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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Playing the game

Published: February 12, 2010
Section: Opinions

Stepping out onto the hardwood court, I pluck the black rubber ball from my pocket. I drop it onto the ground, lightly step on it, and rub it vigorously between the wood and the sole of my shoe for a few seconds. Good, it’s warm. I pick it up and toss it softly into the air. My racquet sends it smashing into the front wall.

It’s been more than a year since I last played a game of squash, but from the first stroke, it’s all coming back to me. Maybe my aim isn’t what it used to be, but the swift sweep of my forehand feels natural as ever, and I’m keeping the ball thudding consistently off the wall. My friends should be here in a couple minutes to start playing, but for now, I’m having fun hitting by myself, shaking off two semesters worth of rust.

In many ways, my identity as a squash player has been fundamentally tied to my entire Brandeis experience. I never played before college, and I had no more than a passing understanding of how the game worked. I had never even intended to start playing it in the first place. Tennis was going to be my new game of choice, and it was only because the tennis PE class filled up in my first semester that I took a course that required me to play both games. I remember being acutely disappointed when the incoming winter weather forced the tennis portion of the class to end for the semester.

But something about bashing that rubber ball against the wall really struck a chord with me. It wasn’t a week before I was pulling my friends to the gym with me to play. Soon, we were going regularly, all of us exercising, learning the game, and having fun together. My friend Andy soon became my most devoted partner, and we’d head down to Gosman three, four, maybe more times a week, playing game after game for hours, sometimes until the gym closed. Our styles grew in tandem, both of us preferring placement over power and using athletic quickness to overcome our rudimentary, un-coached form. Rarely would even the longest series end with either of us more than one or two games ahead of the other.

Looking back, squash became more than just a game for us. It became the backdrop over which we bonded during the first few months of our first year, that hectic time when friendships are quickly made and forgotten as people struggle to find their comfort zones. It meant that fun, physical activity was only a phone call and a five-minute walk away. It was somatic relief whenever the stress of class became too much.

Toward the end of our first year, Andy and I inherited the top two positions on the Brandeis Squash Club, solely because no one else wanted them. Andy was determined to turn the squash team into a competitive club sport, and through his admirable hard work, it became just that. We assembled a team, rounding up interested Brandeis students, many of whom had played for much longer than we had. We attended several tournaments, one at BU, one at MIT, and though we routinely got crushed by our opponents, and though I was usually among the worst on our team, I enjoyed every minute of it.

At the end of my first sophomore semester, however, I had to withdraw from Brandeis to deal with some personal issues that eventually kept me out of school for a year. I never even picked up a racquet while at home. It was too hard to find a court or to find a friend who even knew what squash was, let alone would be willing to play it with me regularly. Though still at Brandeis, Andy got very involved in the Student Union and then broke his racquet, eventually leading him to abandon the game himself.

Though I’ve been back at school for almost a month now, it took me a while to make the time to return to the squash courts. I finally went on Tuesday, then again on Wednesday, and I already remember what drew me so intensely to the sport in the first place. I feel like I’m picking up right where I left off, and soon I’ll be back in Gosman several times a week, playing until I can hardly lift my racquet again. Andy’s nursing a basketball injury right now, but he’d better heal in a hurry. He’s got a game waiting for him.