NorCal Squash Hall of Fame
For many years, the NorCal squash community has expressed a desire to set up a NorCal Squash Hall of Fame. This would be a fitting honor for the finest players to have graced the game of squash in Northern California history.
This year, we are pleased to announce a Hall of Fame for NorCal with the induction of seven founding inductees. These squash players distinguished themselves in many aspects of the game – competitively as well as socially. They made extraordinary contributions to the game through their sportsmanship and integrity, and in helping the game flourish and grow on these shores.
Alex was one of the most significant figures in the history of Pacific Coast squash. In addition to squash, he excelled in many other sports.
Several years after graduating from Berkeley, Alex decided to focus on squash which began a decade long dominance in NorCal with more than 40 tournament wins, highlighted by winning the Pacific Coast Singles Championships in ’67, ’69, ’70 and ’72. His crowning achievement was in 1974, when he played #1 on the Pacific Coast Team which won the US National Team Championships. Among his many titles, he was also a six-time California State Champion.
In 1975, Eichmann built the 4 hardball court Peninsula Squash Club in San Mateo, and later the 8 hardball court Squash Club of San Francisco which commercially contributed to the greatest expansion of squash in California, and in 1983 was host of the US National Hardball Singles Championships . Eichmann’s enormous contributions to squash sealed his status as the leading icon of West Coast squash in general and California squash in particular.
It is ironic in view of the standing he would subsequently acquire as arguably the most historically significant figure in the annals of Pacific Coast squash that this exceptional all-around athlete discovered the game completely by accident when he enrolled in a physical education course in the spring of 1960 during the last semester of his senior year at the University of California, Berkeley. The course was by happy coincidence taught by Ralfe Miller a former runner-up in the Pacific Coast Squash Championship, who immediately spotted the potential in his young charge and encouraged him to pursue the sport after his graduation.
By that time, Eichmann had already achieved excellence in baseball, whereas a pitcher he played semi-pro ball in the Bay Area for several of his high-school years after becoming one of the few players to make the varsity as a freshman; soccer, where he followed in the footsteps of his father, Alex Sr., a member of the 1920 German Olympic squad; and golf, where he made all-city in high school and later led the UC Berkeley team to its best season in decades.
He also would become good enough as a bowler to routinely record scores in the 200 range, and one of his fondest athletic memories in later years was of leading his intramural college basketball club to three school championships, even though members of the UC Berkeley squad that defeated West Virginia 71-70 in the 1959 NCAA championship game were dispersed, usually two to a team, throughout the intramural league and Eichmann’s teams did not have any players from that championship roster.
In one memorable final during the spring of ’59, Eichmann’s team beat an intramural opponent that featured varsity star Darrall Imhoff, who would have a successful career as an NBA starting center on the Elgin Baylor-Jerry West Los Angeles Laker teams that constantly opposed the Boston Celtic dynasty during the 1960’s. At 6 foot, 10 inches, Imhoff was much too big for anyone on Eichmann’s team to guard, but Eichmann, in an early version of the strategy that is presently routinely utilized against the current Laker starting center Shaquille O’Neal, ordered his teammates down the stretch to intentionally foul Imhoff, a poor free-throw shooter due to the line-drive trajectory of his delivery, and the strategy paid off handsomely in a close and very satisfying victory.
This latter incident provides an instructive look into some of the characteristics that would later serve him so well when he decided to focus on squash several years after graduating from Berkeley. Though Eichmann was only 5 foot, 9 inches, and 160 pounds, the arm strength he had developed as a pitcher and bowler enabled him to generate significant power, especially on his forehand drives, and his agility and multi-front athleticism made him an excellent retriever with noteworthy stamina. All of these qualities, buttressed by a competitive attitude whose intensity level became the stuff of legend, enabled Eichmann to frequently will his way to victories over opponents with far greater playing experience and shot-making skills by relentlessly running everything down and simply refusing to give in until his foes ran out of strength or patience or resolve, or all three.
But the shrewdness that also infused Eichmann’s approach to squash was often overlooked, as was the wisdom he displayed in improving and expanding his game by seeking top players from the east who relocated to California and making them his practice partners. This group included two Harvard stars, namely Larry Sears, who would win the ’62 and ’63 Pacific Coast championships, and later Victor Niederhoffer, the ’64 National Intercollegiate champion and ’66 U. S. National champion, who took a job teaching at the UC Berkeley Business School in ’69 and with whom Eichmann had a captivating series of matches during the several years that Niederhoffer lived out west.
TAKING ON THE NIEDER
By the time Eichmann’s rivalry with Niederhoffer began, he was already well along in a decade-long period of dominance in squash in the region that would eventually result in more than 40 tournament wins, highlighted by Pacific Coast titles in ’67 (on his home Olympic Club courts and over Brooks Ragen in the final), ’69 (over Steve Gurney, who in the mid-1970’s would become the head coach at Yale), ’70 (over George Morfitt, later a U. S. and Canadian multiple age-group champion) and ’72 (again over Gurney, an ever-present Eichmann rival, though Eichmann wound up with a decisive 8-2 career edge). Eichmann also was a Pacific Coast finalist in ’64 and ’71, a six-time California state champion, the winner of the NorCals four straight years from 1970-73, six times the Olympic Club Invitational titlist, five times each the winner of the Ralfe Miller tournament and the University Club of San Francisco event and a three-time champion in the University Club of Los Angeles tourney.
