By Will Carlin
When I was eleven years old, I thought that wearing a Captain Kirk uniform to school was pretty cool. I was sure that stealing Jenny Durst’s shoe would get her to like me. My favorite sandwich was peanut butter with raisins, Red Hot cinnamon candies, and sprinkles. I was a strange kid.
Many memories from back then have faded—names, events, classes, teachers—but some made imprints for life. One figure from those early years looms largest. His name was Charles Frederick Weymuller, and while grown-ups casually called him “Freddy,” I called him Mr. Weymuller.
Mr. Weymuller and his wife, Carol, were the tennis and squash pros at the Heights Casino. They are the ones that made Brooklyn Heights one of the epicenters of junior squash in the United States. There was no program before them, and in just a few years, they created a powerhouse.
Mr. Weymuller wasn’t a typical teaching pro. He went to school at Poly Prep in Brooklyn, studied pre-med at Swarthmore, got his English degree from Lewis & Clark and a masters in English from Columbia. He was a columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a writer at Merrill Lynch. But after co-authoring a book on tennis (Ed Faulkner’s Tennis), he asked for and got the job at the Heights Casino.
Perhaps it was all that brainpower that enabled the Weymullers to create a dynasty in a club that had only two tennis courts, two squash singles courts, one doubles court and two very narrow multi-use courts that were used for everything from basketball to “floor tennis”—life-sized ping pong (paddles and ball) with a two-foot high net and no table.
In those days, the Casino was oriented around adults. Children were only allowed to be on the courts in the afternoon (mornings were for women and evenings were for men), and we were not allowed to reserve courts. The Weymullers had a brainstorm: teach extra classes very early in the morning and make it invitation-only. After just one season, Heights juniors hoped to be granted a spot in the 6:00am tennis or squash honors program.
Mr. Weymuller scared me. He was strict and deadly honest. He wanted full effort, and he wanted practice drills done correctly. No goofing off. You know that old expression about eyes that can look right through you? Mr. Weymuller had those. He could make you flinch with a glance.
Carol was the opposite. We were allowed to call her by her first name, and she was cheerful, fun and encouraging. I had a crush on Carol (I remember, with an eleven-year-old’s optimism, combing my hair with Vitalis before lessons), but I was always nervous around her husband. Their carrot-and-stick personalities and approach made us improve quickly.
Eventually, I was invited to the tennis honors program. On the first day, when I realized that it would be with Mr. Weymuller alone (Carol was teaching the squash honors class), I was—at the start—on best behavior. But we were children, and it was early. Fred started feeding a series of balls to one of us at a time, and while waiting our turn, we talked and giggled. Suddenly, Fred stopped the drill.
“Will Carlin,” he said suddenly. “Get out here.”
He then made me hustle and hustle through the drill in front of everyone. Afterwards, he called me over, put his hand on my shoulder and leaned his face near to mine. It was just the two of us now. He said to me, “The reason I called you out there was because I wanted the rest of them to see the drill done correctly, and I knew you were going to do that.”
That moment changed my life. There was something that I did well, and Mr. Weymuller noticed. I started to give full effort not only when playing racquet sports, but in everything. When Mr. Weymuller was voted into the U.S. Squash Hall of Fame, he asked if I would induct him. I nearly broke down at the request, and in thanking him, I asked if he remembered that life-changing moment.
He said no.
No? I couldn’t believe it. I tried to jigger his memory, but he said that it was too long ago.
Michael Lewis, in his book Coach, wrote about a similar moment with one of his early teachers: “I had been just another white rabbit he’d pulled out of a hat. But the wonder wasn’t that the trick meant more to the white rabbit than to the magician.” The wonder was just how many white rabbits there were.
At one point in the 1980s the Guinness Book of World Records listed Garden Place as the most athletic block in the world since no fewer than seven children who lived on that block were nationally ranked in squash, and there was a year there where the captain and number one player at Harvard, Penn, Wesleyan and Yale were Weymuller Heights Casino products.
Later, the magician and his wife took their act on the road and did it all over again—this time at the Genesee Valley Club, in Rochester. Together, they coached many national champions, All Americans and college captains. Hall-of-Famer Alicia McConnell, and Kevin Klipstein, President and CEO of US Squash, are two of many whose accomplishments continued to make him proud until the day he died. Fred passed away peacefully this past January at the age of eighty-nine.
Around the world, white rabbits cried.