Corpore Sano: The Preppiest Sport Is Also The Healthiest

US-Squash-Logo

On Monday night I was invited by the brand Boast to spectate at the squash Tournament of Champions, currently underway in Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal.

Coming from a Cali-plebian background, I’d never seen the sport played before. I was very intrigued, though, as for a few years I nursed an intense badminton obsession, playing up to five days per week at a full-time club and training under a coach from the Chinese national team. Badminton is little understood and derided here in the US (the “Official Preppy Handbook” extolls squash as the preppiest of sports while taking a crack at badminton) and of course carries no social prestige. I ended up writing a piece for the LA Times Magazine that tried to correct some of the misconceptions, and if you’ve never seen it played at an elite level before, have a look.

I’d heard that squash and badminton were similar, not only for the intensity, but also the footwork and all the lunging. Boast had a box in the front row, and after a couple of hours, with help from company president John Dowling, I went from being totally bewildered by what was happening to the ball to following every shot with anticipation. It was fascinating and the athletes are absolute ironmen.

The sport is not just preppy by chance. It was actually invented at the English boarding school Harrow and first appeared in the US in 1884 at St. Paul’s in New Hampshire. But while there are several Englishmen among the 50 athletes in the Tournament of Champions, there are only a couple Americans, preppy or otherwise. Egypt has the biggest representation in the pool, and the spectators were an amusing mixture of WASPy types taking in a set before catching the Metro-North, and New York’r random and sprawling rainbow of diversity. One of the matches I caught was between a Frenchman and a guy from Botswana:

squash

Entering “wasp squash” into Google pulls up a few references to crushing insects underfoot, but also more germane results.

Here’s a piece on the Bush presidents entitled “Noble WASP vs. Rogue Preppy” from the New York Observer.

Dartmouth Squash Hecklers,” with cartoon.

A Continuous Lean put up a great LIFE archive post back in ’09. As you can seefrom the photo below compared to the one above, like all other formerly aristocratic Anglo sports, the attire is no longer traditional but has that extreme graphics/garish colors/moisture wicking middlebrow look that all sports today have:

squash_life_051

Here are a couple of Princeton guys from 1959:

vehslage1

And finally, a short clip of squash references from “American Psycho” and “Trading Places”:

Given how prone I am to sports obsessions, I should probably stay clear of squash for now. My life’s already been taken over by golf, and unless the court were plexiglass, I’d be claustrophobic.

And one more thing. In my late thirties, playing all that badminton, I think I was in the best shape of my life — even better than from fencing five days a week in my early twenties. I played a lot of tennis last year, but it’s hard to imagine ever being in squash shape. According to Wikipedia, in 2003 Forbes magazine ranked squash the healthiest sport.

So, who out there plays? — CC

69 Comments on "Corpore Sano: The Preppiest Sport Is Also The Healthiest"

  1. Started playing fairly recently. It’s an amazing sport. I used to play golf and tennis from time to time plus all the major team sports (soccer, baseball, hockey, basketball) growing up but I haven’t enjoyed any of them a quarter as much as I love squash. It’s easily the most mentally and physically exhausting game I’ve played.

  2. Ryan Wittingslow | January 22, 2014 at 1:57 pm |

    Used to. Was never terribly good at it, though. My dad was a NSW state champion in his younger days, though.

  3. Ryan Wittingslow | January 22, 2014 at 1:58 pm |

    Damn superfluous ‘though’.

  4. I pretended to play squash for about a year. I used it as a stepping stone to pretending to play a real sport — handball!

  5. that cardigan is straight up nasty. perhaps Boast could recreate it.

  6. Fine to call the sweater nasty but why take a swipe at the company that invited me? To what ends?

  7. I played a little during college. I just joined a new health club, that has 4 squash courts… now to just find the time.

  8. I was football and tennis in high school. No squash team. Then, during grad school, I played. I was hooked. Forty five minutes of squash is an amazing workout.

  9. I don’t think it’s especially WASPy anymore. Many of the better players are, well, let’s just say they’re not white Episcopalians.

