While the spotlight has been shining on some of the bigger names in Canadian squash this past week in Toronto, high up on the 36th floor of the TD Waterhouse Tower on Wellington St., the oldest player registered in the Canadian squash championships was getting ready for his first match.
Seventy-six-year-old Irv Herman was the only entry in the 75+ category, so organizers put him in with the 70+ crew.
Herman, well known in squash circles, would lose his first match, on Thursday, to Neil McLachlan of Toronto, 9-4, 9-0, and 9-3, pushing him into round-robin play today at noon at the Wellington Club.
But what Herman lacked on court this particular day, he made up for in aplomb. Asked about having a photo taken of him after his match, he would say, "only if you're looking for a picture of the beautiful people." Make me look 40ish, he'd say to the photog. He'd laugh when asked if organizers hauled him off, made him pee in a cup, to check for steroids.
The folks at the University of Toronto know Irv Herman. He graduated in 1950, having been a squash champion for the varsity team. Those close to him talk about his quiet efforts behind the rise of public squash facilities in Toronto. He's also well known at Toronto Lawn and Tennis Club, where he has been a member since the late 1950s, and where his name is sketched numerous times across the club's honours list of past winners.
"Everybody knows Irv," the club's squash pro, Andrew Thompson, said. In fact, Herman all but lives there. "I never have to tell anyone to take a day off, except Irv," he said.
Thompson recommended that Herman go on a weight-training regimen, because he and Irv felt he needed upper body muscle to adapt to the softer-ball, wider-court international game that North Americans converted to more and more during the 1990s. Soft-ball squash also requires more stamina, since there are longer rallies. Plus it's more of a thinking man's game, as opposed to the quicker game of hard-ball squash. All fine with Irv.
"Squash is like chess," he said. "It's just as much about timing and strategy as it is about the physical part of the game."
Deceptive on the court, is how Dennis Goodfellow, squash pro at the Fitness Institute, and Herman's cousin, describes him. "His forte has always been great racquet skills," Goodfellow said, watching Irv along with a handful of others at the Fitness Institute, a posh haven for the well-to-do that towers over the city. Goodfellow also talked about Herman's accuracy, and his ability to put the ball where he wants.
All foundations of the soft-ball game. Herman says he clung to the hard-ball game for years like a Doberman to a steak bone because it gave him an advantage against younger players.
Finding people his age to play is a challenge. But Herman isn't particular. He'll play almost anybody, younger teenagers starting out, older teens, people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, sometimes twice a day at Toronto Lawn and Tennis Club. "The younger ones I'll beat," he said. "As they learn, they give me a tougher and tougher game.
"So I find more new ones," he said, laughing.
The Canadian squash championships wrap up today at the CBC Atrium, with the men's open championship match starting at 2 p.m., followed by the women's championship at 3 p.m.