At a special luncheon before the finals of the 2017 United States Open, Michael Desaulniers, Benjamin Heckscher and Maurice Heckscher were inducted into the United States Squash Hall of Fame.
Mark Pagon, the chair of the board of US Squash, welcomed a large crowd of friends, fans and family to the gala luncheon next to the ASB GlassCourt in the Drexel’s Daskalakis Athletic Center. “We take the responsibility of the selection process very seriously as an organization,” he said. “Induction into our Hall of Fame is the highest honor in squash.”
The chair of the U.S. Squash Hall of Fame committee, James Zug, spoke of the many squash luminaries at the luncheon. Members of the Hall of Fame committee in attendance included Jack Herrick, Sam Howe, Gail Ramsay and Larry Sconzo. Hall of Famers in attendance included Ned Edwards (inducted in the class of 2003), Jack Herrick (2011), Ralph Howe (2002), Sam Howe (2002), Jay Nelson (2013) and Michael Pierce (2015).
A moving video highlighted in pictures the extraordinary careers of the Heckscher brothers and Desaulniers.
Pat Richardson introduced Desaulniers. Richardson, who recently retired after a quarter century as a squash pro at the Toronto Cricket Skating & Curling Club, first met Desaulnier when they were boys in British Columbia: they would use a rope ladder to drop down into a doorless court at the Vancouver Racquets Club.
Richardson ran through some of Desaulniers’ astonishing statistics: he won four Canadian national singles titles and fifteen pro tournaments in addition to his seven U.S. national titles. He had a 9-9 career record against Sharif Khan, the dominant player of the 1970s. He played for Canada in three world team championships.
Desaulniers thanked the many friends who came from around the continent to celebrate his induction; he himself came in from Miami. He thanked his late father, Neil Desaulniers, who introduced Mike and his three brothers to the game. “We became a squash family because of my dad,” he said. “I know how quietly proud he would have been to hears that I had been honored this way by US Squash.”
Hall of Famer Ralph Howe then introduced Maurice Heckscher. He spoke about all the brother cohorts at Merion Cricket Club in the 1950s, including the Spahrs, Wests and Vehslages. He told a story about how Ralph & Maurice switched walls in a U.S. masters final, after losing the first game 15-4, and going on to win in four games.
Maurice Heckscher started his speech by taking a selfie like Ellen DeGeneres at the Oscars. He spoke about how when he started playing doubles in the 1960s, right-wall players were supposed to just bash the ball. “We were like faceless football lineman who opened up holes for the star running back—the left-wallers,” he said. “It was up to hit the ball hard, keep it deep, make very few errors and set up our amazing partners whoc would put the ball away and wow the crowd. Then I wised up and developed a pretty good reverse corner and straight drop and that made a difference.”
Heckscher listed all his many partners in a half century of doubles and the correct things for a right-waller to say often: “nice shot,” “my fault” and on balls up the middle, “yours.” He spoke of his love of the squash community, of the Saturday dinner dances, of the summer Czar League, and of meeting his wife Donna at a squash tournament.
Hall of Famer Sam Howe, Ralph’s older brother, introduced Maurice’s older brother Ben. “We met sixty-five years ago at Merion,” he said. After Sam graduated from college, Ben mentored him. Ultimately, they played in the finals of the 1962 National Singles and the pupil beat the teacher, 15-13 in the fifth.
Ben Heckscher spoke about the golden age of the 1950s and 1960s, when so many future Hall of Famers like the Howe brothers, Diehl Mateer, Victor Niederhoffer and Henri Salaun dominated the winter circuit. He talked about three areas where he was able to give back to the game: serving as president of the U.S. Jesters; doing the U.S. junior rankings by hand for four years; and, after a Sports Illustrated article about five national champions coming out of Merion in 1959, founding and running the legendary William White tournament at Merion.
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 the Heckscher brothers and Desaulniers, there are sixty-one members of the U.S. Squash Hall of Fame.