Today, at a special luncheon before the finals of the Delaware Investments U.S. Open, Michael J. Pierce, Gary Waite and Thomas Wrightson were inducted into the United States Squash Hall of Fame.
All three inductees have a direct connection to the game of doubles. Invented in 1907 in Philadelphia, doubles is now a massively popular phenomenon across North America. Yet this was the first year that primarily doubles practitioners were inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Kevin Klipstein welcomed a crowd of more than a hundred friends and family to the luncheon courtside at the Open. Other Hall of Famers in attendance included Joyce Davenport, Jack Herrick, Demer Holleran, Ralph Howe and Sam Howe.
Tom Wrightson was the first national leader from the West. President of US Squash from 1979-1980 and director of the first U.S. Championship to be hosted west of the Mississippi (the National Singles in Portland in 1979), Wrightson was a keen player and supporter of doubles. He founded both the Oregon State and the Pacific Coast Doubles.
Darwin Kingsley, the executive director of US Squash from 1974 to 1992, spoke of driving around the country forty years ago trying to connect the West to the national organization and how Wrightson was a key contact in that effort.
Alan Fox stood in for Wrightson, who died in 2000. His daughter, Kate Wrightson, who works at Talbott Recovery, the center in Atlanta founded by Doug Talbott, was unable to attend. Fox, a longtime leader in California, spoke about seeing Wrightson’s leadership close at hand. “He became the president of literally every association and club he joined,” Fox said. “He was a squash junkie: he loved to talk in the locker room, in the gallery. He was like the Wizard of Oz, sitting behind the curtain and orchestrating everything.”
Michael Pierce was the dominant left-wall player from the 1970s and 80s. He won the National Doubles once before turning professional where he collected all the major tournaments many times. One of the leading philanthropic forces in American squash, Pierce was the first major donor to the urban squash movement and, more recently, has been the director of the women’s pro doubles event in John’s Island, Florida.
Leo Pierce, Michael’s older brother, gave the introduction. Speaking with great emotion, Leo talked about Michael’s long journey in squash doubles, from his first Gold Racquets in 1968 when he was nineteen to his more recent wins in masters play. “I know my mother and father, Peggy & Leo Pierce, and Treddy Ketcham are looking down right now and are so proud.”
Michael then told about the first doubles tournament he played in, with Newt Meade (who might have been the oldest attendee at the luncheon, at age ninety-two) down in Baltimore where they came back from a 2-0 deficit, 14-3 in the third game, against Palmer Page & Frank Satterthwaite, to win in five. Pierce thanked his first coach, Norm Bramall, who gave him sage advice: “Make the walls your friend.” He ran through a lengthy and illustrious list of partners, including Drew Mateer, Rich Sheppard, Gordie Anderson and Morris Clothier. He particularly highlighted Maurice Heckscher with whom he dominated the pro doubles tour for five years (they won their first Johnson tournament with back-to-back one-point wins in the semis and finals). “It is only a game, but it is a game that we love to play,” he concluded. “This is a day I’ll never forget.”
Gary Waite was the dominant left-wall player in the 1990s and 2000s. He reached world No. 12 in singles, but in doubles he was the No. 1 player on the pro tour for fourteen straight years. He directed the pro men’s tour for more than a decade, accelerating the growth of the game. More recently he helped build the world’s first four-wall glass doubles court.
Paul Assaiante, the men’s coach at Trinity, spoke about seeing Waite’s famous training regimen close at hand decades ago and his impact on squash doubles across the continent. Waite talked about coming down to the U.S. from his home in Canada to play in junior tournaments thirty-five years ago. He then thanked Tom and Hazel Jones who developed a satellite tour of pro tournaments across North America. Although he couldn’t recall how many sneakers or racquets he went through in his career, Waite said that he annually played in about fifty tournaments a year—hardball singles, softball singles and hardball doubles. “This is a very special moment for me,” he said.