The U.S. National Hardball Singles Championships had a final and resoundingly successful farewell as a national championship last weekend at Merion Cricket Club. Seventy-one players from around the continent played in the event.
There were new winners in the open draws. Gina Stoker beat Alicia Rodriguez in three in the women’s event, while Dane Sharp followed in the tradition of Merion teaching pros taking the men’s title by coming back from a 0-2 deficit to defeat Imran Khan in five.
Much of the excellent play was again in the masters draws. In the women’s 40+, Julie Kessler prevented septugarian Joyce Davenport from adding to her record haul of national titles by virtue of a decisive victory.
On the men’s side, Harrison Sebring won the 30+. The 40+ saw an incredible final, as Tom Harrity squandered a 2-0 lead but outlasted David Ford in five. A few hours later Harrity—only a few months removed from hip replacement surgery—came back out and topped Joe Purrazella in the 50+ finals. In the 60+ Bryce Harding overcame Ned Edwards 3-1. In the 60+, the largest draw of the age-groups, Palmer Page beat Gary Yeager in the final 3-0. In the 70+ Henry Steinglass escaped with a 3-2 win over Eric Berger. Lucky Young had enough luck to become champion when there was a three-way tie at the end of the round-robin. Tournament director Charlie Baker, turning ninety-one this summer, took the 80+.
At a gala dinner in the ballroom at Merion, a large, festive group of players and friends celebrated hardball singles. Kevin Klipstein, the president and CEO of US Squash, presented plaques to Baker and Tefft Smith, who have kept the game alive for nearly a quarter century after the switch to softball. Three former open national champions—Ben Heckscher, Harrity and Chris Walker—also spoke about their unique journeys in hardball singles.
This year’s event was the last hardball singles to be an official U.S. national championship. “It has been great to see the passion for hardball singles, ” said Klipstein, “and it is now an end of an era. But as Dr. Seuss said, ‘Don’t be sad it is over—smile because it happened.’ We’ve got great memories of a great part of squash history.”