In the first tournament of the 1969-70 season, the Ralfe Miller (named of course in honor of Eichmann’s first squash mentor, who was himself a legendary figure in California squash lore) Eichmann and Niederhoffer met in the final, with the latter narrowly winning the first two games in tiebreakers, taking a much-needed rest in the 15-4 third game and reasserting himself in the 15-9 final fourth. But even in sustaining that defeat, Eichmann noted the one chink in his redoubtable foe’s armor and determined to find a way to exploit it going forward. Niederhoffer at that time was somewhat out of shape and overweight, and he likely would have lost had his uncanny shot-making not (barely) carried him through those first two games and thereby given him the luxury of being able to let the third game go and conserve his energy for the fourth.
Eichmann realized that if he could up his own conditioning level even further and make his rematches with Niederhoffer more battles of attrition than tests of their respective racquet skills, he might well defeat his storied opponent.
By the time these two next met, in the final event of that season, the NorCals, Eichmann had won all five of the intervening tournaments in which he had played, including his third Pacific Coast title. Though the pre-final rounds of the tourney were played at UC Berkeley, the final round was moved to Orinda, site of the beautiful private court owned by Dr. Richard Martin, whose gallery could accommodate far more people than that of any court in the college facility. Eichmann’s plan worked to perfection, though only barely, as Niederhoffer was forced to expend so much energy in winning the lengthy 15-12 first and third games that after falling immediately behind in the fourth he totally conceded that game 15-0 (!), the only shut-out game in either direction of Eichmann’s entire career. The fifth was, in Eichmann’s words, “as grueling as it gets.”
Niederhoffer, a first-ballot inductee into the U.S.S.R.A. Squash Hall Of Fame several decades later, would win the Nationals four straight years from 1972-75 and become Sharif Khan’s most notorious rival during the 1970’s, even beating Khan in the final round of the ’75 North American Open in Mexico City. Throughout Niederhoffer’s career he fully earned his reputation for winning down-to-the-wire matches—but on this occasion, it was Eichmann whose superior fitness and tenacity carried the day, to the tune of a 15-13 fifth-game victory that is still talked about reverentially among longtime aficionados of that era.
Eichmann recorded a second victory over Niederhoffer, also in five games, seven months later when they met in an early-season Olympic Club vs. UC Berkeley team match, but this setback only served to galvanize the latter, who had already set his sights on winning the ’72 Nationals in Detroit. Eichmann attributes his first-round win over Gulmast Khan, Sharif’s younger brother, in large part to the frequent practice sessions that he and Niederhoffer scheduled as a run-up to that tournament, but in the second round he lost decisively to The Champ himself, who would go on to win that Nationals without losing a single game.
Eichmann would begin winding down his playing career during the next few years, though he did have one last hurrah in February ’74 in Annapolis, site of that year’s Nationals, when he played No. 1 and led the Pacific Coast to victory in the Five-Man Team National Championships. He and teammates Morfitt, John Hutchinson (Eichmann’s conqueror in the ’71 Pac Coast final), John Puddicombe and Dick Radloff prevailed 3-2 in a memorable final over a tough Westerns squad paced by the O’Laughlin brothers, Dave and Larry.
By that time, Eichmann, then in his late 30’s, was beginning to turn his squash-related interests in a markedly different direction, one which may ultimately have had a greater long-term impact on squash in California than that created by even his extended run of on-court accomplishments. Inspired in part by news of the successful launching of the first commercial squash club in New York a few years earlier, and with the strong financial backing of a group of wealthy investors from nearby Hillsborough (about 20 miles south of San Francisco), Eichmann built the Peninsula Squash Club in San Mateo in 1975, a four-court facility that swiftly displaced the several private clubs in downtown San Francisco as “the place to be” for squash devotees and the major hub of that sport in the area.
Eichmann ran every aspect of the club, from giving lessons to handling court bookings to making sure the towel area was well stocked, and, once the word swiftly got around, the best players in the area started showing up to practice with Eichmann and tune their games for upcoming tournaments. His father, whose own athletic achievements made him totally at ease in this kind of environment, also became a constant and popular fixture at the club, where Eichmann would frequently hold court in front of a happily captive audience of his friends, admirers, and members.
This entrepreneurial undertaking proved so successful that five years later Eichmann built a second and even more substantial facility, the Squash Club of San Francisco, located in the great city itself and featuring among its eight courts a glass-back exhibition court with a 300-spectator capacity gallery which top WPSA pro Stu Goldstein deemed “the best court on our tour,” quite a compliment given that during this early-1980’s heyday period there were close to 25 tournaments (most of them held at exclusive private clubs) on the annual schedule.