  10. Richard Meyer | January 22, 2014 at 5:18 pm |

    I do play, and also play Court Tennis ( also known as Real Tennis, Royal Tennis and Jue De Paume). The man in the sweater is Pierre Etchebaster, perhaps the greates Court Tennis player ever, holding a court tennis racquet. You need a proofreader or fact checker, sir.

  11. Richard Meyer,

    The net alone gives away the fact that it’s not squash…it’s cool looking picture nonetheless.

  12. There are 50,000 fact checkers, it’s just that they point out my errors after publishing rather than before.

    Chalk it up to both blogger’s haste and style focus that I noticed the guy’s sweater rather than the net.

    Mens sana? Make that mea culpa.

  13. Check out uscourttennis.org
    Court tennis is the original racquet game
    11 courts in the USA
    46 in the world

  14. Yes, that’s a Real Tennis racquet.

  15. The late and great City Athletic Club on W. 54th was iconic in the squash world. It was also Jewish.

  16. Richard Meyer | January 23, 2014 at 9:23 am |

    The Life archive is mostly Court Tennis and the sport of Rackets. Only 5 or 6 Rackets courts in US.

  17. Squash is not all that preppy anymore, if it ever was, or if you could actually describe a sport as preppy, as track and field is as important to the soul of a prep school as any sport.

    Tennis and Racketball are probably considered more prestigious, social and important to most preps I know.

  18. “Squash is not all that preppy anymore, if it ever was, or if you could actually describe a sport as preppy, as track and field is as important to the soul of a prep school as any sport.

    Tennis and Racketball are probably considered more prestigious, social and important to most preps I know.”

    Squash was born at Harrow (UK boarding school) and came to America via the elite boarding schools, Ivy league colleges, and city clubs. It didn’t really break out of that world until the 70’s/80’s. Even now squash is most popular in the major east coast cities. Racquetball was invented in the early 1950’s, taking elements of Tennis, Squash, and Handball. It was first played at a YMCA and was designed to be easy to learn.

    I didn’t go to an Ivy or grow up playing squash at a city club, so I’m glad that squash is no longer so strictly confined to those worlds. But I think it’s tough to argue either that a.) Squash doesn’t have a preppy heritage or that b.) Racquetball is preppier.

  19. Mention of your previous badminton obsession reminded me of my own badminton years. When I grew up in the 1960s, badminton (and croquet) were the two big suburban outdoor summer pastimes.

    Well played badminton provided for great exercise, made more so by the wooden rackets, quite heavy by today’s standards; and the concomitant activity which normally included lugging the ladder out of the garage into the backyard and climbing on to the roof to retrieve a few errant shuttlecocks.

  20. Trinity College: 13 straight NCAA National Mens Squash Championships and a 252 match unbeaten streak through 2012. Showing the Ivy’s what the small schools can do.

  21. Richard Meyer | January 23, 2014 at 2:59 pm |

    Racquetball is massively unpreppy, just dumbed down squash.

  22. Richard Meyer | January 23, 2014 at 2:59 pm |

    Trinity pioneered foreign students playing squash.

  23. Richard,

    Trinity hardly pioneered “foreign students playing squash” – it simply pioneered finding the best talent, foreign or otherwise, and allowed them to play D1. That said, there were a number of trueblood wasps still on the team’s roster.

    DCTrinAlum

  24. I have always been told you can’t play squash and tennis. One has to pick one or the other. Something to do with the swings being different in both sports. It will throw your game off.
    I just joined a gym and there are a couple of squash courts. I always see squash racquets at the thrift store. I just might buy one and give the sport a try.

  25. Amory Blaine | January 23, 2014 at 5:41 pm |

    Richard Meyer: you also need a proofreader. It’s Jeu De Paume, not Jue. And, dear sir, what is “greates”?

    Hobo Prep’s comments are surely meant to be a humorous.

  26. At last count, proofreaders for:
    Christian – Tennis vs Squash
    Meyers – Jue vs Jeu
    Blaine – a humorous vs humorous

  27. Add M Arthur – Meyer vs Myers

  28. I never played squash, even though we did have squash at my prep school. When I got to college, there were several St. Paul’s alumni in my fraternity, and every one of them played squash.

