Friday, at a special luncheon before the semifinals of the Delaware Investments U.S. Open, Paul D. Assaiante, Norman B. Bramall and Jane Austin Stauffer were inducted into the United States Squash Hall of Fame.
Mark Pagon, the chair of the board of US Squash, welcomed a crowd of more than a hundred friends, fans and family to the gala luncheon next to the ASB GlassCourt in the Drexel’s Daskalakis Athletic Center. Then a moving, four-minute video highlighted the extraordinary careers of Assaiante, Bramall and Stauffer.
The chair of the U.S. Squash Hall of Fame committee, James Zug, spoke of the many squash luminaries among the 135 people in attendance, including other Hall of Famers Len Bernheimer, Joyce Davenport, Ned Edwards, Jack Herrick, Demer Holleran, Ralph Howe, Sam Howe, Michael Pierce and Tom Poor.
Michael Pierce, enshrined last year in the Hall of Fame, introduced Norm Bramall, the pro at the Cynwyd Club. Fifty-two years ago Bramall gave Pierce his first squash lesson. Bramall was always impeccably dressed, in cream-white flannel pants, pressed shirts and a Ben Hogan golf cap. His pro shop was in the boiler room at Cynwyd and he strung all his racquets with a vise and awl, no stringing machines. Some of Bramall’s advice holds true today: Always be cognizant of the T; don’t panic and overrun balls—they will come back to you; and, most famously, make the walls your friend.
Joyce Davenport, enshrined in the Class of 2011 in the Hall of Fame, then accepted the Hall of Fame plaque in honor of Bramall who had no children or known descendants. Davenport was one of the many players whom Bramall watched hit their very first squash ball, predicting that they would be future national champions. At least four players are in that category and many more owe much or all of their training as champions to Bramall. Davenport spoke about Bramall’s style: he was mild-mannered, patient and soft-spoken. He thought the ball was the biggest impediment to learning, that novice players needed to work on their swings and technique and not worry about where the ball was going. He also was an early advocate for solo work: for her first year Davenport practiced alone and took a weekly lesson with Bramall, as he forbade her hitting with other players.
Tom Poor, enshrined in the Class of 2012 in the Hall of Fame, introduced Jane Stauffer. He spoke about his years playing mixed doubles with Stauffer, her brilliant reverse corners and her self-effacing personality. A small woman, five foot two with thick glasses, Stauffer often surprised people with her athleticism and mental toughness.
Suzie Raboy, Stauffer’s daughter, accepted the award on behalf of her mother, who passed away in August. She spoke about how her mother met wins and losses with equanimity.
Simba Muhwati introduced Paul Assaiante. Muhwati was a Trinity ’08, one of the many hundreds of collegiate players that Assaiante has mentored during this thirty-nine year coaching career. He spoke about Assaiante’s belief in the awesome power of now, imploring his players to live each moment as if was the last twenty seconds of their lives. Assaiante’s overall career record of 514-85—including 403-21 at Trinity—is the best in intercollegiate squash history.
After a sustained, standing ovation, Assaiante said that he was just the jockey and his players were the thoroughbreds: they did all the work. He spoke of his childhood in the Bronx and his start in squash at West Point up to the unprecedented success he’s had in the past twenty-two years at Trinity. “I’m humbled beyond words,” Assaiante concluded. “I’m going to take this plaque and run before you realize you’ve made a mistake.”
The U.S. Squash Hall of Fame was founded in 2000. Based at Payne Whitney Gymnasium at Yale, it is the only national squash hall of fame in the world with annual inductions and a bricks-and-mortar location. With the additions of Assaiante, Bramall and Stauffer in the Class of 2016, there are now fifty-eight members of the United States Squash Hall of Fame.