Monday, April 30, 2012


It was akin to a small band of medieval warriors drooling at the mouth for battle, weapons lofted above their heads, war cries echoing through the valley, adrenalin overtaking all the senses as they start their heroic charge to attack the castle... only to be violently slaughtered within seconds by the snipers in the turrets, equivalent to killing a fly with a nuclear warhead.

The DAC McQueenie Cup team was outgunned in a similar fashion. Hosted at the beautiful UCC (University Club of Chicago), the home team took full advantage of available players. In reality, the result was decided before the competition began. 
Ken MacDonald and Nick Duffy (ULC) enjoying
a drink in the UCC court area overlooking Lake Michigan

Each club provides 2 players maximum in each of the 4 knock-out draws - A, B, C, and D. Every position in the draw is played out and points are awarded depending on where a player finishes. For example, winning a category nets 24 points, second is 20, third is 18, and so forth. At the end, each player’s points goes towards their respective club’s total and the club with the most points wins the cup.

For some reason, 5 of the 8 DAC players were drawn to play UCC members in their first match. The UCC team dominated the weekend - 5 of their 8 players reached at least the semi final. Still, we did score one victory as John Rakolta managed to win 3-1; however, the other 4 weren’t so successful. We won one more match for the day with Peter Logan cleaning up a quick 3-0 over his ULC (Union League Club of Chicago) opponent.

With the way the scoring works, and having 6 players in the consolation draws competing for minor points, winning the McQueenie Cup was already out of reach. The 2012 campaign had ended quickly. Sorrows were quickly forgotten as the Windy City Friday night beckoned and the DAC squash team did some serious bonding. It was a long session, and very productive. So productive in fact that player’s bodies were hurting more from that rather than from the squash.

Saturday morning arrived too early for many and the on court fortunes did not change much. Brien-watch-me-hit-a-boast-Baker and Andy Adamo went against the trend and pulled out a couple of wins and ended up playing each other for the 5th and 6th position. Brien came out on top of that match 3-1.
John Rakolta after his 5-set marathon
For our first of 2 Friday winners, John Rakolta’s semi final was against Toledo’s Drew Snell. Arguably it was the match of the tournament. Drew started strongly taking the first two games, but John changed tactics cleverly to extend the rallies and start to frustrate his opponent. It was a tough assignment, but it was working. John took the next two games and went point-for-point in the 5th up until 6-all when Drew found another gear from seemingly nowhere, suddenly picked up the pace and had a tiring John just a step too slow. It was a great match, despite the 3-2 loss. Peter Logan’s match was a stark contrast. His opponent was Rahul Singh from the UCC - one of the US’s top 5.5 players. There wasn’t much Peter could do. Rahul was too good all over the court, sweet racquet skills, smooth deception, and floating footwork. The 3-0 result was expected, Rahul went on to win the final 3-0 as well over Drew, no one was surprised about that either.

It was a glaring McQueenie Cup victory for the UCC. Not even close. They ended up with 150 points, Toledo came second with 124, MAC (Milwaukee Athletic Club) came in 3rd with 90 points and the DAC 4th with 86. ULC rounded out the 5 teams with 62. More disappointing was the fact we lost out to the MAC who only turned up with 5 players. Two of their 5 players won their respective category, one of which competed in the A draw last year but bumped himself down to the B draw this year. No wonder he won.
Anthony Fracchia, Brien Baker,
Ken MacDonald and Andu Adamo

The result aside, the event was a blast. Great venue, great city, we were perfectly looked after by UCC’s delightful new assistant pro Joni from Holland (I don’t know his last name) who somehow succeeded in pleasing everyone all the time. The dampener was that the winner was decided so early; much of the excitement of the matches was missing.

Saturday night forced us all to hit the town again. It would have been sacrilegious if we hadn’t. Apparently Friday night bonding did not kill off enough brain cells or taste buds and most of us managed to keep the glow running until the wee hours of the morning. We are athletes after all and can push through such pain.

