For forty-one years the words Skillman and Yale were interchangeable with squash excellence. Born and raised in Princeton, NJ, Skillman first started playing squash at age nineteen. In the mid-1930s he was at the top of the pro¬fessional ranks in the U.S., winning three national pro tournaments and reach¬ing the finals in two more (once having to withdraw with a leg injury). He was the first player to use the volley as an offensive weapon. But it was a coach, mentor and friend to three generations of Eli men that made Johnnie Skillman unforgettable. In 1934, after working as assistant squash coach at Princeton and then as a pro at Apawamis Country Club in Rye, NY, he was persuaded to come to New Haven to coach in the new twenty-six court complex in Payne Whitney Gymnasium. Only mandatory retirement at age sixty-eight in 1975 could make Skillman leave. With his ever-present pipe and cheerful demeanor, he coaxed brilliance from his charges. Yale had a record of 452-79 under Skillman, just one losing season, had a 47-match winning streak and garnered eight national intercollegiate titles. (He also coached the men’s tennis team from 1943-1975, with a record of 162-91 and six New England titles). Champions and leaders like John Holt, Glenn Shively, Ted Hands, Treddy Ketcham, Charlie and Darwin Kingsley, Sam and Ralph Howe and Derrick Niederman all credited Skillman with their successes on court and in life. In 1937 he published Squash Racquets, a valuable coaching manual which contained many of his aphorisms: “Never change a winning game, ” he said, advice he himself followed to perfection at Yale.
U.S. Professional Champion 1933, 1935, 1937