The two major events hosted during that time at this latter club, namely the WPSA ranking tour stop in March ’81 and the U. S. Nationals two years later, were both fabulously successful, and there can be no question either that these have to be considered landmark events in the greatest period of squash expansion ever in California squash (with more tournaments, more flights, larger draws and more enthusiasm than at any time either before or since) or that this surge was to a significant degree attributable to the existence and success of Eichmann’s two clubs, which for the first time made the game readily accessible to many people who were not members of the few private San Francisco clubs.
Nor can there be any doubt that the boost that these clubs provided to the area, which was duplicated by similar commercial-club successes in other regions of the country, enabled the pro and amateur circuits in this country to grow in a way that provided an entire squash generation with a degree of playing and money-making opportunities that were, unfortunately, absent during the arc of Eichmann’s own playing career. The massive expansion of the game, and the proud realization of the important role that he himself had played in its occurrence was particularly fulfilling to this son of San Francisco, who lived his entire life there before moving in ’95 to Sacramento, where he still is a frequent and proficient golfer.
Now 66 and seemingly as feisty as ever, especially when recalling questionable referees’ calls that went against him or opponents with whom he clashed decades ago, Eichmann was able to retire in his early 50’s after getting “offers he couldn’t refuse” from the real estate developers to whom he wound up selling his clubs near the end of the 1980’s. He continues to enjoy the respect and admiration of all who witnessed or were in any way associated with his outstanding and multi-front squash career.
Tom Dashiell, Eichmann’s mid-1970’s sparring partner and occasional tournament opponent and later (in ’79) the first Californian to be ranked in the U.S.S.R.A. top 10, noted recently that throughout those years that it was Eichmann, “who hated to lose more than anyone I have ever known,” against whom he would constantly measure the progress of his game. Ted Gross, the only Californian to seriously compete on (and crack the top 15 of) the WPSA tour, said that Eichmann had been his primary squash role model and the inspiration for his own career aspirations. And Alan Fox, the USSRA President during the early 1990’s and a Californian himself whose playing days substantially overlapped with Eichmann’s, made special mention of the multitude of fronts on which Eichmann had made enormous contributions and of Eichmann’s status almost as an icon of that substantial period in west coast squash in general and California squash in particular.
That he was able to play with the type of edge he exuded throughout his career and still command such affection all these years later from such a disparate group of people is perhaps the consummate tribute to what this legendary figure meant to squash during such an important time in the game’s evolution.
Alex Eichmann Retires From Competition
After twelve event filled years of exciting play and unselfish contributions to NorCal Squash, Alex Eichmann announced his retirement from the amateur ranks.
He won four Nor Cals, five Cal States, and four Pacific Coast titles. In 1972, Eichmann achieved national ranking by defeating along the way Gulmast Khan, son of Hashim, in the Nationals and lost to eventual champion Victor Niederhoffer. (Although Eichmann defeated Niederhoffer three times during his career, one being in the 1970 NorCal Championships.)
Eichmann also starred in doubles, winning the Pacific Coast Doubles in 1966 with his partner Dan Morgan.
His crowning achievement was when in 1974, he played number one on the Pacific Coast Team which won the Team National Championships (with teammates John Hutchinson, George Morfitt, Bob Puddicombe, and Dick Radloff). The Pacific Coast Team also won the National Title in 1954, 1957, and 1961.
Yet with all of his competitive achievements, Eichmann’s influence to all of the players he met, coached, advised, encouraged and inspired was his greatest contribution – when the best player takes the time and interest to help beginners.
Alex passed away on March 16, 2014.
Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1935, Dick came to California after an impressive sports career in college and then the US Army. It was while in the service that he played his first squash game on a jerry-rigged racquetball court in an airplane hangar in 1958.
In 1969, Crawford founded the Northern California Squash Racquets Association and served as its first president. During his tenure, he organized an extremely successful inter-club league system.
From the very beginning in 1968, Dick saw the bright hope and potential of Cal squash. As the squash coach, Dick got his players to follow that vision. One could see it in their smiles and one could hear it in their words. They loved their coach. A man who engendered inspiration with selfless effort, Crawford took his teams on a quest for glory, but always humbly to the sport, to the true joy of hard work by always giving everything they had.
Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1935, Crawford came to California after an impressive sports career in college and then the army. Crawford had played quarterback on the Western Michigan football team and also played three years of varsity tennis. Football was his passion in those days, and tennis just something he did for fun. That has changed a little now, as Dick no longer plays football, and he is ranked in the top 10 in the world in the 55+ Masters tennis.
After college, Dick played semi-pro football just long enough to be belted by a 250 lb. linebacker and then he entered the army. And it was while in the service, at a god-forsaken base in Fort Greely, Alaska, midway between Fairbanks and Anchorage, that he played his first squash game on a jerry-rigged racquetball court in an airplane hangar in 1958. It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows him now, that Crawford, a special services officer, was in charge of virtually everything on the base—he ran all the athletic programs, the bowling alley, the store, game rooms, libraries, movies, etc. He also played quarterback for the football team, guard on the basketball team, and even found time to run a little track. There was also an unconfirmed report that he captained an Iditarod dog sled team.