Special mention to the DAC team for a terrifically entertaining and memorable weekend, the laughs never stopped: John Rakolta; Peter Logan; Mark Gregory; Anthony Fracchia; Brien Baker; Andy Adamo; Ken MacDonald and Patrick Petz. Now if only we could play squash as well as we socialized...

Thursday, April 26, 2012


The good news: Record numbers in the Doubles Club Championships. Registration was up and consequently it was the most competitive event we have had in recent memory. We had new faces in the draw trying their hand and most of the ‘old’ faces attempting to teach them a lesson. The bad news: The Red Wings lost the play-offs, Brandon Inge is still a Tiger, and there was broccoli in my dinner again last night.

Doubles C~~
No offense to all the participants here, but almost all of the 10 teams would have qualified for a Doubles 100 event! However, it didn't detract from the competitiveness one iota as with age comes experience and the ability - for the most part - to play smarter not harder. Unlike singles, hitting the correct angles on a doubles court will almost always end up as a winner no matter how fast your opponent may be. Not that speed was a big worry for most players here. Except if you are talking about Mike Petix. Mike is renowned for his court coverage and extends rallies beyond what his opponents expect which often leaves them flat footed as they watch their 'winners'  come back. He won this category with Paul Flanagan last year and teamed up with Drew Creamer this time around. Mike and Drew reached the final, taking out his 2011 partner (who was teamed up with Andrew Spohn) in the semi final in a 5-game come from behind win. Meeting them there were the 2011 and 2010 runner-ups in Joe Moran and Ken Katz, and they were rather determined to reverse the result. Joe and Ken were seeded one and worked themselves through the draw comfortably dropping only one game which was in their first match. Now, not that the first game determines the outcome of a best of five match, but if the 18-17 win to Moran / Katz went to Petix / Creamer instead, I believe the end result would have been different. Momentum carried Moran / Katz to a 15-10 win in game 2, giving them an obvious huge advantage and an intimidating hurdle to overcome for Petix / Creamer. But with their backs up against the wall, Mike and Drew stepped up to the challenge to push the match to a fourth but they couldn't keep it up. Joe and Ken clinched their Doubles C title three games to one 18-17; 15-10; 9-15; 15-11.

Doubles B~~
One of things that stand out after the result of this category is that familiarity breeds success. John Dunwoody and Chris Terry have been playing together for a long time. How long? I'm not too sure, and I'm not too sure John or Chris can remember either but the rumor has it they met while helping lay the foundation stones of the DAC building. Which reminds me, it's the DAC club house centennial is in 2015... Anyway, the pair can finish each other’s sentences (and martinis) and this (weird) extra sensory perception translates perfectly on the doubles court where they regularly finish each other’s rallies. Teamwork is a vital ingredient in this game and a seemingly mysterious art to master - especially when players have an endless merry-go-round of changing partners whenever a doubles event comes up. In the attempt of trying to find a "perfect match" on the doubles court, it is actually causing our members to fall further and further behind the other clubs. Pick a partner and work together- learn to play the game as a team, not as individuals. Improvement will come when you practice and play regularly with the same person and start to complement each other. And that is where John and Chris have the advantage. They reached the final with a 3-2 semi win over the recent Doubles 100 winners Greg Rivard and lefty Craig Hupp. Their finals opponents also won their semi 3-2. Patrick Petz and Rich Stimson knocked out Shail Arora and Ryan Bendzinski 15-12 in the 5th and played that match well together. But consistency is important and because they don't play as a team too often, they struggled against the 'wiser' pair. Frustration surely played a part, especially after a slow start. John and Chris took command early taking the first two games 15-9, 15-3. Patrick and Rich picked up their game in the third and pulled it out 15-9, but it was too little too late as Dunwoody / Terry regained control to secure the fourth game 15-10 and score another Club Championship title - their 2nd in 3 years.

