New Simon Squash Center finds a home among students, teams

The Men’s and Women’s Squash teams are now finishing their first full season, played on the twelve new courts that have resulted from the addition of the recently-built Simon Squash Center to Williams’ athletic facilities. In October, Williams held the grand opening of the new three and a quarter million dollar complex. The preceding spring had seen a full squash season in the half-complete facility and a summer-long construction delay. The now complete Simon Squash Center includes new international-regulation courts for softball squash, a lounge, and a new fitness area. The Squash Center is one of the largest capital additions that Williams has seen in the past few years, and certainly the grandest new improvement to the school’s athletic complex since the completion of the Chandler Athletic Center.

Over the past decade, colleges have seen the switch from hardball to softball squash. The school’s old courts were all constructed for hardball play, as were most courts in the country, until recently. A hardball moves faster and requires courts with different, narrower dimensions than softball squash courts. Williams, because of its hardball courts, was for several seasons behind the times. The court dimensions that softball squash requires is actually the international standard. For a long time, American colleges and clubs resisted the change to softball squash, leaving American players at a disadvantage in international play.

The women’s team switched to softball before the 1993-1994 season, and Men’s Squash switched for the 1994-1995 season – meaning that both teams played scores of matches on hardball courts, despite their league’s switch to softball play. The Athletic Department saw the need to catch up with the changes that have been happening in collegiate squash by updating Williams’s facilities.

Women’s team member Katherine French ’02 explained, “Softball squash is best played on softball courts. Playing the game on hardball courts corrupts the game—it would be like playing tennis on a court three feet narrower than it should be, or like playing basketball on a court with proportions meant for volleyball.”

Changes that the Simon Center has brought about are quite central to the future success of Williams’s squash program. Women’s Varsity Squash coach Julie Greenwood commented, “Schools can’t attract kids with hardball courts – can’t really have a good program because hardball is so outdated.” Speaking of the general reaction to the courts, Greenwood added that there is “such good, positive energy about the sport at the college.” This energy originates from the fact that many people have been impressed by the state-of-the-art center. “It’s a nice space to be in; it doesn’t feel like a gymnasium,” Greenwood had to say of the design. “It’s one of the nicest set of courts around.”

The architecture and design of the Simon Center has won praise from most everyone who has been inside of it. French said, “This new complex is not only a world class facility – perhaps the best in collegiate squash – but also compliments the diverse architecture of the area where it was built.” The shining glass main entrance opens onto the courtyard surrounded on the other sides by Lawrence Hall and the Chandler Athletic Center.

Giving praise as well was Varsity Men’s coach Dave Johnson, who notes, “Everyone is happy with the design of the facility.” Echoing Johnson’s sentiment were several members of the men’s team, waiting to leave on their bus for the National Championships at Harvard. They all agreed that Williams’ facilities bests that of any of the other schools at which they have played. “Harvard has more courts, but no lounge,” commented Men’s player David Adams ’00. “It is not as nice of a building; ours is a much better facility. There are no showers in their building, no room for spectators, and you can’t videotape matches there.” The Simon Center’s bottom six courts each have floor-level viewing area and a mezzanine for spectators. The upper six courts, on the building’s third floor, have spacious galleries for coaches, players and fans.

Both Adams and French commented on the positive benefits of the new courts’ plaster walls. French noted, “With the walls made of plaster, not wooded boarding, they play extremely well.” Adams agreed, “Everyone else has paneled courts which give bad bounces.”

Williams students may be proud to know that most of the schools that our squash teams play have fewer courts than Williams. Coach Greenwood reports that we are at an advantage because of the number of courts we now have. Trinity and Dartmouth each have five and Amherst have ten. “Having twelve makes practice easier in terms of accommodating both the men’s and the women’s teams at the same time,” said French. According to Coach Greenwood, “Twelve courts means that both varsities can carry twelve, which is great.” Coach Johnson said that all of the tournaments played at Williams this year have run smoothly as the Simon Center can easily play host to several teams.

The Simon Center’s benefits reach far beyond members of the squash teams. Many see the courts not just an improvement to the squash program but as a boon for the entire school. J.V. player Jon Bahr ’02 noted, “It’s crazy how everyone is so excited by squash. I always hear people – even lots of football players – talking about going to play squash. It’s a good workout and everyone loves it.” All of the talk around campus of the “beautiful new” squash center has attracted many students who have never before seen squash to try the game out. “Before I got here,” said David Rowe ’02, “I thought squash was a country-club sport, but I began to play a lot over the winter and found that it is a fun and challenging game.” He has taken squash classes twice and says it is a good way to get those PE credits.

Though he is now a convert, Rowe’s sentiment of squash as a “country-club” sport certainly speaks to how few people know of the game before college. It is a game usually found within the walls of elite institutions. Glenn Boyer, who manages the Lasell equipment room, said, “I wouldn’t know much about the sport if I weren’t involved with the college. It’s not a big sport out there.” The new courts have been good at drawing in students who do not come from places where squash is popular. When asked if they have squash in Minnesota, Bryce Gillespie ’02 responded that in his home state there is “not a bit of squash,” and agreed that it is a “more elite sport than not.” The Simon Center can remedy most people’s unfamiliarity with the sport, since it is open for use every day, and balls and rackets can be borrowed from the equipment room in the basement.

Coach Greenwood reported that all squash PE classes in session this term are filled. “We’ve had astronomical enrollment. I have fifteen people in class and ten in another. We’re offering five classes now and they are all like that.” Mr. Boyer can see the excitement about squash building. “After they take the class they get the fever and come back down,” he said of students who first try the game during PE and then return for more. “Most kids who take the class fall in love with the sport. Renzie Lamb sells the sport up there—everyone loves him!”

It seems that the school’s newfound love for squash is what brings them back to the Simon Center to play over and over again. At any point in the day when the teams are not practicing, students and faculty members can be found playing on the new courts. The Simon Squash Center is a bonus for everyone at Williams.