By AMY GEORGE
The Fitzgerald Field House is a campus historical landmark, having witnessed generations of athletes’ career-making moments within its walls as the home of Pitt basketball for five decades as well as the wrestling, gymnastics and volleyball programs.
What most do not know, however, is that generations of Pitt squash players also have called the Field House home.
Following avid player James Conway, a professor of Structural Biology, up the stairs to the six squash courts truly feels like stepping back in time, a stark contrast to the rest of the remodeled building. The brick walls reverberate with players’ excited shouts and squeaking court shoes; the courts’ miniature entrances, around 4 feet in height, add to the area’s whimsy.
Fittingly, Pitt squash proves a hidden history.
The Field House courts played an integral role in 84-year-old professor emeritus Marigold “Goldie” Edwards’ journey to the U.S. Squash Hall of Fame. In 1962, the squash legend’s arrival at Pitt from New Zealand saw her practicing mainly against male faculty, as the sport was relatively unknown in Pittsburgh at the time, especially to women. After 1970, she went on to win 28 national singles championships while teaching health and physical education in the School of Education.
The current group of players, made up of a diverse conglomeration of undergraduates, graduates and faculty, jokingly call themselves “the Pittsburgh Squash Federation.” The informal community formed in 1996, but multiple signs indicate the past existence of an official club.
The “federation” boasts talent, a tight-knit community, and even romance. Its father figure, English professor emeritus David H. Brumble III, has played at Pitt since 1971.
“He is a fixture of our meetings,” Conway says. “David encourages, even goads, us into getting our exercise in. He is our spiritual leader.”
Members of the group hail from every corner of the globe — from New Zealand, Canada, Argentina, Mexico, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, France and the Netherlands.
A New Zealander himself, Conway joined Pitt’s faculty in 2005, but only recently discovered its underground squash scene.
“I wasn’t aware of this group until about five years ago,” Conway says. “We’re (a) very international, enthusiastic and diverse group of around 40 who meet three to four times a week to engage in several hours of healthy squash activity while also fostering social and academic exchange within a wide cross-section of the Pitt community.”
The affection, respect and concern members harbor not only for the game, but for each other, is clear. Brumble and Conway enthusiastically introduce each player and his country of origin, role at Pitt, and playing level, emphasizing the familial-like ties fostered within the group.
Two members, one of them Conway’s son, recently met up in Paris, while two newly married players are expecting their first child.
“These are a few examples of how as a community we have fostered a number of significant social interactions and more than a few professional ones too, all centered around our interest and love for squash,” Conway says.
When asked about the courts’ deteriorating condition, he graciously explained, “(They are) dilapidated and run-down, but we enjoy them nonetheless.”
The Field House, however, is aging and won’t be around forever, as the new campus Master Plan clarifies. But this unique community it has fostered over the years cannot be forgotten in the planning of Pitt’s future.
“We hope that we will have a future in the new Master Plan,” Conway says. “I would be grateful (to) find out what part squash and our group will be able to play in this future vision.”
One thing is clear, however: Pitt squash truly is a hidden gem.
To join the group, contact leader David Brumble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amy George is a sophomore English Literature student and a contributing writer for the University Times.