Local Color

We are writing here to extol the virtues of the game of handball and to decry the disturbing trend in this University of late to supplant it with its inferior cousin. We speak of squash, that bastard child of tennis and handball.

If God had meant people to play squash, they would have been born with racquets instead of hands. As it is, on the byways and boulevards of this nation, wherever the architects of our modern fortune have seen fit to erect a concrete testimonial to American sturdiness and perseverance, citizens congregate to blast resilient balls off the wall. Except at this College.

Harvard is in many ways the ultimate separation of people from the exigencies of life, and the game of squash is a metaphor for that dissociation. No longer, in squash, does the actual hand impel the ball on its tortuous journey; instead, a foot and a half of laminated wood and the entrails of cats enforces a dainty separation between motive force and object.

The pioneers who built our nation did not play the game of squash. There were no squash racquets in the first harsh winters at Plymouth. At Shiloh and Chicamauga, at Gettysburg and Manassas, the game of squash was not played. Its province was the bastions of hereditary aristocracy and privilege in Europe and the Occident.

It is argued by squash-ites that their game is more demanding, that the constitution is tested and the will bent to its limits by the exertions of the sport. But how frivolously these arguments are batted about by effete participants who have never witnessed, let alone competed, in a handball contest.


Would that it might have been their privilege to glimpse the heroic tilts of street-smart handball opponents, pitted al fresco in the angular coliseums of our nation's inner cities. After such a match, the two opponents are likely to crumple in fraternal exhaustion, their palms beaten red and puffy, their legs rubbery with exhaustion.

How much more familiar to the closeted squash-fans is the image of bespectacled and upwardly-mobile contestants, cavalierly brushing their brows of a trace of perspiration, exiting separately and continuing on, no doubt, to sedentary careers as bankers and multinational corporation moguls.

Life is far from easy for handball players at Harvard. While this University boasts a squash team, its handball players have to skulk around at odd hours, playing on courts designed for the racqueted game. The psychological effects of this are not to be underestimated; how much of the present malaise in which our student body is glumly steeped can be attributed to the frustration of such healthy, sanguine and natural passions as the thrum-thrum-thrum of hand on ball, ball off wall.

And when that sport is fostered, through the construction of cement courts and clean washroom facilities, the sparkling concommitants of the sport's success are increased student concern with personal hygiene and the uplifting weltenschaung of a dynamic new geist.

Perhaps the final affirmation of handball's place in the human imagination is that writers throughout the ages have turned to it as an experience of epiphany. In repeated references in the Bible and in ancient Greek myth, handball appears as a rooting, elemental experience, the ultimate symbol of man's ties to the soil (the first handballs were, of course, balls of mud) from which he sprang. Squash, we might add, did not.

To the University, we say: look for us not in the polished alabaster cubicles that are the foundation of its buildings, nor in the cleanly-swept emporiums of squash and tennis that line its square. Our destiny carries us onward, in the words of the poet, towards a future that embraces the past.