By Palmer Page
In early February the University of Pennsylvania celebrated 125 years of squash.
More than 375 former and current players and friends gathered in Thomas B. Ringe Courts, following a thrilling 5-4 women’s squash victory over Yale, for the 125th jubilee dinner and program. Alums from the class of 1959 through to members of the class of 2017 were in attendance.
The event, chaired by Palmer Page and Leslie H. Smith, began with a cocktail party in Ringe. The president of Penn, Amy Gutmann, enthusiastically spoke about the squash programs, pointing out that thirty-three percent of all the Penn squash players who are alive were in attendance and complimenting the teams on succeeding academically and also on the T.
The crowd moved to a festive venue for dinner. On each seat they found an evening playbill with remembrances written by five decades of players, as well as historical material including all the names of the ten national and Ivy League championship teams, thirty-six alumni who have won national championships and the eight alumni who are members of the U.S. Squash Hall of Fame.
The dinner committee and evening’s captains were thanked and then the special guests Howard Butcher IV, Shelia Molloy, and former coaches Demer Holleran and Craig Thorpe-Clark were recognized with rousing applause. In particular, Mrs. Molloy was thanked for sharing coach Al Molloy for more than thirty years. Mr. Butcher was asked to stand and look around at the legacy of his family’s gift for the building of the Ringe Courts. Jack Wyant, Jr., in his tenth year as head coach, also spoke about the current successful season.
After dinner, the honorees were introduced: former players Brian Roberts ‘81, Jessie Hill ’76, David Slosburg ’74, Howard Coonley II ’66 and former women’s coach Ann Wetzel ’52. Brian Roberts, introduced by Clay Hamlin, spoke about squash friendships that last a lifetime, how Coach Molloy taught him to compete in life and Jon Foster taught him how to have fun. Jessie Hill spoke about all that she received from the game and how Wetzel taught her to avoid arguments, prepare and use “plans a, b, c, d and e” to her advantage.
Former player and coach Ned Edwards spoke about David Slosburg who, like Hunter Lott, simply asked, “What is best for the young Pennsylvanians?” Ned said, “We are lucky that David has brought the same joyful intensity and passion to helping Penn squash as he has to his own squash game.” Ned noted that “although David may not have the most classic squash strokes, he absolutely gives it his all and offers his opponent his full effort.” David observed that Penn is at the intersection of tradition and passion, and with the outpouring of support for the jubilee event, the future is bright.
Coach Wetzel, the first women’s team coach and a U.S. Squash Hall of Fame inductee, reflected on over thirty years of coaching. It was possibly the highlight of the night. To the crowd’s riotous amusement, Coach Wetzel recounted her players’ questions while she drove the team bus.
Howard Coonley was honored with a lifetime achievement award, recognizing his mark on our game and Penn for over fifty-two years. Howard was a captain, and three-time letter winner in squash and tennis, along with being an intercollegiate squash singles champion. He has been the head of the Penn Squash Board since its inception fifteen years ago. In his honor, Penn established the Coonley Bowl to recognize student-athletes who exemplify leadership and sportsmanship. Coonley spoke about the legends of Hunter Lott and Al Molloy and their influence on him at Penn and afterward.
Coonley rounded out the special evening by saying, “There is a real positive energy in the air and all of us, just by being here, are choosing to be active participants in the next 125 years. I hope you will all stay in touch, stay involved, and hold on and enjoy the ride.”