Dayton Squash

Fitness and Fun for Life

Forbes Magazine ranks squash first for fitness among 10 leading sports.
Players of all ages can attest to the fun.

Originating as 'racquets' in the early 1700s in London's Fleet prison for debtors, where a ball made of tightly wound cloth was hit against a stone courtyard wall with crude wooden racquets, today squash is played in 153 countries on over 50,000 precisely designed four-wall courts by an estimated 15 million people using highly engineered racquets and a soft composition ball. Because of its growing popularity worldwide, squash is scheduled to make its debut as a medal sport at the 2012 Olympic Games.

A Century of Dayton Squash

The heart of the local squash program is the Dayton Squash Center, which was built in 1999 by dermatologist Dr. Tom Olsen. Initially housing three international courts, the Center added two courts in late 2000, making it one of the finest community squash facilities in the nation. The Center is site of many events-the local Dayton City, inter-city matches with Cincinnati and Columbus, the Midwestern Junior Championships, the national Revenge of the Baby Boomers, and the EBS Dayton Open featuring leading men and women professionals from around the world. Playoffs to select the U.S. team for the Men's World Team Championships to be held in Islamabad, Pakistan in December will take place at the Center on October 7-9.

Until construction of the Center, Dayton players used narrower courts designed for the hardball game, which began giving way to the international game in the early 1990s. Hardball courts were located principally at the YMCA (two courts), the Dayton Racquet Club (two courts, one of which was widened), and Wright State University (four courts). Perhaps as many as 300 players used these courts, which were also location for an active league and many tournaments. Because the international game, with its softer and slower ball, couldn't be played satisfactorily on hardball courts, the number of local players declined to around 50 over approximately a decade.

The Center quickly revived interest while introducing the 'new game' to scores of players. In addition to the dedicated men who continued to play during the transition period, there are men who hadn't played before, women, and boys and girls. Whole families play now. The number of players is once again approaching 300. While most members of the Center come from Dayton, many come from outlying communities, including Troy, Springfield and Cincinnati. Squash has been played in Dayton for approximately 100 years. Its roots can be traced to "The Playhouse", a private recreational facility on the grounds of the original Talbott home on Runnymede Road, which had two courts until it was razed after World War II due to contamination caused by research performed on the atomic bomb.

The home built by Nelson Talbott Sr. on Runnymede in 1927 was designed with a court in the basement that could only be accessed by a removable ladder. After the war, he formed a fanciful group, the Runnymede Athletic Club, which had no fees and a membership consisting only of a dozen or so close friends who reveled in the game of squash and the hospitable and fun-filled environment. The club's motto, "Semper Skunkus", was also Nelson's creation, and it was emblazoned on a striking patch adorning the green blazer required of each member. No one ever said whether the motto meant that members always ':skunked' - that is, shut out - their opponents, who consisted of like-minded players in cities throughout the Midwest, or were always skunked by them. The 'club' didn't long survive Nelson's death in the early 1950s. Squash has always been known for the pleasure it offers and the friendships it engenders. And because it requires quick decision-making as well as fast movement and abundant stamina, it is often described as 'the thinking man's game.'

The international court, how to play and keep score, and the equipment

The standard international court is 32 feet long and 21 feet wide for singles play, in which two compete, whereas the doubles court is the same length but 25 feet wide to accommodate four players.The tin is 19 inches high except for men's professional play, when it is lowered to 17 inches. The front-wall line is 15 feet high and the back-wall line 7 feet high. The top of the service line is 6 feet high.

Play begins when a player serves from either service box, although usually it is the right box, and hits the ball against the front wall in the space between the service line and the front-wall line so that it lands in the opposite quarter court. The receiver may take the ball on one bounce or on the fly and must return it in the air to above the "tin" along the bottom of the front wall.

A ball may be struck directly against the front wall or against a side wall or even the back wall so long as it reaches the front wall above the tin without touching the floor or ceiling. Play continues in this manner until one player loses the point by striking the tin with the ball, hitting the ball above a wall line, failing to return the ball before it bounces twice, or simply hitting a shot that dies or missing the ball altogether.

A server who continues to win points alternates between the service boxes.

The nine-point scoring system, which is the most common, allows points to be won only by the server. If there is a tie at 8 points, the winner is the first to reach 10 points.

Matches are based on five games, with victory going to the first person to win three games.

The ball used most today is 11/2 inches in diameter and black while the racquet is 27 inches long and comes in many head shapes.

Squash derives its name from the sound that the ball makes when struck hard against the front wall. A ball can reach a speed of over 100 miles per hour.

Leading the way over 50 memorable years

After completing his medical studies in the mid-1950s, Dr. Doug Talbott returned to Dayton and won the Dayton City tournament many times. He was on the board of the U.S. Squash Racquets Association, the first Daytonian so to serve, and organized play between Dayton teams and those in other cities. 'Doc', as he is known among friends, started the modern era of Dayton squash and in recent years has become a fixture in the Atlanta squash program.

In 2002 he was the first recipient of the Dayton Squash Racquets Association Lifetime Achievement Award. He received a similar award from the USSRA in the same year.

Phil Skardon won five titles in three divisions in the All-Ohio Tournament, which he founded in 1965, and was runner-up to Tom Shulman in local tournaments numerous times in the 1970s. He was on the USSRA board, is a long-time officer of the Dayton Squash Racquets Association, and has often captained or co-captained the Dayton team in its annual match against Cincinnati, known as the Collopy Cup, which he helped start. More recent wins are in the 60+ and 70+ divisions in the national Revenge of the Baby Boomers Tournament, held annually at the Dayton Squash Center. Phil received the DSRA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.