After the army, Crawford came to California to coach football at Mountain View High School. The tennis coach at that school was a then unknown guy by the name of Dick Gould. Gould, of course, went on to Stanford to coach the likes of Dick Stockton and John McEnroe. When Crawford learned that his good friend, Chet Murphy, the tennis coach at Cal, was going on sabbatical in 1968, he leapt at the opportunity to enter the college ranks-moving to Berkeley to coach tennis, sailing, and squash. (As a historical aside, squash started at Cal in 1933 when the Harmon gym was erected. Ralfe Miller, for whom the annual UC tournament is named, was the first Cal squash coach.) When Murphy returned Crawford focused on teaching tennis classes while continuing to coach sailing and squash.
Crawford’s approach to promoting squash and recruiting players was this. He taught the advanced competitive tennis class and when he saw a really promising athlete, he would suggest that he give squash a try. His very first recruit was Michael Jensen-Akula in 1968. His last was 18-year-old Derek Moulaison, class of 1997. Both were here at the roast to honor their mentor.
To help them gain experience, Crawford sent his players all over the Bay Area, and beyond, in search of competition. If there was one, there were fifty stories at the roast of players sent over to the University or Olympic Clubs with instructions that parking would be no problem and that parking tickets were an extremely unlikely event. Almost, to a man, the players came back— not always with their cars, and frequently with tickets, but always with the rich experience of competition and a slightly recast opinion of their coach.
In 1970, Crawford founded the Northern California Squash Racquets Association and served as its first president. He also organized an extremely successful interclub league system. And he did it all for nothing, for nothing save the good it did his players. He even spent a good deal of time trying to organize a Western States Squash Association (to include the likes of UCLA, the Air Force Academy, Washington, Stanford, Berkeley, etc.).
Now, at the age of 59, Crawford is retiring as Cal squash coach and planning to devote more time to playing the world senior tennis circuit. He already has an exotic itinerary planned. Like everything else he has touched in life, it seems likely that the senior tour will never be the same after Dick Crawford is through with it. Certainly that can be said of all the players he coached at Cal, for they were all a little different and a lot better when Dick was through with them.
And now the long ride is over and the dinner done. But still, there at the end, was Crawford, the once and always coach, the consummate molder of men and spinner of dreams, there he was with a bright and hopeful smile reading the tiny numbers off raffle tickets and giving away new squash balls to lucky recipients, even as most of the attendees had donned their coats and headed for home. No one but Crawford could see the thrill in this, just as no one but Crawford had seen the bright hope of Cal squash in 1968, just as no one had seen the coming legions of young men who would on one bright day in college step on a court they would never leave, a court they would play on til the twilight of their days. A man of vision and selfless effort, Crawford took his teams sometimes to glory, but always to sport—to the true joy of hard work and to always giving everything they had. And by giving everything, his players had gained the world.
But none gave more than Crawford. For 27 years, he gave his players absolutely everything he had. You could see it in their smiles and you could hear it in their words. They loved their coach. He had made a great difference in their lives and what nobler achievement can there be? Coach Crawford will be missed, but there is a little bit of him in everyone he ever taught and the whole world can be thankful for that. “Rip It!”
Peter had a spiritual side dedicated to doubles squash. In fact he was one of the high priests of his spiritual group and he would show that spiritual side by driving to his favorite place of worship, parking near the entrance and entering the plain and simple building that was his spiritual home. He would go to the area set aside for spiritual participants to dress for their sessions. He would dress reverently and carefully in simple clothes without much in the way of adornment except for a sleeveless vest with a smiling jester on it. Peter liked to joke and banter and he particularly like to exalt over a well done transfer of his that the other group was unable to return. Peter’s love of banter extended beyond the chamber of worship and his ability to banter would grow. Following Crawford, Peter was also a President of NorCal Squash who in 1983 led the effort to host the US National Singles Championships in San Francisco.
Peter was not a particularly religious man, but Peter had a spiritual side. In fact he was one of the high priests of his spiritual group. He would show that spiritual side by driving to his favorite place of worship, parking near the entrance and entering the plain and simple building that was his spiritual home. He would go to the area set aside for spiritual participants to dress for their sessions. He would dress reverently and carefully in simple clothes without much in the way of adornment except for a sleeveless vest with a smiling jester on it.
Peter would pick up his instrument of spiritual fulfillment, which had a handle and a narrow neck connected to a large opening laced with a woven mesh. He would advance to the place of worship for a regular service of one hour. He would be accompanied by three other men who were similarly spiritually inclined, equipped and dressed.
One of those men, or Peter, would have a small round rubber ball, which played an important part in the ritual that followed. They would enter the chamber of worship reverently and with solemn purpose and they would practice their worshipful routine in pairs before the main rites of worship began.
Each worship period, after warmup would be proceeded with the ritual of the spinning of one of the spiritual instruments and the reading of the instrument before the worshipful interaction between the four men would begin. Each man would assume his appropriate place in the chamber of worship and the session of worship would begin when the first man would transfer the round orb in the direction of another worshiper in the chamber.
The process of transfer of the orb is highly ritualized and many of the transfer techniques have acquired refined names. Some of the worshipers have also developed a repertory of transfer techniques. Peter was particularly good at the reverse corner transfer along with the straight drop transfer. He would occasionally use the lob and the cross court lob, but he loved and cherished the reverse corner transfer.
