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.”
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.
Posted onApril 9, 2017|Comments Off on You’ll Want Fries With This Squash
The Staples High School squash program is only 2 years old.
But in at least one respect, it’s similar to other, much longer established varsity sports: community service.
Last year, Shane Fries helped form Staples’ boys and girls squash teams. His dad introduced him to the game. As he took lessons he was attracted to its competitiveness, both individually and with teammates.
Last year he and fellow Stapleites Kion Bruno and Mia Krishnamurthy wanted to start a squash club. Athletic director Marty Lisevick gave approval for varsity status. They compete in the Fairwest League against Connecticut and Westchester public schools, and add private schools to the schedule too.
Staples High School’s boys and girls squash teams.
The athletes fund the venture themselves. They pay for court time — last year at Southport Racquet Club, now at Intensity. Costs range from $700 to $1,000 per player.
In mid-March, Shane joined Staples students Jack Bautista, Tyler Edwards and Chloe Palumbo, plus Bedford Middle School’s Quinn McMahon, New Canaan’s Tara Chugh, St. Luke’s Haley Bloch and Street Squash player Nasir Finch at the Street Squash Junior Cup in Harlem.
Each team committed to raising as much money as possible. Thanks to anchor donor Jen Gabler, Staples players and their friends, the Wreckers donated over $12,000 to the program. The entire event brought in $82,000.
Shane Fries stands 3rd from right. Also representing Staples in the Street Squash event (from left): Tara Chugh, Haley Bloch, Chloe Palumbo, Quinn McMahon, Shane Fries, Tyler Edwards, Nasir Finch; Jack Bautista (kneeling).
“Squash is a big part of my life,” Fries — who also plays rugby — says. “Helping kids succeed through the sport is really cool.”
He’ll keep doing what he can. NUSEA runs a squash and education program in New Haven. That’s where Shane — who in his spare time is a Top Hat tutor — will spend his one-month senior internship in May, coaching and offering academic support.
Comments Off on You’ll Want Fries With This Squash
For years, the Gym at Southport Athletic — originally the Southport Racquet Club, then the Southport Athletic Club — was one of the only places around here to play squash. Its 4 courts became even more precious when the Westport Y built its facility at Mahackeno. The old building downtown had 3 courts. The new one has none.
But the game has enjoyed steady local growth. And that growth is spurred by young players.
They like its fast pace, tactical complexity and physical challenge. It doesn’t hurt that colleges are adding teams — and look favorably upon applicants who play squash.
This year, Staples High School formed boys and girls squads. The athletic department pays for buses. Students and parents raised money for a coach (Atilla Agh), and court time. They joined nearby teams like Fairfield Ludlowe High and Greens Farms Academy that also train there.
Playing against those schools, and others including Darien, New Canaan, Rye, St. Luke’s and Hopkins, the Wreckers have done well.
Staples’ girls squash team. (Photo/Stacy Bass)
But word on the Post Road is that the Gym at Southport Athletic may be removing its courts, to add space for other activities. That would leave Staples’ program out in the cold.
Though the Y is the obvious choice as a site for new courts, it won’t happen soon — if ever. Any decision about what to do with its newly purchased Red Barn property is far off.
Parents and players have worked hard to grow their sport. But they fear for its future.
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