Doubles A~~
Domination of this event has been spread over 2 teams for the past 4 years. Every final since 2009 has been between Peter Logan / John Birgbauer and Kirk Haggarty / Mike Eugenio. The teams have been swapping titles and this year was actually no different. 2011 winners Logan / Birgbauer lost this year's final to 2011 finalists Haggarty / Eugenio 10-15; 15-12; 15-11; 15-13. It was a competitive, good spirited match played in front of a handful of members enjoying the free keg. But are the foundations of this annual staple match beginning to crack? Usually the two pairs cake walk the preliminary rounds 3-0 but this year the Logan / Birgbauer team dropped a game against Peter Shumaker and newcomer Jed Elley. Next year, even 'newer'-comer Pablo Buitron will no doubt make his presence felt and suddenly the 2013 Doubles A draw already will be stronger and less predictable. But speculation is all it is and for now Kirk Haggarty earns yet another notch on the heralded DAC Champions board for all infinitum along with Mike Eugenio who is quietly collecting his fair share of titles as well. We sincerely hope they will be back next year to defend and tackle the 'new guys' and also the current crop of improving members such as John Rakolta and George Kordas who may find themselves very competitive if they decide to dedicate some serious time to the game. As we all know - every year gets harder.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


So here we are—the first overhauled Michigan Squash Travel League season has been completed. Even though I was in charge of the league, I will attempt to be brutally honest in my dissection of how I believe it all panned out.

Paul Ward

Firstly, the results. The DAC had three teams over the two divisions: two in the 3.5 and one in the 4.5. One of the 3.5 teams went into the season knowing they had their work cut out for them. Consequently they struggled from round to round and as expected ended up last at the end of the home and away matches. Our second 3.5 team on the other hand ended up on top after losing only one match-up and stormed through the finals winning both weeks 3 matches to 1 and therefore were crowned 3.5 champions! Congratulations to Paul Ward (who won 14 of 14 matches for the year), captain Patrick Petz, Andy Adamo, Al Iafrate, Rich Stimson (also undefeated), and James Van Dyke.

In the 4.5 division, our team finished 5th out of 6, and as a result missed out on the finals. Windsor proved to be the best team all season and won the final 3-1 over Life Time Fitness.

The new travel league format was a dramatic change from previous years. Not only did we move the matches from weeknights to a Saturday, we also implemented the rules more strictly. Amongst other regulations, the main ones enforced were:  matches were no longer allowed to be rearranged; players had to be registered and paid members of US Squash and Michigan Squash; and teams had to play in the same order every week.

Like anything that is modified, push back was anticipated. Since, in the past, the travel league was run with almost no insistence of following any structure whatsoever, the players got comfortable with that. There was nothing to stop someone playing their round 2 match after round 7 for example. What’s the big deal if the number 1 player on the team wants to play number 4 the next week? What was also anticipated was that teams would not be 100% clear with the rules and inevitably break them. Some teams were penalized with defaults for transgressions, and on the rare occasion a stern warning was issued (depending on the severity of the offense).

Over the season, I received many e-mails asking for leniency. More time to play a match was a common theme since some teams found it difficult to fill a four man roster on certain dates and also to allow a ‘casual’ sub (non US Squash member) to play instead. Such requests were promptly denied – sometimes to the consequence of match defaults and in a couple of cases, full team defaults. In the most disappointing case of all, 3 of the 4 semi finals were team defaults for that very reason. (Injuries and vacation were the main culprits of players not being available.)

I know it sounds harsh. After all, Michigan Squash is all about promoting play. But rules are rules and there is no point having them if they aren’t followed, or if we decide to be flexible every time a conflict arises. Then they turn into “recommended guidelines” and have no meaning at all.

With one year experience behind us I think year two will run more smoothly. People will have a better understanding of what to expect and how to organize their teams. Communication between the captains improved as the season progressed which naturally made everyone’s life a lot easier. It is comforting to know that you will have an opponent when you turn up to play! As mentioned earlier, this did not eliminate defaults – we still had too many of them - but drastically reduced them from past years.

Overall, I think the travel league went fairly well. I’m going to give it a 6 ½ out of 10.