Peter liked to worship from a fixed position in the chamber, which meant that he would locate himself in a particular area and try to worship exclusively from that place. Other participants liked and needed to worship from many different areas of the chamber, so they would move around frequently.
Peter disdained this approach to worship as demeaning and overexertive. He preferred a quiet and more sedate approach to worship, which was more meditative and contemplative and not so excessive and aggressive.
Peter liked to joke and banter with other worshipers and he particularly like to exalt over a well done transfer of his that the other group was unable to return. Peter’s love of banter extended beyond the chamber of worship and his ability to banter would grow with the consumption of alcoholic substances. He was very well known as much for his activities outside of the chamber of worship as for his abilities within the chamber. There are many stories about Peter’s actions both within the chamber of worship and outside it, but the presence of ladies in the group prohibits me from discussing them in any detail.
The transfers of the orb continued between the men in the chamber until the orb was transferred incorrectly and two of the men would record the event numerically and the result would be announced verbally. The spiritual worship would continue until the successes of one group of men added up to a sacred number. At that time two of the men would experience a sense of euphoria, which some worshipers associated with being in heaven and the other group of men would experience pain and angst associated with being in hell. Thus this worshipful event would prepare the men for the afterlife.
One of these episodes was not sufficient to conclude the period of worship in the chamber and the process of the transfer of the orb began again until the sacred number was tallied for a second time. At this time a separate tally of the number of times a group of men reached the sacred number was kept until the magical number of 3 was generated. When the number of 3 was reached, the sense of euphoria by the group of men laying claim to the number of 3 was magnified and they were anointed by the chamber of worship as the blessed ones and the other group would acknowledge their blessed state in a humble way by the ritual shaking of hands or hitting closed fists together.
Sometimes the group of four men would continue to engage in the orb transfer for several more periods until the sacred number of 15 was reached in order for the humbled group to try to obtain some sense of blessing and endowment from the chamber of worship. Rarely would this make up for the fact that they did not reach the number 3.
Once the process ended and the priests left the chamber of worship, they would need to engage in a period of ritual cleaning before returning to their normal everyday pursuits. This process occurred in the dressing area where the men would often engage in banter and gossip. This banter and gossip were always kept from the women for reasons that no one could explain. After the ritual cleaning in the cleaning chamber, the men would dress in their street clothes and leave the place of worship with either a euphoric state of bliss and blessing or a sense of sin and dread from having failed to worship properly and effectively enough during the session.
Thus did Peter lead a very spiritually full life since he would attend to the chamber of worship on as many days of the week as he could. He was known for his devotion to this exquisite form of spiritual worship throughout the land and he was particularly celebrated among the jester crowd of worshipers. Few men attain the heights of spiritual worship that Peter maintained for years. He will be forever known as a spiritual jester of this unusual and particular spiritual practice.
Peter joined the spiritual realm’s after-life on January 20, 2010.
Brett’s squash education began in earnest at the Peninsula Squash Club. Club owner extraordinaire Alex Eichmann was one of the coaches who showed Brett how to use the court and the walls and how to hit for length and precision.
At the ‘77-78 season ending Annual Dinner, Brett was awarded the distinction of being the Most Improved Player of the year as a result of advancing from Women’s B to Cal State Champion in a short period of time. A big win that season was taking the Cal State Championship women’s title by defeating Nancy Gengler, the 1976 U.S. Intercollegiate Champion, 3-1.
After playing for several years in the Bay Area, she dominated the NorCal Women’s A Championships from ’78 through ‘83 earning the #1 ranking.
After the 1979-80 season, Elebash became the first woman player from Northern California to earn a US national ranking. In 2001, Brett was also honored as a National Singles Softball Champion.
She was a finalist in hardball, Pacific Coast Champion in Singles, Mixed, Men’s Doubles, and being a Cal State and NorCal Champion. Amidst all her victories, Brett was also Secretary for NorCal Squash.
It was the year 1976 at San Francisco’s Presidio when Brett Elebash perched herself in the gallery above a white-walled room with symmetrical red markings along with a strip of metal along the bottom part on the front wall and watched with fascination squash for the first time. Never could she have imagined that it would transform and enhance her life over the next forty years with a community of friends who shared a similar passion.
The education began in earnest at the Peninsula Squash Club.
In the very beginning, she was the frequent recipient of her friend Herb Fischbach’s expertly disguised “roll corner” – a shot honed by Herb after many years of playing. For years, they would play practically every Saturday morning. Befittingly dressed in his classic creamy whites, Herb would arrive with a dozen freshly made Rolling Pin doughnuts. Brett looked forward to the apple fritters as much as the Saturday morning lesson and gathering.
Club owner extraordinaire Alex Eichmann was another coach who showed Elebash how to use the court and the walls and how to hit for length and precision.
Stacy Park, a noted woman player hailing from Southern California, taught her the “reverse corner”, creaming her in her “classroom” for several years until it became part of Brett’s game.
For a few years, Brett played almost daily, competed in NorCal tournaments each month for several years, and figured things out by playing, watching, and discussing strategies with experienced players.
