A Succinct Credo

Squash aficionados—and Harvard has nurtured many of them, at first under legendary coach Harry Cowles—will find deeply satisfying and often Crimson-colored the book Squash: A History of the Game, by James Zug, with a foreword by the late George Plimpton '48 (Scribner, $30). Zug describes Cowles as "the Knute Rockne of squash...the first squash genius. He created the prototype of future squash coaches: the excellent player, the genial taskmaster, the quiet technician, the unflappable leader. He also changed the nature of squash in America.... In 14 seasons, Cowles laid his hands on a stream of teenagers and trophies appeared. He coached seven national champions, more than any other person in history." In 1936 he had a breakdown; he was committed to a mental hospital and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Later he had a frontal lobotomy and suffered mightily until his death in 1958. But this, writes Zug, is how he was treasured in memory by those he coached:


Harry Cowles
The Second H Book of Harvard Athletics
They remembered him with a tournament in New York that bore his name; after his death it was not renamed the Harry Cowles Memorial, because his players always felt he was with them, alive or dead. They remembered his love for squash. They remembered his loyalty to Harvard, how he turned down offers to coach at other schools for twice the salary. They remembered his brilliant drop shots. They remembered his quiet counsel. They remembered one winter afternoon driving on a windswept back road in New England, five players crammed into Cowles's car, coming home from a match. They were discussing, as undergraduates are apt to do on long Cimmerian drives in the bleak midwinter, theoretical matters relating to squash. The issue this time was mental toughness. It was the Great Depression. Hope was fighting a losing battle to fear. How much courage did a person need? What breaks down determination and endurance? When should one quit when an opponent is clearly better? After a while, the players paused. [Germain] Glidden turned to Cowles and asked how long a player should battle even if it is hopeless. Everyone went silent. They could hear the murmur of the engine, the clank of the car heater, the susurrous crush of snow under the wheels. Cowles stared straight ahead at the darkening road and said, "You should fight until you're dead."    

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