September 30, 2011 by Alissa Falcone
Drexel University will host the 2011 U.S. Open Squash Championships Oct. 1-6 at the Daskalaskis Athletic Center, which will feature internationally ranked players for both men’s and women’s squash.
With Delaware Investments as the title sponsor, the tournament offers $175,000 in prize money and the most prestigious squash title in the country.
For the second time in its history, the championship tournament will be held simultaneously for both men and women. The first occasion was in 2010 at the Pritzker Pavillion in Chicago’s Millennium Park.
President John A. Fry spoke about Drexel’s acquisition of hosting duties, saying, “One thing led another. The tournament led to the conversation about the courts, which led to the gift, which led to the decision about the men’s and women’s teams — which were great club sports and had a lot of student support, but obviously they needed a coach. And we did the whole package together.”
The enthusiasm of Fry, who officially joined the U.S. Squash board of directors in July 2010, played a large part in Drexel hosting the championship. Another deciding factor was the University’s capacity to hold large-scale events, having previously hosted the 2008 USA Table Tennis Olympic Trials and a Democratic presidential debate in October 2007. Along with the upcoming U.S. Open Squash tournaments, the University plans to host the 2013 Division I, II and III Men’s Lacrosse Championships.
“I think when the U.S. Squash people visited Drexel and did the site visit, they were sort of blown away by the kind of capability of the place, which we got because of the debate and because of the table tennis. So we understand what it means to host large events,” Fry explained.
According to Eric Zillmer, the director of athletics, Drexel will host this championship for the next two years.
The men’s main draw will hold 32 athletes, of which 22 are ranked in the top 25. The 16-player women’s draw will feature 13 of the 16 ranked women. Players from over 23 different countries, including Egypt, India and Malaysia, are also competing in the championship.
Due to Drexel’s urban location, many of the players, both national and international, will be able to explore Philadelphia in their down time.
“The partner hotel is the Crowne Plaza downtown, so players could theoretically walk to the venue or take a short subway ride. Many elect to stay with friends too,” Zillmer wrote in an email.
The opening ceremony and cocktail reception for the event was held Sept. 29 at the Paul Peck Alumni Center for all players and invited guests.
The qualifying round for the tournament started Sept. 28, with over 16 games played at the DAC, the Germantown cricket club, the Merion Cricket club and the Philadelphia racket club.
A glass squash “show court” was constructed on the basketball court in the main arena of the DAC, and all of the bleachers were pulled out to surround it. The regular squash courts at the front of the athletic center will be used more for practice, according to Fry.
All Drexel students, staff and faculty can watch the U.S. Open free of charge, as a Drexel ID will allow them entry into the general admission area.“We know how to run these things. We don’t know how to run a squash tournament, but we’ll figure that out,” Fry said of the attitude he and Zillmer had while deciding whether Drexel had the capacity to host the major championship.
According to Fry, Zillmer fought to include the two squash courts into the now-completed DAC expansion.
“We had a bunch of squash courts in the basement that were old hardball courts — the game has changed from using a hard ball to a soft ball, the dimensions of the courts have changed, so we had six courts down there that weren’t really playable — and he was trying to figure out a way of getting those converted,” Fry said, crediting Delaware Investments for making the expansion happen.
According to DrexelDragons.com, plans have been revealed for the construction of five playing courts complete with a team room and seating areas to be located in the lower level of the DAC. The renovations are expected to be completed and ready for use at the end of the Drexel varsity squash season.
The event, which starts Oct. 1, will be streamed online at psasquashtv.com, and the broadcast of the semifinals and finals is expected to reach over 250 million households worldwide. And specifically within the United States, ESPN3 will also broadcast the semifinals and finals of the Men’s Championships online to reach over 60 million households..
John White, a former top-ranked player in the world who is still ranked among the top 10 players nationally, was brought in to develop the men’s and women’s squash team at Drexel. White helped upgrade Drexel Squash from a club team to a varsity team. He came to Drexel for the squash program’s first season of competition in the 2011-12 school year after spending four years as the director of squash and head coach at Franklin & Marshall.
White, who lost his qualifying game played Sept. 28, was ranked No. 1 in the world in March 2004. He also had one of his shots clocked in at a world-record 172 miles per hour and holds 12 Professional Squash Association titles.
According to White, his squash players will also participate at the tournament by volunteering at the show court at the DAC and either working as ushers or helping the professional players.
“Squash is an emerging sport — it’s very international and there’s a nice buzz about it. And that’s why we picked it,” Fry, who plans on attending several matches in the tournament, said.
Though White defeated Fry several weeks ago at the Drexel Employee Olympics, he agreed with him on the cultural importance of squash at an urban school like Drexel.
“The demand for squash has always been out there in the Philly area. To get the U.S. Open here at Drexel is great. It has come at the perfect time with Drexel introducing squash to the varsity level,” he wrote in an email.