Though never noted for generating great pace, she could control the ball and lob well–skills she recently realized were passed on from her father’s athletic gene pool (himself a tennis champ and track star). Brett unearthed strategies and skills from playing varsity tennis at UNC that readily transferred onto the squash court.
After playing for several years in the Bay Area, Elebash ambitiously began to play in singles tourneys offered by the Pacific Coast Squash Racquets Association and on occasion traveled east to compete nationally.
She was able to win the NorCal Women’s A Championships from ’78 through ‘83 thereby attaining the #1 ranking. At the ‘77-78 N.C.S.R.A. end-of-the-season Annual Dinner, Brett was awarded the distinction of being the Most Improved Player of the year as a result of advancing from Women’s B to Cal State Champion in a short period of time. A big win that season was taking the Cal State Championship women’s title by defeating Nancy Gengler, the 1976 U.S. Intercollegiate Champion, 3-1.
After the 1979-80 season, Elebash became the first woman player from Northern California to earn a national ranking. She obtained the ranking of #13, and then #15 the following season.
In an article in the U.S.S.R.A. monthly magazine, Tom Dashiell, President of the N.C.S.R.A. for the 1979-80 season, wrote: “In women’s play Brett continues her dominance by winning the NorCal Championship, with a fine victory over one of Los Angeles’s top women players, Andrienne Brandriss, avenging two earlier losses to Adrienne. Brett was never really challenged locally and had two good victories in the U.S. Nationals to serve notice that she is ready to move into the very top tanks once she gains more national exposure. Her game combines marvelous touch, ball control, and uncanny lobbing, which with her overall court presence makes for one of the best athletic shows in Northern California….”
Although Brett didn’t quite make it to the very top ranks nationally, she had some great wins and unequivocally states that she had a great time throughout her squash playing years.
Brett took the Pac Coast Women’s Championship in ‘81 and ’82 thereby snagging the #1 ranking. One of her biggest thrills was participating in the 1991 national 35+ finals against squash royalty. She played multi-crowned national champion Joyce Davenport that year, succumbing 3-1, but was able to move up one place in the national rankings to #2.
Another cherished memory of Brett’s was a match she played in 2001 in Seattle, winning the National Softball 45+. In the same tournament, her then 17-year son Robert won the 2.5 National Skill Level. Just as exciting was when her husband Jim Gibbons and in 2005 she captured the Pac Coast Men’s 50+ in Vancouver against the quality team of John Osborn and Bart McGuire.
In ’06, although there was no national 50+ draw that year for women, she was ranked #2.
Not a frequent softball player at the time, Brett turned to doubles where she was able to win the Pac Coast Mixed with two different partners: Kris Surano in 1991 and Glen Williams in 1992 (who she luckily picked up as a partner the week before!)
Brett was a finalist three times in the Women’s Class and also was victorious in several Mixed Pac Coasts. Nowadays she plays with the softball; usually the long game with one bounce.
She particularly enjoyed all the people who have made squash such a warm and fun community.
Brett is honored to have been a National Singles Champion in softball and a finalist in hardball, Pacific Coast Champion in Singles, Mixed, Men’s Doubles, and being a Cal State and NorCal Champion. She has fond memories of friendships from hard ball, softball, doubles squash, as well as people from all walks of life who loved to play squash and enjoy life.
What a gift!
- 1977-83 N.C.S.R.A.Women’s #1
- 1982-83 P.C.S.R.A. Women’s #1
- 1980 U.S.National Women’s #13
- 1989 U.S.National Women’s 35+ #3
- 1991 U.S.National Women’s 35+ #2
- 1978 California State Women’s Champion
- 1983 Inaugural S.F. Women’s Tournament and Bake-Off Competition Champion
- 1990 P.C.S.R.A. Mixed Doubles Champions w/ Kris Surano
- 1991 P.C.S.R.A. Mixed Doubles Champions w/ Glen Williams
- 1992 N.C.S.R.A. Mixed Doubles Champions w/ Rick Smith
- 2001 U.S. National Women’s 45+ Softball Champion
- 2005 P.C.S.R.A. 50+ Doubles Champions w/ Jim Gibbons
Growing up, John was always regarded as a striving athlete. He was introduced to the game as a fledgling student at Cal by the venerable coach, Dick Crawford. Over the course of his storied career, John collected innumerable trophies, including the 1991 and 92 US National 35+ Singles Champion, the 1989 US National Doubles 40+ Championship with his partner Gordon Anderson, along with many years of superior play in the Pacific Coast Doubles championship with a bevy of different partners.
John is also being feted for his unflagging devotion to the game of squash, and for guiding many legions of players through his kindness and encouragement, regardless of skill or professional levels. John has also steadfastly maintained the maxim that dedication to the game should not get in the way of the social aspects of the sport.
For over 30 years he led the squash program at the University Club, and more broadly, across Northern California.
Among many other contributions to the growth and health of the game, for a number of years, John served as NorCal Squash President.
My record belies the significance of what actually was accomplished.
If pressed, I can describe most of my experiences in detailed fashion. It’s an expected narrative in this circumstance.
