Sportsmanship Master Class at National Singles

Jay and JZ feature crop

Jay Nelson (r) and James Zug Sr. in the National Singles 75+ final.

by Kevin D. Klipstein, President & CEO

Last weekend I had the opportunity to witness a master class in sportsmanship at the National Singles. The Philadelphia Cricket Club-hosted tournament fielded nearly 200 players competing in sixteen age divisions ranging from 35+ to 85+. Many of the finals featured some truly timeless rivalries including Richard Chin and John Musto in the 45+ division which dates back to the 1980s, and epic rivalries such as Richard Millman and Dominic Hughes in the 55+. Eleven entrants were eighty years old or more. At least six entrants had competed in ten consecutive National Singles Championships.

The event’s 100+ year history helps explain why the competition was both fiercely competitive and fully cooperative in maintaining standards of fair play and sportsmanship. The norm throughout the tournament included calling ones balls down whenever in doubt, accepting the officiating calls of peers, and purely playing for the joy of it. Jay Nelson, record thirty-time national champion and US Squash Hall of Famer said simply, “I love this tournament and I love the game.”

Over the last several years, US Squash has taken several major steps towards encouraging more positive behavior on and off the court, including:

  • Re-defining US Squash’s mission in 2014 to emphasize sportsmanship
  • Adding a fourth strategic and messaging pillar to highlight and include sportsmanship
  • Revising the US Squash Code of Conduct to strengthen it, define infractions, and outline disciplinary actions related to violations
  • Consistently and actively enforcing the Code of Conduct for Players, Parents, Coaches and Attendees by regularly sending notification of violation letters, and applying suspensions in the most egregious cases, as well as modifying and promoting the misconduct reporting and response procedures
  • Elevating the recognition of good Sportsmanship through the promotion of national awards, and adding in 2014 a Men’s Sportsmanship award, named in honor of Robert W. Callahan
  • Elevating the awareness of the importance of Sportsmanship, and character’s role in squash, through the Character in Sports Day at the U.S. Open beginning in 2014

We believe these efforts matter, and are having an impact. At the World Championships last August, where our junior men defeated France (the #3 seeds) to earn our the team’s first-ever berth in a world semifinal, nearly every other coach commented on our boys’ heart and sportsmanship during the competition. They were by far the best behaved group there, and were a credit to US Squash and their families.

Reflecting on the competition last weekend, there is reason to be optimistic that the spirit of fair play will endure in squash. The association will continue its efforts to increase the community’s awareness of character’s relevance on a day-to-day basis, to promote sportsmanship, and to encourage conversation on the topic.

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