The second-annual Character in Sports Day at the Delaware Investments U.S. Open brought attention to the importance of the principles of fair play and sportsmanship by welcoming all past recipients of national sportsmanship awards including the DeRoy Junior Sportsmanship Award, the women’s Feron’s Wedgwood Sportsmanship Trophy and the collegiate individual (Skillman and Richey Awards) and collegiate team (Sloane and Chaffee) Awards.
The first speaker at the reception in the lobby of Drexel’s Daskalakis Athletic Center was not a typical one: it was Sydney Soloway, a fifteen-year-old high school sophomore in Boston. A year ago Soloway launched a new non-profit, Squash Cares, that focuses on collecting used squash balls. Instead of going into the trash, the balls are used to create ball blankets for children with ADHD and autism. Each blanket, made from fleece, contains a couple of hundred balls. In the first year, Squash Cares has collected 3,000 balls and constructed ten blankets. On World Squash Day last week, Squash Cares hosted a large blanket-sewing day.
Kevin Klipstein, the CEO of US Squash, then acknowledged last year’s Feron’s Wedgwood Sportsmanship Awardee, Orla O’Doherty. A teaching pro in Santa Barbara, CA, O’Doherty grew up in Ireland and has been in the U.S. for twenty-two years. She graciously thanked her parents, her wife and US Squash before ending with an Irish proverb: “Beautiful young people are acts of wonder; beautiful old people are works of art.”
Paul Assaiante, the men’s coach at Trinity College in Hartford, spoke about the Men’s Sportsmanship Award. He announced that the award would be named after Bob Callahan, the late Princeton coach who was renowned for inculcating a profound sense of sportsmanship in his players; no coach in college squash history has had more players win the Skillman Award than Callahan. “Bob was the moral compass of squash,” Assaiante said. “Bob was fixated about how his players behaved. We all need to surf on this legacy. This is an amazing moment, forever putting together these two things, sportsmanship and Bob Callahan.”
Kirsten Callahan and four of her sons, their wives and two grandchildren came forward for a long, sustained moment of applause.
Klipstein then announced the winner of the 2015 Robert W. Callahan Sportsmanship Award: Richard A. Sheppard. One of the best right-wallers of the past generation, Sheppard won three national open doubles titles (1987 and 1988 with Scott Ryan and 1991 with Bill Ramsay), two 40+ (2001 and 2002 with Gregg Finn) and two 50+ (2012 and 2013 with Dominic Hughes). He has also won the 2002 national mixed 40+ with his wife, Sandy Worthington.
Sheppard is an avid tournament player, continuing to play in and win top amateur events like the Gold Racquets and the William White, often facing men who weren’t born when he first played in the tournament.
One of the few veteran athletes who competes at the highest level in both singles and doubles, Sheppard has also won national singles titles in master’s divisions: the 45+ in 2005 and the 55+ in 2014.
Off the court, Sheppard is a very active leader. For the past dozen seasons, he has been the head coach for the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy girls team, mentoring hundreds of young women. (A five-sport varsity athlete at SCH in the class of 1977, Sheppard was inducted into the school’s hall of fame in 2003.) A stalwart at Philadelphia Cricket Club, Rich is famously a high-energy player who always has a grin on his face before, during and after his matches. In 1996 he was awarded the Philadelphia SRA’s Acuff/Kingsley Sportsmanship Award.
“I knew Bob well, first meeting him at Camp Tecumseh in New Hampshire, so this means so much to me,” said Sheppard. “I was not a great sport as a junior and as I matured I saw that sportsmanship is more important than winning and losing. This award trumps any tournament I’ve won by a large margin.”
The Robert W. Callahan Men’s Sportsmanship Award was started in 2014 to join the Feron’s Wedgwood Sportsmanship Trophy, given out annually to a deserving woman since 1979. Ed Chilton was the inaugural winner last year.