However, the heart of the matter is when I was young and callow, I willingly chose an unconventional path and broke through contrived boundaries and created my own distinct narrative other than being the dutiful son of asian parents and other pat versions of the Asian-American stereotypes. In an attempt to shine and resist becoming a milquetoast cliche, I went against the grain. I would even venture to say that playing squash was a far-out attempt.
Growing up, I was always regarded as a striving athlete. Baseball, basketball, touch-football: most anything that the nearby Park and Rec had to offer for kids growing up in San Francisco’s middle-class neighborhoods.
I was introduced to the game when I was a fledgling student at Cal by the venerable coach, Dick Crawford. Exposed to the early conventions of the game in the U.S. (unbeknownst to me at the time), squash was mostly available to men; for example, the courts at Berkeley were located IN the men’s locker room. Surprisingly, this was happening in Berkeley – ground zero of the progressive free-speech movement during my years at the university. I can tell a host of stories of being in the middle of rock-throwing and tear-gassing protests.
But I digress….
I do think all of us, people working to understand Asian American culture, we’re figuring it out in the dark, feeling around to understand where things are – trying to find open space in order to grow.
I think that the game of squash, particularly the hardball version, represents a certain American sense of achievement. To me, each of my wins was evidence that an Asian could not only thrive under these circumstances but was on common ground and belonged.
I’m grateful that I had a chance to fulfill my ambition.
A more apt tribute to my career can be found on my blog.
- 1991, 1992 National 35+ Hardball Singles Champion
- 1998 National 40+ Doubles Champions w/ Gordon Anderson
- 1985, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995 Pacific Coast Singles Champion
- 1989 Pacific Coast Singles 35+ Champion
- 1994 Pacific Coast Doubles Champions w/ Steve Heath
- 1995 Pacific Coast Doubles Champions w/ Kris Surano
- 2000 Pacific Coast Doubles Champions w/ Keen Butcher
- 2006 Pacific Coast Doubles 50+ Champions w/ Gary Johnson
- 2010 Pacific Coast Doubles 40+ Champions w/ Ray Bertrand
- 2011 Pacific Coast Doubles 40+ Champions w/ Kevin Jernigan
- 2013 Pacific Coast Doubles 50+ Champions w/ Alex Dean
- 1992 John M. Barnaby Singles Invitational Champion, Harvard Club of N.Y.
- 1989, 1990, 1999, 2013 Lapham-Grant U.S. Team Member
- 1991 California State Doubles Champions w/ Edward Dold
- 1992 California State Doubles Champions w/ Paul Gessling
- 1999 Stanley D. Woodworth(*) Award Recipient
(*) former faculty member of Cate School, Santa Barbara
As a Bay Area newcomer, Tom announced his arrival by winning the Ralfe Miller Invitational at Berkeley to begin the 1974-75 season.
An outstanding season with many tournament wins was capped by Tom winning the season-ending NorCal Championship.
For the 1975-75 season, Dashiell completed a clean sweep of California squash titles by winning the combined NorCal and University Club Championships – his seventh tournament victory of that season.
Tom also contributed to the development of the game as President of NorCal Squash.
Ralfe Miller Invitational
In the bottom half of the Championship draw, things weren’t quite so straight forward. Bay Area newcomer Tom Dashiell, a recent graduate of Harvard Law School and former pitcher for the Crimson baseball team in his undergraduate years, was the not quite dark horse. Everyone knew he was good – “how good?” was the question. “Very good” was the answer as Tom moved through Mike McNally and Jim Stacy in four games and then Jose Alonso in a straight forward, but let-filled, three.
The finals was a real tight contest as local favorite Floyd Svensson won the first 15-14 and third 15-12 and Tom won the second 15-13 and fourth 15-14. Floyd pulled ahead to an 11-6 lead in the fifth. Out of desperation, Tom went for a few shots, and to his good fortune, they worked, enabling him to catch Floyd and squeeze by for the championship at 15-13. As it turned out, this is the closest Tom came to a tournament loss to any NorCal player for the entire season.
Dashiell capped an outstanding season of squash by reaching his fifth Class A final and winning his third tournament. En route to the finals, he defeated Sandy Koski (Portland) and Alan Fox. There he met visiting Kirk Randall, presently the assistant squash and tennis coach at Dartmouth College.
Kirk had scored wins over David Tepper and Alan Hager in his half of the draw.
The final pitted Randall’s beautiful shot-making and racquet work against Dashiell’s retrieving and patience. Randall won the first game. The second was a “no set” which Dashiell won on the final point. This put Tom in control of the match as he ground out the next two games to earn perhaps his finest victory of the season.
Olympic Club Invitational
When long-time Olympic Club Champion, Alex Eichmann decided to make his living teaching and promoting our game, it was a great loss to amateur play but a great gain for players wishing to learn.
Luckily, into our midst arrived Harvard law and squash trained Tom Dashiell, who immediately assumed not only the mantle of The Olympic Club’s best player but also dominated California squash with major wins in the Ralfe Miller, The Olympic Club Invitational, NorCal Championships, and a second place (to ex Pacific Coast Champ, George Morffit) in the University Club Invitational.