Tom Shulman has won more titles over more years than any other Dayton player, beginning in the early 1960s and continuing to the present. He won the Dayton Racquet Club A-Division title 18 years in a row and was a regular city champion from the 1960s through the 1980s. He also held six titles in the All-Ohio under-40 division and won the Jacobs Invitational in New York in both of its divisions, the 40+ and 50+. Tom has been nationally ranked every year for more than 40 years. He has also been a Baby Boomers titleholder in the 60+ division. He was the third recipient of the DSRA Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2004.

Chuck Spear has been ranked nationally in several divisions. He consistently competed in the finals against Tom Shulman in the Dayton City and Racquet Club tournaments in the 1980s and '90s and has won titles in several All-Ohio and more recent Ohio Open divisions. Chuck is also the winner of several divisions in the Baby Boomers Tournament. He has been a member of the USSRA board and the DSRA board. He often organized the Dayton City tournament and has served as captain of the Dayton team in the Collopy Cup. Chuck has been chosen to receive the DSRA Lifetime Achievement Award for 2005.

Pat Rini played initially in Dayton but became a nationally ranked player only after moving to Atlanta. Upon his return in the mid-1990s, he laid claim to best Ohio player for a half dozen years while leading Dayton players. Besides winning the Ohio Open in several divisions, he has captured the City and Dayton Racquet Club titles. He also represented Dayton in city-to-city matches in the No. 1 slot but now plays a strong No. 2 behind Mark Brady.

Currently Dayton's leading player, Mark Brady has made quickness pay off. He has won divisional titles in the Baby Boomers tournament as well as in many Ohio tournaments. Besides winning consistently at the local level, he has been a strong contender in the U.S. Nationals and has been nationally ranked in several age groups. Mark is a partner in EBS Asset Management, which is the principal sponsor of the professional Dayton Open.

A world-class professional tournament: The EBS Dayton Open

For a week each January at the Dayton Squash Center, many of the world's leading squash players take part in the EBS Dayton Open.

Beginning in 2001 with a purse of $10,000, and for men only, the event offered $50,000 in 2005, $40,000 for the men, and $10,000 for the women, who were playing for the first time. The men's field consisted of 27 players, including six of the world's top 10 players, three of whom have held the world No. 1 ranking. World No. 3 and tournament No. 1 seed Peter Nicol, of England, defeated world No.10 and No. 2 seed Amr Shabana of Egypt, three games to none in the finals. Among the 22 women were two of the world's top 10 players. The women's final was also 3-0, with Linda Elriani of England, the No. 1 seed and world No. 6, defeating world No. 10 and No. 2 seed Omneya Abdel Kawy of Egypt.

A thriving juniors program: The Dayton Challenge

During the 2004-05 season, 127 middle-school students took part in the Dayton Challenge juniors program sponsored by the Miami Valley Squash Foundation at the Dayton Squash Center and directed by professionals Charlie Johnson and Julian Wellings. Challenge members travel each year to the Ohio State Junior Invitational in Cincinnati and the Deroy Junior Invitational in Birmingham, MI and play in the Midwestern Juniors Championships at the Center.

Two Dayton juniors, Brad Spiegel and Andy North, have been the strongest players in this division. Brad defeated Andy in the finals in Cincinnati (he also won in Birmingham against another player). Andy turned the tables in the Midwestern Juniors, winning 3-0 over Brad. In the 2005 Baby Boomers tournament, Brad was a finalist in the 3.5 skills-level division, while Dayton junior Herbie Gross won the 3.0 skills-level division final over another Dayton junior, Simon Carr. The Dayton Challenge began in 2002 with 86 participants. Another 30 or so elementary and high school students play at the Center.

The Dayton Squash Racquets Association

The Dayton Squash Racquets Association oversees the local squash program.

It has recently organized an on-going members-only tournament in cooperation with the U.S. Squash Racquets Association. It also organizes the Dayton City Tournament and inter-city matches, both of which are of many years' standing, and arranges an annual awards banquet and other social events. It sponsored this exhibit. Randy Honaker is the president, Steve Russ the treasurer and Phil Skardon the secretary.

Two Dayton Brothers' Proud Squash Saga

Mark and Dave Talbott began playing squash as youngsters on the court in the their home on Runnymede Road, with their father, Dr. Doug Talbott, as their first coach.

Mark was later coached by Bo Burbank at Mercersburg Academy, where he graduated in 1978. He spent a year at Trinity College in Hartford, CT before beginning his remarkable squash odyssey. In 1980 at age 20, Mark joined the newly established World Professional Squash Association hardball tour and a year later reached the top 10. In 1983 he climbed to No. 1 and held that ranking for 11 of the next 12 seasons. From 1981 through 1985, he reached the semi-finals or finals in 95% of the tournaments he entered and won over 70% of them, including 23 in a row. 'He was the greatest player in the history of American squash not because he occasionally touched greatness but because in an era of unprecedented competition, pressure and challenge, he was greatness', wrote James Zug about Mark in a 2003 book, Squash: A History of the Game. In 1998 Mark was named coach of the Yale women's team, which, in 2003-04, went 14-0 and won the national, Ivy League, and Howe Cup championships, the triple crown of women's collegiate squash. He has since become director of the squash program at Stanford and coach of both the men's and women's teams. He is a member of the Squash Hall of Fame.

Older brother Dave Talbott compiled a 269-62 won-lost record as head coach of the Yale men's team from the 1983-84 season, his first, through the 2003-04 season, his 21st, a winning percentage of .810. The men won 102 matches and lost just 18 from the 1996-97 season through last season, an .850 winning percentage. Yale consistently battles Harvard for Ivy League honors and Harvard and Trinity for national honors. Dave spent his early career as a club and touring professional, reaching No. 12 in the WPSA North American rankings. In 1989 and 1990 he won the WPSA Legends Championship for players over 35.


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