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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.