We will see what season 2 brings us. Hopefully those involved were pleased enough to not only play again but encourage their fellow members to join them. Maybe even to the extent we get participation again from our friends in Toledo. It works out to once a month, you get to play 2 matches on the day, and enjoy the camaraderie and experience of playing people outside your own club. Even though we had only 2 divisions, we will be trying to expand it but it will depend on which clubs enter. We’ll just keep trying.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Remember this event? It started back in January. The Doubles 100 Tournament is not supposed to take 100 days to complete. The ‘100’ stands for the combined ages of each team. But, as we all know, trying to get 4 members to agree to a pre-set date is like an urban legend: we think it may have happened once, but no one can prove it.

The good news for the tournament was the record amount of entries – 18 teams. The B draw attracted the most (as usual) with 12 of them. Going in as the number one seeds were last year’s winners Mike Petix and John Chouinard. They reached the final again but not without a scare in the semi against Bob Garvey and Shail Arora. They were 2-0 down before they somehow managed to dig themselves successfully out of the hole and win the match in 5 games. Looking a taking revenge on their 2011 final, 18-17 in the 5th defeat, Joe Moran and Ken Katz were not able to give themselves the opportunity to do so. Steamrolling through the bottom half of the draw, Craig Hupp and the hard hitting Greg Rivard pancaked all that dared to step on court with them. It was a 3-0 win for Hupp / Rivard over Moran / Katz and suddenly they emerged as the favorite for the final. And they didn’t let up either. The Petix / Chouinard team was denied back-to-back titles in convincing fashion as they went down 3-0 as well. There was no shame in that – Craig and Greg were simply too strong.

There were 6 teams in the A draw, 5 total matches, and 4 of them went the distance. Once again, the number one seeds were the defending 2011 Champions Patrick Petz and Peter Logan. Their first match was against Mike Skaff and Sandy MacDonald (who escaped their first match 3-2 over Scott Langenburg and Manny Tancer.) Maybe it was overconfidence, maybe they weren’t prepared, but whatever it was, the Petz / Logan team had a devil of a time during the 5 games it took them to win. Anyone who plays regularly with or against Sandy knows his forehand reverse can be deadly – even when you know it’s coming and on this day there was nothing Petz or Logan could do about it except watch winner after winner roll off his racquet. In the end, the 3-2 win came with a huge sigh of relief for Petz / Logan.
Stu and Mike at their favorite getaway place - the keg!

Meeting them in the final was the ‘married’ couple of Mike Counsman and Stu Boynton. Unrequited love between the two, sometimes bickering, always trash-talking, often laughing, but somehow they are able to display rather effective teamwork and proficiency on the doubles court. They got to the final by taking out the number two seeds – John Dunwoody and Eric Green - in 5 games coming back from a 2-1 deficit. Stu then decided 6 weeks in Florida for secret doubles training would be perfect preparation for the final. It worked. They repeated the feat against Patrick and Peter. Once again, they found themselves 2-1 down and battling out a tie-breaker in the 4th. Somehow, someway, Mr. and Mrs. Counsman-Boynton grabbed the 4th 18-15 and took the momentum all the way for a 15-10 in the 5th victory! They celebrated as all couples should – with a few beers! It was a great finish to the most competitive draw we’ve had.

Monday, April 16, 2012


I am starting to think I can affect the weather. At the end of summer last year, I bought a snow-blower in anticipation of a repeat winter of 2010 where it snowed continuously and I was forced to shovel my landing strip of a drive way non-stop. Since that day, we have been through a Michigan winter and we only had one significant snowfall – the weekend of the DAC Classic – and I haven’t had to use the snow-blower at all! So, I am thinking I will purchase a BBQ for my back porch to enjoy our backyard during the upcoming warm season of summer – and in doing so will force it to rain for four months straight!

That means there will be no better place for you to be than on the squash court and playing the Summer League! It is the same format as the winter boasters league except it will be scheduled for Monday nights instead of Wednesdays.

Yes, yes, I still expect some die-hard golfing fanatics will still be trying to be like Tiger (or Bubba!) and not want to even think about stepping inside a court but they are only hurting themselves. Not playing for 4 months will give the ones who do a considerable advantage come September.

