My Grand Delusion Squashed

Article courtesy of the Philadelphia Business Journal

by John George

Drexel University squash coach John White (left) shows PBJ reporter John George how the game is played. (image: Peter Van Allen)

Drexel University squash coach John White (right) shows PBJ reporter John George how the game is played. (image: Peter Van Allen)

I’m a big fan of racquet sports.

Over the years I’ve played a lot of tennis and racquetball. I’m always up for a game of badminton at picnics. As a kid, I spent many an hour in the basement playing pingpong. Today, my sport of choice is pickleball — a new racquet sport that combines elements of all those other games (look it up on YouTube to see how it’s played).

One racquet sport I never played, until last week, was squash.

With Drexel University hosting the U.S. Squash Open for the third consecutive year this month, I decided to see if I could get a quick lesson in how the game is played. John White, the head coach of the men’s and women’s varsity squash teams at Drexel, was happy to introduce me to a sport now played by 20 million people worldwide.

For 17 years, White played on the professional squash circuit. The native of Australia reached the No. 1 ranking in the world in 2004.

Although a squash court resembles a racquetball court, White told me, the two sports have some major differences. The biggest difference: Squash is played with a smaller ball that hardly bounces — but will, literally, heat up and become somewhat more lively during the course of a match.

We entered the court, one of seven open to the public at Drexel’s John A. Daskalakis Athletic Center in West Philadelphia, and the tutorial began with an explanation of the various lines that determined whether a shot is in or out. When we started volleying I quickly learned squash indeed is not racquetball as I found myself lunging for shot after shot that was hugging the floor.

“You have to keep moving, keep moving,” White instructed, noting that playing squash in not like tennis or racquetball where the balls bounce higher and tend to find the player. “[In squash] you have to go and get the bastard.”

After about 20 minutes and a few pounds of sweat later, I could keep a volley going and even managed to surprise my teacher with a few passing shots that didn’t get returned. I had the strong feeling he was taking it easy on me. My suspicions were confirmed when I did a little online research on my teacher and found this: “White is known as the hardest hitter of the ball in the sport of squash. Quite frequently, he has achieved speeds of over 165 miles per hour.”