  29. A.E.W. Mason | January 24, 2014 at 12:40 am |

    @ M Arthur

    I think you mean Meyer vs[.] “Meyers,” not “Myers.”

  30. I play at least 4 days a week. Mostly doubles hardball, which is a similar ball the old American game of hardball squash. But with a court 2x as large.

    The squash you saw is now the most common, but hardball singles is still played on a smaller court, with a harder ball & is more shot intense.

    As stated the man with the beret is playing Court Tennis/Real Tennis/Royal Tennis/Jeu de Paume. On the continuous lean post, only one photo was squash the rest were mostly rackets with 2 of tennis. Of which I play multiple times a month.

    As far as preppy…..in the NorthEast US I would say it’s considered a preppy sport. Or a ‘public school’ sport in Britain. Though in reality it’s quite a common sport around the world, many of the great international players come from India, Pakistan, Egypt & Mexico.

    I prefer doubles squash to singles squash, I’m just not at college-level fitness anymore. Which is what singles softball requires for great match. Look around of a doubles court, I’m sure you can get a game.

  31. While squash may have had European prep school origins, there are far preppier sports. Anything equestrian, or on the water, as an example. Track & Field is by far and away the biggest event of any prep school, when all 6-8 schools of like kind compete at the same time, it is the King of Sports for Preps, for this reason, and there Is No Other Sport Where All Prep Schools Gather At Once, except swimming, or yachting, but the Track & Field arena is unparalleled in its energy and competition.

    If you actually worked on Wall Street with some preps in BBs, law firms, or the like, you would know that racketball (actually “racquetball”) is the sport of choice practically anywhere in the city. If you actually lived among Wall Street retirees, you would know that Tennis is the sport of choice. Squash is just a massive heart attack looking for victims. Even my prep friends who benefit massively from squash – cardiovascular surgeons – wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Longevity is one of the Four Tenets of Prep, and playing a sport like that doesn’t bode well for one’s longevity.

  32. Amory Blaine | January 24, 2014 at 10:57 am |

    Good Lord, I do need a proofreader…or new eyeglasses or both. Now then. I have played real (or court or royal) tennis at several courts in the East and in Bordeaux. It’s so esoteric that I suspect 99.5% of the population, including preps, have no idea what it is. It is impossible to explain the rules–what with the concepts of the “chase,” “hazard,” “better than” and so on–to the mystified layman. It’s rather a slow game, with the ball (handmade by the English pro who sits in his office all day making them) bouncing (well, the ball really doesn’t bounce much) around the various penthouse roofs and other protrusions, off gargoyles and into holes in the wall called the “dedans” and the “grille.” It tends to be played more by aristocrats listed in Burke’s or Northeast eccentrics who live in old, gloomy houses in places like Tuxedo Park. Even more arcane, though, is the game of racquets, which is a version squash except that it’s played in a large, cold, dark court and the ball–as hard as golf ball–rockets off the walls at 100-plus miles an hour. It’s easy to spot a racquets player. He’ll be the chap with missing teeth and a black patch over an empty eye socket. Racquets is too crazy to be prep.

  33. What a pathetic thread. Arguement and debate on whether a sport can be described as being “preppy”. Using “preppy” to describe anything but clothes is dubious at best.

    “Preppy” appears to becoming the term of choice here much like the term “Trad” is abused on AAAC. Sad for those who pigeon-hole themselves…

  34. “Preppy” is a reasonable substitute for “U” here in America, given that we pretend not to have an Upper Class. And so very many confuse net worth with class, which is not something one would do comparing “U” and “Non-U.”

  35. I really wish that the term “preppy” would be banned from this site.
    I have come to favor “Trad” over “Ivy” because it eliminates the connotations of fraternities and football.

  36. Dutch Uncle

    There’s nothing wrong with football or frats. As concerns Trad vs Ivy, they are the same. Preppy is harder to define, it’s like porn, you know it when you see it. 😉

  37. Squash is great exercise, “trad” or not. Doubles is super fun.
    That company Boast is a sham. The guy who originally founded the company back in ’73 is legendary in the squash community, and is now suing the new company.