The best part of this is that I do 90% of the organization. The 10% left over is for you to:
  1. E-mail or call through your registration
  2. Read my e-mails regarding the league when you receive them
  3. Contact your opponent to confirm your match when the league starts.
That’s it.

Then you get to play – what could be better??
The league will start on Monday May 14, run 7 weeks plus 2 weeks of finals and finish on July 16.

I will put together all the teams. I will e-mail you the schedule every week. I will have the courts reserved. I won’t: Pick you up. Play for you. That you can manage yourself.

So send me your registration – I will take the first 64 players and anyone signing up afterwards will be placed on a sub list unless I get enough to expand the league. Make sure you enter early – deadline is May 4. All players of ALL levels are welcome. (You must be a Blackballer to play.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012


McQueenie Cup – Apr 27-29 @ Chicago

It’s the effort I was most impressed with. The time taken, the detail, and of course the sense of humor. I’m always in for good chuckle, even (especially!) at my (our) own expense and the Toledo team didn’t hold back, they in fact rubbed our noses squarely in it. Even though you can’t see everything let me ensure you that the entire 2011 McQueenie Cup DAC team is listed, the “Jack” in the box is wearing a pink dress – with DAC lettering - a pink bow in the hair, there is an Australian flagged pasted on the lid, and a post-it-note indicating the white towel was for me to wipe my tears away. They covered all the bases. I am actually touched they would do such a thing. Too funny.

This was the ‘consolation’ prize the Toledo team mailed to us after their second in a row McQueenie Cup victory last year. A legit win, unlike year one. (Just have to remind them of that!) So with this gag as inspiration for our DAC team, we are even more determined to conquer the competition. (Actually, I don’t care if we finish second last, just so long as we are ahead of Toledo!) Not quite true – we are going with the aim to win it. Unfortunately, playing in Chicago is like going to “Temptation Island”. A huge part of the battle will be how our boys tackle the non-squash activities when the evening beckons and how fuzzy their heads are when the morning reminds them of what they shouldn’t have done. It will be a tenuous balance.

After in-depth discussions with the Squash Committee, it was decided that the members asked to represent the DAC will be from the 2011 team. There are 8 players in total; two for each division of A, B, C and D. If a player cannot go, alternates were invited. We did in fact need to replace 4 players. Our 2012 team: Peter Logan – John Rakolta – Anthony Fracchia – Mark Gregory – Brien Baker – Andy Adamo – Patrick Petz – Ken MacDonald. Wish us luck!

We finished in third place last year, but the final order came down to the last 2 matches of the competition. We had our chances, so let’s see if we learnt anything from our defeat… What we did determine is that there are a couple of supplies we do need to make certain we carry for this year: 1. A stock of spare socks meant for Eric Green who regrettably cannot make it this year, so we’ll keep the socks for anyone else who may find themselves with one too few. 2. A travel pillow for Patrick Petz to keep his head upright in the bar late at night – at least he could look like he’s awake even if he’s not. 3. Strong coffee and Ibuprofen.

Last but not least – and in fact most importantly – we need to have a team powwow after the event to discuss what lovely consolation prize we would like to pass on to our southern friends congratulating them for trying so hard but falling short. I’m sure we can think of something flattering …

Monday, April 9, 2012


I am motivated to write this article after reading about a tournament recently played in Malaysia. It was a major event for the women’s draw - a $70,000 purse that involved all the top 10 players on the ranking – and a medium sized event for the men – a $50,000 purse that included 5 players out of the top 20.

The report found on made me raise my eyebrows three times. Firstly, at the length of the men’s final. It’s not all that unusual to see matches go over 100 minutes, but whenever I see three digits in that column I always tend to tip my hat to the players. I have experienced a handful of matches that have taken that long, know the physical and mental toll, and respect anyone who achieves it. This particular final was recorded as 112 minutes. And the player who won had another 112 minute win in round 1 as well.