NorCal – University Club Invitational
Tom Dashiell completed a clean sweep of California squash titles as he notched his seventh tournament victory of the season winning the combined NorCal and University Club Championships.
David was NorCal’s President for two seasons (1976-1978) and under his tenure, the Association grew at a remarkable rate.
Under his stewardship, NorCal squash membership almost doubled, and sixteen new courts were built in the West Bay. He led the growth that provided NorCal squash with greater opportunity and even greater responsibility, as more beginners, especially more women and juniors, joined the sport.
David’s highlight college squash was playing #1 for Cornell against Harvard. In his playing career, David won many titles including California championships and Pacific Coast doubles titles.
David Tepper was NorCal’s President for two seasons (1976-1978) and under his tenure, the Association grew at a remarkable rate. Here is a passage written by him taken from the 1976-77 N.C.S.R.A. yearbook that is a glimpse at his able stewardship.
I have been playing squash in Northern California for almost four years. In that time, the game has gone through some very positive changes. N.C.S.R.A. membership has almost doubled. Sixteen new courts have been built in the West Bay. Fresno had one court; now they have six. This growth is not just limited to our area. In fact, we might be just behind developments on this continent and in the rest of the world.
The late sixties and early seventies produced a remarkable boom as commercially operated squash centers, backed with private and/or public funds became sound, if not lucrative, business operations in countries such as Britain, Sweden and, Australia. The game is played and is growing in virtually every industrialized nation in the free world. In North America, these developments have been paralleled in Canada, Mexico, and most recently the Northeastern portion of the United States. Less than five years ago in New York City, the game could only be found in the private rens’ clubs and an occasional Y.M.C.A. or University. At last count, Manhattan has seven new, privately owned, commercially operated squash centers providing over sixty courts for anyone wishing to pay the rental fee for the time the court is used. Initiation fee or monthly dues are either minimal or often not charged at all. Slowly but surely squash is entering the mainstream of recreational sports.
This growth provides us, the N.C.S.R.A., with a great opportunity and even greater responsibility.
More players mean more beginners, especially more women and juniors. As more experienced, knowledgeable players, it is our responsibility to guide and encourage them to learn to play the game properly. Squash is a game played under some very obvious physical limitations. Anyone who has taken a follow-through on the forehand or a ball in the backside is certainly aware of this. Instruction in a few basic areas and an awareness of the elementary principles of the game and the obligation one assumes when entering a squash court with an opponent, squash becomes the safe; exciting, and an invigorating game we all know it to be.
As an organization, it becomes the responsibility of the N.C.S.R.A. to encourage beginning players by providing organized activities for them. The game is growing here among women and Juniors. I am happy to say there will be a women’s interclub league here this season for the first time ever.
Hopefully, junior development is not too far behind.
These are just some of the areas we can work on.
Your interest, suggestions, and participation will benefit the game and all those associated with it. Please do not hesitate to contact me, your club representative, or any other member of the executive board if you have something to offer.
We would be most remiss if we did not extend a sincere thank you to Peter and Charlotte Gaynor, who are very much responsible for the current format of this yearbook. As N.C.S.R.A. President for the past three years, Peter set a standard for organization and progress that will serve for many years to come. Charlotte contributed many, many hours, and enthusiasm to the typing, correspondence, and other chores that enable this organization to function. Once again, our thanks to you both.
- Fall, 1966: Introduced to squash as freshman at Cornell University
- Played 3 years of both varsity squash & tennis at Cornell (6 varsity letters!), graduated May 1970
- Highlight of college squash was playing #1 for Cornell against Larry Terrell of Harvard in the Hemenway Gym. He beat me 3-0, but he also beat Palmer Page 3-0 in the finals of the NCAA championships that season. I think he won the National Amateur the following season.
- Proprietor of Frank Smith’s Tennis Shop in San Francisco from 1973-77. Established FSTS as the premier store for squash rackets & equipment in San Francisco.
- Played #1 on the SF Jewish Community Center/ UC Med Center team that won the “B” League. Others players on the team were Bob Mueller, Ron Schneider, Tom Huster, and Linn Roth
- Won the California “B” Championship at the Venice Squash Club, Los Angeles (1975, I think) (beat John Lau in the semis of that tournament and Dave Hogg in the finals)
- Only “A” singles win was the University Club of Los Angeles Invitational (don’t remember the year!)
- Won the California State 35+ Singles Championship over Mike Roizen (either 1985 or 1986)
- Runner-up in the Pacific Coast 35+ Singles Championship at the Multnomah Club (lost to Randy Lofton!)
- Won the 1977 Pacific Coast Doubles Championship with Ted Gross over Tom Dashiell and Bob Mueller
- Won a couple of Vets Doubles tournaments with Mike Jensen-Akula (I think we won a California State Championship)
Criteria for Induction
The NorCal Hall of Fame is comprised of those NorCal squash players, administrators, and coaches who have made major, positive contributions to the game of squash in NorCal.
The NorCal Hall of Fame selection committee comprises of:
- Jack Bickel
- John Lau
- Jim Gibbons
- Brett Elebash
- Mike Townsend
- Craig McAllister
- Kevin Jernigan