  38. Slater,

    Do you happen to have a link to that story? I tried to search for one, but I came up empty handed.

  39. Clearly, Hobo Prep is an outsider and has no idea what he’s talking about.

    Racquetball is to squash what checkers is to chess.

    It was invented by a squash player who wanted to create an easier game to help his wife and kids learn squash…”dumbed down,” indeed.

  40. Mac,

    Best comment of the bunch. I much prefer laughing to arguing 😉 It is a lot preppier.

  41. Played a ton of squash in college (Williams) in the Seventies. Where I now live they don’t even know what squash is. It’s all racquetball, which is a juvenile imitation of the real thing.

    But I have a hard time with the hi-tech in squash now. I have fond memories of the little trap door to get into the court (none of this glass wall stuff) and the wooden racquets that always had a decal saying something like “Not Guaranteed Against Breakage” pasted on the neck. Of course, that is exactly where the racquets always shattered and the head would go flying across the court, which could cause some serious damage if you got hit by it. You knew to immediately duck and cover if someone yelled out.

    Also, if you were unlucky enough to get hit in the back or calf of your leg by a squash ball going at full speed, it would leave a nasty round little black bruise which took a number of days to fade out.

  42. Richard Meyer | January 25, 2014 at 2:29 am |

    Regardless of my typing errors in the early AM, all my facts are correct, folks.

  43. Oh dear, Well since you said so, it must be… it’s not true. But thank you for the entertainment. Racquetball is not the same as squash, checkers or chess are poor analogies, and you are missing the point entire. I generally wouldn’t answer to your post but it needs correction – Racquetball is still more popular among preps in the city than any other sport of the kind. If you are in any doubt as to my prep pedigree and what I think of this whole new Faux-Prep Blogosphere that’s sprouted up thanks to a few insecure not really all that prep, or ivy people wanting to Be Important On The Internet, read my site (at the link on my name above). And by the way Trad is not the same as Ivy at all. Read this Prep vs Trad vs Ivy. http://hoboprep.tumblr.com/post/71818073788/trad-vs-ivy-vs-prep

  44. Hmm, looks suspiciously like you’re trying to Be Important On The Internet.

  45. Amory Blaine | January 25, 2014 at 11:46 am |

    Hobo Prep’s assertion that racquetball is “still more popular among preps in the city” is simply absurd a priori. Where’s the empirical evidence? Where do they play? There are no racquetball courts at the Harvard, Yale and Princeton clubs, or any of the other established clubs in NYC. If a member of the Princeton Club suggested that one of the squash courts be turned into a racquetball court, he or she would be tossed out onto 43rd Street as quick as you can say “boast.”

  46. Almost exactly ten years ago, my brother and I were driving into New York and planned to stop at one of the clubs with which we have reciprocity. We phoned one of the clubs you mentioned, Amory, and I have a distinct recollection of the menu options including, “For squash reservations, press….” No similar option for racquetball reservations, and I doubt things have changed. We ended up having drinks at another club instead, can’t remember why now.

  47. I know of no Trad “sport” other than walking.

  48. I don’t ascribe to the view, like Christian here, that putting up a blog with the word “Ivy” in it, as people having no Ivy or Ivy-like background seem to be doing, and then publishing everything in a SEO-Quest-To-Be-King-Of-The-Faux-Preppy-Blogs-Internet, as these same people seem to be doing, is a good thing. If anything, I am only here on The Internet to public my travels and the life of One Prep, not all preps, and then comment on these faux-prep blogs that are Taking Over The Internet, for the deserve to be commented upon. And with the obvious confusion of preps with “Ivy”, in the sense of the real institutions, not some false idea of what they are with respect to fashion as some seem to think is true, perhaps you could start with this: http://twitter.com/hoboprep/status/418251638152114177

