Sure And Begorrah, Eddie O’Rourke’s A National Champ

Everyone in Westport knows Laddie Lawrence. He’s 72 years old; he’s coached Staples High School’s cross country, indoor and outdoor track teams for 50 years, and won dozens of state and New England championships.

Hardly anyone knows Eddie O’Rourke. He’s 74, and just won his first state title.

But he has an excuse. This is only his 2nd year of coaching.

Eddie O’Rourke

O’Rourke immigrated from Ireland to America in 1984. His wife’s sister was here; they visited often, and liked it. The O’Rourkes spent 3 years on the green card wait list. When their number came up, they had just 3 months to sell their house, and move.

Back home, O’Rourke had driven a double-decker bus. There’s not many of those here. He found work on golf course construction in Wilton, but missed driving.

Two months later he was hired by Connecticut Limousine. He loved that. Yet in the aftermath of 9/11, the company went from 130,000 riders a month to 8,000. They laid off nearly everyone.

He worked for a while in a liquor store, then retired at 66. “I’m living the life now,” he says, in a brogue undimmed by 35 years in the States.

That life revolves around squash.

Back in Ireland, he had been a good handball player. A friend convinced him to try squash. O’Rourke had never played — but beat him.

It was an easy adjustment. Both sports are played within 4 walls. Shots are similar.

Squash is “a brilliant game,” O’Rourke says. “It’s a great workout. There’s nothing better than a good runaround. And you can play it well into your 80s.”

For 32 years, he played at Southport Racquet Club. But Equinox bought it 2 years ago, and did away with the squash courts.

The 260 players were distraught. The nearest courts were in Stamford and New Haven.

Intensity — the tennis club on the Westport/Norwalk border — agreed to create 4 courts, with one provision: 120 players had to join.

They got 134. In just 2 years, that’s ballooned to over 200.

Intensity formed a junior program too.

Last year, 34 Staples boys and girls signed up. Some had played before. Others never had. They placed 2nd in their division.

This year, over 60 Wreckers compete. There are separate boys and girls varsity teams, boys and girls JV squads, and a club team.

Eddie O’Rourke, coaching on the court.

They play from Thanksgiving to mid-February. They train Mondays through Thursdays, with matches on Fridays. “They’re great kids,” O’Rourke says. “They really help each other out.”

This winter, the boys varsity went unbeaten in the Fairwest League. Then they won the Division 8 HEAD US High School Team Championship.

Not bad for a 2nd year squad — and their equally new coach.

Coach Eddie O’Rourke (left) and the national champion Staples High School boys squash team.

O’Rourke’s route to the head spot began when Southport Racquet Club charged members $60 a month. He could not afford it, so the manager told him to pay whatever he could.

O’Rourke suggested $25 a month — adding that he’d be happy to teach new members how to play.

So when Staples needed a coach, he was the natural — and easy — choice.

“I’d have done it as a volunteer,” O’Rourke says. “But they offered to pay!”

It’s money well spent.

Though O’Rourke will never catch Laddie Lawrence in the number of championships won, he’s got a national championship at age 74.

And — based on the enthusiasm of the program he’s helped build, and the passion he brings to the sport — there could be many more trophies ahead.

8 responses to “Sure And Begorrah, Eddie O’Rourke’s A National Champ

  1. Karl S. Taylor

    How nice to read a life story in five minutes. Thanks, Dan.

  2. Well done Eddie! What a great story!

  3. Love this story! Go Eddie and go Staples!

  4. Seth Schachter

    Great story Dan!
    Eddie is a wonderful person and Staples and Intensity are lucky to have him! One of the nicest guys around and a great coach !!!!!

  5. As for squash having been “an easy adjustment” for Eddie, all I can say is he must have had a real knack for the sport.

    The basement in our college dorm had a squash court so I tried playing decades ago. I had played a bit of handball as a young kid, then a lot of tennis, some competitive badminton as well, and had even spent time practicing soccer off a kickboard over the ensuing years.

    The bottom line: none of that was helpful in my case. I was awful at squash and even nearly took out my roomate’s eye one time. It’s a tough game to play.

    Kudos to Eddie and the team for having such success right away.

  6. We have had the pleasure of knowing this wonderful man for many years. Anyone who gets gets know him is a fortunate individual.

  7. Nice job, Eddie!

  8. Declan O'Rourke

    Absolutely brilliant coach nedser

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