Secondly, my eye-brows almost reached my hair-line (which has receded dramatically over the years and is a long way away!) when I read how many ‘let’ calls there were through that match – 100. I think my almost 6 year old daughter can figure out that’s almost 1 ‘let’ call every minute. Considering there were 103 points played, they literally played 2 rallies to win each point. Are you kidding me? Much of the blame was placed squarely on the referees for not punishing the players enough with ‘strokes’ and / or ‘no lets’, but I would also place much of the blame on the players too. As professionals, they certainly know how to avoid many interference situations and clearly neither finalist was making any effort to minimize it. The WSF (World Squash Federation) better hope there weren’t any IOC delegates present.

Thirdly, my over-stretched eye-brows created stretch marks when I read that the darling of the women’s squash world – world number 1 Nicol David (this particular event was actually named after her)  - received a conduct warning in the final for what appears to be aggressive play due to the frustration of so many ‘let’ decisions from the referee. Nicol won 3-0 anyway, but just the fact that her feathers got ruffled was enough to make headlines. That’s like the Dalai Lama being arrested for aggravated assault.

This also brings back the not-so-fond memories of the Motor City Open while watching one of the quarter finals. The 20 or so minutes it took to finish the second game which was maybe 6 or 7 points had about 20 plus ‘let’ decisions. At one point, there were about 10 consecutive ‘lets’. You could hear the groans of disapproval in the crowd, and it was also obvious the players themselves weren’t exactly enjoying it either but for some reason they couldn’t seem to break out of the rut. When it rains, it pours – this was a monsoon. It’s a pity that for a tournament as wonderful as the Motor City Open, the thing the people in the crowd that evening will most remember the event by will be the ‘let’ fest and not the great squash.

The Malaysian tournament no doubt had official referees at the helm. Supposedly qualified enough to adjudicate a squash match of world class level. The Motor City Open requires the players to referee themselves which I believe is completely the wrong way to go. But you can’t blame the Motor City Open for that scenario – the majority of PSA (Professional Squash Association) events force the players to referee. They hate it. And because it’s their peers they are judging, they are most of the time too lenient – after all, who wants to argue with the players your spending the week with?

So when I read about the 100 ‘lets’ in 112 minutes in Malaysia, immediately PST (Pro Squash Tour) came to mind. The forum had a thread about this very topic and the consensus was that referees needed to be stricter and award more ‘strokes’ and / or ‘no lets’. Punish blocking, punish fishing, and keep play continuous. Ring a familiar tone? That is exactly what PST has been preaching during their 2 years of existence. Which makes me wonder why so many people from the same forum castigate PST and its founder Joe McManus for addressing the issue head-on – albeit with a little rule tweaking? By the way, PST tournaments bring their own referee with them to all their events. The players are required to be side judges in case of any appeals, but they are never the central referee.

For all the cries of insisting referees apply the rules more sternly, it’s obvious it is simply not working. If the people in control of the tools just can’t use the tools properly, you take those tools away. If I told my daughter to stop cutting her doll’s hair with the scissors, but she continued to snip away, how would I make her stop? I’d take the items away. If referees insist on continuing awarding ‘lets’ despite the rules stating that they have the right to award a ‘stroke’ or ‘no let’ instead, guess what? Stop giving them that option.

All that being said, I don’t think the PST has hatched the golden egg here. But they are certainly a long way ahead of the PSA on this. I am still convinced – as I have said before – that some situations on the court cleanly justify a ‘let’ and a replay of the rally. But the PST rules encourage players to clear more, and encourage players to go for the ball more – and I can say that with confidence since I have personally experienced playing in  - and watching - one of their tournaments.

So what’s the answer? I’ve said this before too – I believe that refereeing should be a profession. Pay them a salary attractive enough that would encourage ex-touring players to become qualified. After all, no one understands the sport better at that level than the players themselves. (Currently, the qualified referees that are hired for the major events are not paid. Their expenses are covered, but that’s it. Nor – as far as I know – are any of them ex-professionals.) With continuous training and holding them accountable, this should raise the quality of the refereeing over time. Keep the ‘let’ as part of the game, but it needs to be awarded very cautiously if not rarely. This of course raises the next issue – where does the money come from? Um, well, yes, I don’t have an answer for everything.

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