    As for prep sports, there is No Greater Prep Event than either Track & Field or Rowing, as all schools of Like Kind Are Together, and T&F has much energy, as all are within a Stadium, row by row next to their Prep-Kin, and there is probably no greater even than the 4×100 Track Final with all 8 Prep Schools in a particular region competing. It is the pinnacle event in the Prep Sports constellation. But because of the glamour of the Game of Tennis internationally, Tennis is also popular at Prep schools, and many preps in the city do play Racquetball, for it is a game that can be played in the confines of the city, and unlike Squash does not invoke the same undue need in a prep for a cardiologist or surgeon, or orthopedic surgeon, as Squash Damages Both the Heart and the Knees, and therefore is not favored by those who want good knees, and it also requires less skill, as rallies do not carry on for very long with the lack of bounce in the ball with the average skill level of a busy Prep, for a busy Prep is too busy in a profession or trade, or real undertakings of life to worry about perfecting a game, unless he is a prep who is only a pro, which is another level altogether, and so for the average prep in the city, RB is a much better game, as rallies are quite competitive and therefore more enjoyable, without it being as much of a strain on the body.

    For these reasons and others, Preps – who are practical by nature – favor RB, and others, who want fancy titles and degrees {when in fact, non-Ivy grads who went to far better institutions such as MIT, Caltech, School of Life eg Apprenticeships for five years in a profession, BB, trade, or as a Merchant of Goods, Clothing or Other, or who spent time in a Foreign Land, and who do not care for the term Ivy, whether they went to an Ivy or Not) favor things that appear prestigious, when in fact everyone who has prestige knows that it can come from any sport, and just play whatever sport best suits them.

    It is an interesting topic, but posting something about Squash because Ivy institutions and others play Squash, does not make it somehow Ivy or elite or special. If anything, Tennis is ten times the game of squash, and is in fact the premier choice of sport for a prep or anyone, as it has more glamorous people than practically any big dollar sport.

  49. Amory Blaine | January 26, 2014 at 1:05 pm |

    Whoa, HP…you’re taking all of this much too seriously, old boy.

  50. I wonder whatever happened to Richard of WASP 101?

  51. @ Hobo Prep

    I’ll bet you five dollars that foosball is the *real* preppy sport. At least it was when I attended St. Throttlesex School two years ago. I invite you to scour their rolls to verify my authority. I would give a link to my personal blog where you would find a full analysis, but that is just too tedious, don’t you think?

  52. Katzenjammer | January 26, 2014 at 10:30 pm |

    @Hobo Prep,

    You a falling prey to a typical misunderstanding about racquetball v. squash – I almost think you may be doing so satirically; however that may be, if even for the benefit of a chance passerby-reader, please allow me to take just one example:

    “[squash] also requires less skill, as rallies do not carry on for very long with the lack of bounce in the ball with the average skill level of a busy Prep”

    It is precisely because the squash ball has “less bounce” that squash as a game requires more skill than racquetball does; indeed, ball placement, tactics/strategy and finesse, etc, are all far more embedded into the nature of the game than racquetball. Small differences in relative skill or level of playing in a given moment will translate into the opposing player doing a great deal of sprinting/running.

    Anyway, would be glad to discuss more.

    As someone mentioned, to some extent (at least theoretically, lol), it is Court Tennis that is the king of Ivy/trad sports.

    I would also like to put in a good word for Ice Hockey – which, to be honest, was the most popularly attended sport at Phillips Exeter, where I played.

  53. RJG –

    You attended where? I’m not familiar with the “St. Throttlesex School”, in-fact, I don’t think anyone is. Do you mean “Saint Grottlesex”??? Which you know isn’t a school at all. Perhaps i’m being too tedious.

  54. As a racquetball player who recently picked up squash at college, I agree with the aforementioned comments–squash is definitely a more challenging sport. More rules, more skill required, and more of a workout. I have a tremendous respect for both sports, and understand that a different set of techniques is required for each. You can’t win a racquetball match using the grip or swing technique used in squash matches, and vice versa.

    Honestly, I’m quite curious to hear AEV’s two cents on this post…

  55. Anglophile Trad | January 26, 2014 at 11:57 pm |

    @Minimalist

    Hear! Hear!

    Walking is the only tweedy sport.

  56. A.E.W. Mason | January 27, 2014 at 1:11 am |

    @ Jim

    “I wonder whatever happened to Richard of WASP 101?”

