Zenith and so was the club’s glory days. Lionel had 4 hardball courts and that showplace International court with its old-style plaster on cinder block construction. The hardball courts were for a while mostly used for softball because that international court was always booked. Whether because of cost, engineering, or other issues, there was no plan to expand to add another international court. Around that time, the Downtown Athletic Club (DAC) had just put in several international courts and it seemed everyone was leaving for that amenity rich club. This does have something to do with Pickleball? I’m getting there…One afternoon in those early playing days, I was on court with a young man who had a British accent and was very athletic and fleet of foot. But he confessed he was really a tennis player and played a lot of tennis. It then made sense, but I had fun, and of course it’s always fun thrashing someone at Squash or for that matter any sport. The young man’s name was Steven, Steven Hope, his dad, Lionel owned the club. His sister Heather worked the front desk. When Lionel passed a few years later, the club was sold to a consortium or cooperative of people who tried to keep it alive. But with one international court and the demise of American hardball, is was tough to make a go of it. More importantly, the luster and magic of the place was gone with Lionel’s passing. Like most of the remaining players, I went to the DAC and didn’t look back for years. Over the years, I’d occasionally run into Steven Hope on the LIRR and I had always known that Lionel’s family lived in my town, Great Neck. And so, time marched. A few years back, I left Wall Street technology and started working at the Parkwood Tennis center, truly my dream job since I had a renewed passion for tennis. It was there at Parkwood, that Steven Hope showed up. He played regularly there with a group of guys and we enjoyed reminiscing about his dad and Park Place Squash. I’d play in Steven’s group as a fill in sometimes. Then when COVID hit and they closed the courts both indoors and outdoors, I went months without playing squash (this was closed as well) or Tennis. I didn’t mind it so much because I’d sustained a knee injury before the lockdown -- this gave me time to heal. As soon as the lockdown ended my son and started playing tennis. I just wasn’t a good enough match for him, so I contacted Steven Hope to see if he wanted to hit. We played singles and I was fortunate to make it interesting enough for him to play me regularly Sunday mornings. Last year I started playing Pickleball in Great Neck attending some free clinics and match play. It was a lot of fun and much more social than squash or tennis. People generally played just for fun – well, maybe I was just playing for fun and didn’t focus so hard on that infernal, ‘I need to fix this, or fix that’. Pickleball was so much less strenuous on the body than squash and if you have a good squash backhand, you’re immediately a decent player. In Pickleball, most players have weaker backhands. I started playing my son in singles Pickleball, and he was good, then again, he’s an accomplished tennis and squash player. I think he enjoyed it and certainly the games were well played. I asked Steven if he wanted to join us and he surprisingly he did. We started playing Australian doubles with my son and Steven proved a natural; with his quickness and his shot placement the games were competitive. We added other players into the mix and each Saturday now we all play. I keep my tennis game with him on Sunday where he’s stepped up his game and has dealt me a thrashing here and there (no doubt payback for the Saturday morning Pickleball competition, or maybe that squash game years back). I asked him, “Isn’t it strange how this all works?” “What do you mean? he asked. “Thirty years later from those great times at Park Place Squash and here I’m playing Pickleball on Saturday and tennis on Sunday with Lionel’s son –is Squash on Wednesday’s the only thing missing!” That would be really something, to play all three sports with the same person who just simply crossed my squash path a long time ago.

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