New club aiming to raise a racket for squash Meadow Mill has local ownership

November 08, 1992|By John W. Stewart | John W. Stewart,Staff Writer

A new racquet club, owned and operated by local residents, is providing the impetus to give more exposure to the sport of squash.

This will be particularly true during a series of area clinics aimed at junior players running tomorrow through Friday.

Frank Cushman, one of the owners of the Meadow Mill Athletic Club, in the old London Fog warehouse on Clipper Mill Road (across the Jones Falls Expressway from the Pepsi-Cola plant), originally talked to Mark Talbott, the No. 1-ranked professional squash player in North America, about doing a clinic as part of the club's recent formal opening.

Talbott, in the process of putting together a multi-city tour to conduct junior clinics, countered with a proposal to make Baltimore, his former hometown, the first city on the list.

"We must get junior development programs going, working at the grass roots, because this is what squash needs if it is going to gain the popularity it deserves," Talbott, 32, said from his home in Wakefield, R.I. "That's where I'm focusing my efforts -- it's the best way I can give something back."

Talbott is a native of Dayton, Ohio, where he grew up playing squash. He moved to Baltimore with his family when he was 13, and went on to be a two-time winner of the National 14-under and 16-under squash championships.

He turned professional at 20 and has been ranked No. 1 in North America every year since 1982. Along the way, he has collected 115 titles, including six in the World Professional Squash event and five North American Opens.

Besides Meadow Mill, seven other Baltimore area clubs will be involved in the junior clinics: Maryland Club, Merritt/Towson,

Merritt/Security, Baltimore CC, Downtown AC, Baltimore Racquet and Fitness Club, and Harford County Tennis and Squash Club. Specific information on times and accessibility is available from the individual clubs.

"Through the tour -- including Boston, Chicago, Denver, and Seattle, with Philadelphia and New York scheduled for the spring -- I will be able to get to the general public," Talbott said. "We want to expose the sport to as many people as possible -- get it out of its country-club image."

Already programmed into the local clinics is one session at Meadow Mill for 50 inner-city youth, and the Department of Recreation and Parks had such a positive response, the staff at Meadow Mill will conduct a second session to accommodate them.

Certainly one way to reach the general public is through the building of new facilities. How quickly has the number of courts grown in Baltimore?

"Nearly 15 years ago, when I first came here, there were maybe 20 courts, none of which was open to the public," Cushman said. "There was one wave of new courts about eight years ago. More recently a second wave, all with open membership, has doubled the number of available courts."

Cushman has been a vital part of the local growth.

A native of Amherst, Mass., he grew up playing tennis, then got hooked on squash while at Amherst College.

"After graduation, my college coach suggested I think about becoming a squash pro," he said. "I got a job, found out I really loved the game, and the teaching was emotionally gratifying."

Stops in Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul and New York followed, and he came to Baltimore as the head pro at the Maryland Club.

"In 1985, we [Frank and his wife, the former Nancy Ward, of Edgewood, and the foremost woman squash player in Maryland for the last decade or so] bought the Racquet Club of Roland Park, and by the end of the year we had doubled the membership to about 90, and a year later it was up to 200," Cushman said.

"By 1987 we were looking to expand, and finally found a place with high ceilings and close to the city and schools, and convenient for those who play the game.

"As luck would have it, Sam Himmelrich Jr., was a member at Roland Park. He ran this [London Fog] property and was trying to develop the space. Its 24-foot ceilings were perfect for us."

The Roland Park club closed last Sunday, and Meadow Mill -- with an aerobics room, a room full of exercise equipment, and a child-care center, in addition to 10 squash courts -- opened the next day.

The Cushmans had another bit of luck when they talked to friends Ken and Ann Katz and they wound up being equal partners. Afterward, the Cushmans discovered Ken was a builder-developer and Ann had a marketing background. Said Cushman, "It has provided a strong ownership team."

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