    That may be the funniest one-liner I’ve read on this blog. On it’s face, it seems like a non sequitur, and yet if you just think for a second, it may be the most important comment of this thread. I’ve been chuckling to myself for the last 10 minutes. Jim, I’m with ya pal. And thanks for the laugh.

    And, by the way, curling is clearly most preppy sport of all.

  57. The whole article is premised upon a nonsense: that somehow Squash is preppy because someone writing for a website about something else called “Ivy Style” says so. Well, the world doesn’t quite work like that – something we all learned in prep school.

    No, Squash does not require more skill in this sense: Yes, if both players are pros – it is naturally going to be at a higher level, just like any sport, like RB. No, at the level played by you and I, RB requires more skill for one reason – it’s a lot harder to kill a rally. Squash just involves more physical endurance, RB actually requires more wrist/dexterity skill. At the skill level most preps play squash, the rallies last a few hits and then someone misses because they couldn’t run fast enough.

    It’s not about which Sport Has The Greater Skill, because the T&F events where you have eight prep schools all together in a stadium cheering a 4×100 medley Is Like No Other Sporting Event in the Constellation of Prep Sports. Rowing, Swimming and other sports are similar, but nothing quite has the elan and feel of that one event. If there was a sport that represented the life of a Prep, or the memories of a Prep, it is that one.

  58. @ EMG

    You weren’t being tedious. I was being facetious and it didn’t work.

    I’ll put it straight. Hobo Prep thinks Christian is “taking over the internet.” No, it’s just a site where people with interests in a particular style of clothing gather. I find it informative and entertaining. But there are times when participants get caught up in pedantry and credentialing — it was that I tried to send up.

    Being relatively new, I missed the reference to Wasp 101 — can anyone give me the context?

  59. Many thanks to Etymologue. I get it. Brilliant. Kudos to Jim.

  60. RJG-

    All good.

  61. RJG, I wouldn’t put it that way. Don’t confuse these two things: 1. a. Making an observation that writing about anything remotely connected with Ivy League “fashion”, even if it’s not is an odd but a real trend, and b. Making an observation that naming Squash as the “Preppiest” of sports is simply false – with 2. what you said – which is false. Nobody has said Christian is taking over the internet. The site is interesting, if incoherent. “Ivy Style” as enunciated here, is a fiction, which is basically what I have said.

    If making these observations is a problem, then perhaps you should Switch Off Your Computer.

  62. Hobo Prep, do I guess correctly that You competed in the 4×100 medley in prep school? Perhaps You even won, in front of Eight Prep Schools All Cheering Together?

  63. @Hobo Prep

    I admit to being confused.

    But as to what you said or didn’t say, here is your quote from January 26, which immediately follows the statement that this blog is faux and is not a good thing:

    “If anything, I am only here on The Internet to public my travels and the life of One Prep, not all preps, and then comment on these faux-prep blogs that are Taking Over The Internet, for the deserve to be commented upon.”

    So, let’s be precise, you didn’t say that Christian is taking over the internet, you said that “faux-prep” blogs such as Ivy Style are taking over the internet. And I guess I’m saying, is that really a problem? And if it is, how exactly do you intend to police the internet? Who was that ancient emperor who lashed the sea?

  64. Amory Blaine | January 28, 2014 at 8:49 am |

    Back in the good old days, the preppiest (the term wasn’t used much then, if at all) sport of all was drinking ’til dawn at Pedro’s.

  65. The preppiest sport is Crew. (And it’s Crew, not “Crew Team” or “Rowing Team”). The proper descriptive phrase is “I rowed Crew.”

    The preppiest seat in the boat is Bow (if you are rowing an Eight). You get to be “safety captain,” which means you are in charge of looking out for your crewmates and making sure they survive if you swamp, and means you get to Go Down With The Boat along with the coxswain. Hi WASP values.

    G’day.

  66. The flat-front vs. pleated trouser debate
    The unlined collar vs. lined collar OCBD debate
    The gentleman’s balloon-cut shirt vs. the ultra-slim narcissist cut shirt debate
    and
    The preppy vs. ivy debate
    are far more interesting than the squash vs. whatever debate.

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