On Friday, April 28 Stephen L. Green will be honored at the Arlen Specter US Squash Center in Philadelphia with the President’s Cup, US Squash’s highest annual award. The ceremony will be the highlight of the second annual Evening with Team USA, and Ganek Family Head National Coach Night in celebration of the members of US Squash’s High Performance Program. The ceremony and reception will take place after the finals of the S.L. Green U.S. Men’s Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship beginning at 5:00pm. Register for this special event here.
“For the last four decades, Steve Green has played an enormous role in squash excellence in the U.S. His vision, and long-term support, has been critical to accelerating the development of our high-performance program,” said Kevin Klipstein, the president and CEO of US Squash. “The through line of Steve’s impact goes beyond excellence too, evidenced by his longstanding immense direct support the StreetSquash program in Harlem. Last weekend, athletes from the StreetSquash program competed as the first all-Black team representing the Thurgood Marshall School at the High School Nationals, another enduring milestone in the broad reach of Steve’s involvement in the development of the sport.”
Stephen Lawrence Green, now eighty-five, grew up Brooklyn and Long Island. He attended Perkiomen School and then Hartwick College, class of 1959; at both he was a top tennis player. After finishing at Boston College Law School, Green moved to New York City.
In the 1970s, wanting to play a racquet sport and learning that tennis courts were hard to find in Manhattan, Green joined Uptown Racquet Club at 86th and Lexington to play squash. A strong singles player, Green eventually was ranked in the top five in his age group. He fell in love with softball, the international type of ball that was slower than the North American hardball, and he played on Uptown’s two softball courts (the first built in the U.S.). Green started entering softball tournaments, including the National Singles and the nationwide Grand Prix series, as well as events overseas like the British Open Masters and the Maccabiah Games (he won a bronze medal in the 1985 Games). In 1988 he built a squash court on the roof of a twelve-story building at 70 West 36th Street, in Manhattan’s Garment District. That court, one of the first private softball courts in the country, became a legendary spot for pros to train and give lessons.
“I met Steve in 1981 at Uptown when we were both doing solo work on adjacent courts,” said Richard Chin, the head professional at the Harvard Club of New York. “Steve was passionate about squash. He was very competitive on the courts: he had a real zeal for the game. He asked me to join his B league team, even though was I just a kid, twelve or thirteen years old. He took me under his wing, becoming a father figure, a real mentor. Steve Green is exactly why I love squash so much: these memorable times I’ve had with memorable friends.”
In 1990 Green committed to donating the prize money annually to the men’s draw of the softball National Singles and with his encouragement, US Squash closed the draw to U.S. citizens. Both moves were revolutionary and Green’s support for the prize purse has continued to this day. Founded in 1907, the National Singles had always been an amateur-only event. Closing the event to U.S. citizens meant that the U.S. could, for the first time, finally determine who was the best American player (more than a dozen times previously someone from overseas had captured the national title).
Thus, the S.L. Green was created. The first was held in Cincinnati in 1990 and won by one of the greatest players in U.S. history, Mark Talbott, who having turned pro at a young age had never been eligible to play in the National Singles.
“It was a big deal to me and all of the other pros when they opened it up and included substantial prize money,” said Mark Talbott, a U.S. Squash Hall of Fame member and coach at Stanford, who won the event three times. “I remember great matches in those years with Kenton Jernigan, Ned Edwards, Jeff Stanley and Richard Chin among others. It personally meant a lot to me because it was our national championship. I will forever be grateful to Steve, who is a dear friend of mine and of many other pros, for being an early pioneer in our sport.”
The timing was propitious. The late 1980s had seen a slow reorientation to softball: from 1985 to 1988 more than two dozen softball courts appeared around the U.S. (before 1985 there had been less than ten); in addition, a hundred racquetball twenty-foot-wide courts had been converted. After the S.L. Green was created, the floodgates burst open. Seeing the top Americans playing in the National Singles helped legitimize softball, and within a couple of seasons colleges, high schools and juniors all switched and hundreds of softball courts were built. “In the early 1990s, the S.L. Green was a tremendous catalyst,” said Chin, who played in the draw seventeen times. “For my generation, we now had a pinnacle event to work towards, to make a sizable payday. There weren’t so many pro tournaments back then and the S.L. Green provided an impetus to get better at softball and to try to make Team USA.”
Julian Illingworth won the S.L. Green a record nine times. “The event was a big, big boost,” said Illingworth, who reached world No. 24, still the highest ever for an American male. “My senior year at Yale, the S.L. Green was my first pro tournament because the college season was over, and the prize money was instrumental in me becoming self-sufficient and supporting my first year on tour. Not only was the prize money great, but the racquet firms offered a significant bonus if you won your national championship, so it was an incredible payday for me. It gave me wiggle room for the rest of the year, sorting out expenses, training, which events to travel to. The amazing perpetual trophy was also a pretty cool aspect to the S.L. Green event. After my first couple wins, Kevin let me have the trophy for about ten minutes for a couple photos before taking it back. As I grew older and theoretically more mature and responsible, I was allowed to have actual possession of the trophy more than momentarily, and at times it resided at Yale or with me in New York.”
Beyond the S.L. Green, another longtime philanthropic focus for Green has been StreetSquash, the urban squash program based in Harlem. Green joined the board three years after it was started, offered free office space to the growing staff and helped raise money for the program. He also made the lead gift for a new facility. In November 2008 the SL Green StreetSquash Center opened on 115th Street. The transformative facility has eight squash courts (the most of any facility in the city), classrooms and offices. It is not only home to hundreds of StreetSquash students but also Columbia’s women’s and men’s varsity squash teams. “Steve Green has been simply amazing for urban squash,” said George Polsky, the founder and executive director of StreetSquash. “Whether it was giving wise counsel at board meetings, getting us office space, raising money from his friends and colleagues or making the lead gift for the facility, Steve has been one of the most influential leaders ever in urban squash.”
The President’s Cup is the highest individual annual award at US Squash. Treddy Ketcham, a former chair of the board of US Squash and legendary leader of the game, inaugurated the award in 1966. Ever since it has been given by the president of US Squash to people who have made substantial, significant and sustained contributions to American squash. Past honorees include Hashim Khan, the global squash star, Hazel White Jones, the Squash News editor and tournament director, the recently deceased pro squash leader Jack Herrick and Maria Toorpakai Wazir, the Pakistani equal rights campaigner. Green will be the forty-seventh recipient of the President’s Cup.