It was in late January 2011 when Drexel announced it would host the 2011 U.S. Open Squash Championships the first week in October to showcase the finest men’s and women’s squash players from across the country. It is the sport’s most prestigious tournament in the country, and it was held right here in Philadelphia at Drexel’s Daskalakis Athletic Center.
Not only would the winner in each showcase be able to take home the title of being honored the top squash player in the nation, but there is also a combined cash prize of $175,000 to be claimed by each man and woman.
“Drexel University is delighted to host the 2011 U.S. Open Squash Championships in Philadelphia, the cradle of liberty and the home of many of the game’s most storied players and historic squash venues,” Drexel President John A. Fry wrote on DrexelDragons.com.
The competition of squash is a new and exciting addition to the list of varsity sports here at Drexel. Athletic Director Eric Zillmer said that after much contemplation, squash was a perfect fit to bring to the University.
“I feel squash fits into our overall profile of what I call into our up-and-coming sports like crew, and men’s and women’s lacrosse,” he said. “I feel like squash fits into that as well, and finally, we believe we can be a top-20 team within the next five years.”
What many people are unaware of is the history of U.S. Squash first appearing in Philadelphia. The first squash organization was formed in Philadelphia in 1904, and Zillmer is determined to see the sport develop here at Drexel and in Philadelphia over the next few years.
“One of my goals is to have squash players consider Philadelphia the epicenter of squash, so our hope is to create a marquee event that’s not only good for squash in Philadelphia, but also bring recognition to Drexel University and Drexel Athletics,” he said.
This prominent tournament has been held for only the second time in the event’s history. For all those who weren’t able to attend, it was streamed on www.psasquashtv.com, reaching about 250 million households internationally. Semifinals and finals play of the men’s championships were broadcasted online by ESPN3, reaching about 60 million households.
However, with every sport, the live game is the best game to watch. All who attended were able to experience the most skilled and talented squash players in the world. The tournament attracted 22 of the top-25 ranked men’s players in the world. Zillmer said that it really is truly mesmerizing and inspirational to see the best of the best compete right here at Drexel.
“The most exciting part for me is that squash is being played in 188 countries, with 23 countries represented here. It’s being played in 50,000 courts, and by 15 million people, and today is Wednesday, and there are eight of the best players left in the world playing at the DAC for a U.S. national championship,” he said.
Drexel has been planning and preparing for this esteemed event for almost a year now, and it turned out to be everything plus more. DrexelDragons.com stated that the acrylic court was specially designed in the main basketball arena in the DAC. The court was also glass-enclosed for spectators to experience a great view of the action, in addition to the several television screens set up throughout the venue.
Furthermore, John White, head coach of men and women’s squash, is utterly excited about Drexel holding this major event, as well as joining the Dragons this year to start up the program. He mentioned that for Drexel itself, this is probably the biggest boost one could ever have in squash — to hold one of the most recognized tournaments in the world.
Aside from the competition, White is focused on getting the Drexel squash program underway this season. Even though he stated it is basically starting from scratch, he is looking forward to what he says will be a very interesting season.
White coached at Frankin and Marshall prior to coming to Drexel, and he learned a lot about adapting to coaching college students. He said that one of the struggles players have is bringing what’s outside the court, into the court.
“What I saw in the first couple of years in the college level is that they take everything in from outside the court and take it on with them — who’s watching there, their boyfriends and girlfriends,” White said. “They are more worried about what is happening outside the court.”
However, as a former nationally ranked squash player, he learned how to follow the best pieces of advice he gained. The sport takes a lot of commitment and dedication, yet he learned that one has to pay the price. He continues to pass on this message to his athletes constantly.
“The biggest thing is to have an open mind and to be willing to sacrifice it all to get the rewards of being an athlete,” White said.
The tournament has ended in the right place after this long, competitive week. With the origin of the sport in the U.S. rising up in Philadelphia, it is only natural that the event was held here, bringing the Drexel community together as well. White is determined to start up the program on a positive note with their first competition approaching toward the end of October.