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In this month's issue of Boston Magazine, Harvard senior Kenton Jernigan, a squash player, was pronounced "Boston's Best Amateur Athlete."
Jernigan is co-captain of Harvard's varsity squash team, the top college squad in the country. And although he's extremely modest about his ability, Coach Dave Fish '72 calls Jernigan an "exceptional natural talent."
Squash is a difficult game; to play it well, one has to have finesse, speed, stamina, and a tolerance for pain that borders on masochism. Kenton Jernigan is one of the best.
Among the honors that Jernigan has captured are the National Amateur and Intercollegiate Championships--both of which he has won for the last three years.
During those same three years, with Jernigan in the number one slot, the Harvard squash team has compiled a 31-0 record. Yet success hasn't spoiled him yet. Above all, the star athlete remains polite and unassuming, if very difficult to find--his status as a premier amateur/professional squash player keeps him busy.
Last month, Jernigan played in the annual Boston 'Eyeopener' tournament. Other tournaments have taken him farther from home; last year he spent a semester in New Zealand playing the World Squash Championships for the U.S. team.
Those who know Jernigan describe him as a kind of paradox: a shy, warm person off the court, but a demon of aggression when on it.
"He has the talent to make it big in the pros," said Fish. "Perhaps his only weakness is in his mental discipline. The difference between the top pros and mediocre players is strong mental control."
This is not to say that Jernigan cracks under pressure. Rather, the opposite is true. "Kenton Jernigan needs something to drive him. When he's out there against a tough player, he's at his best," Fish said.
Jernigan trains for hours each day, playing practice matches and doing exercises designed, Fish says, "to make [his] balance, form and style reflexive."
Finding a worthy opponent for Jernigan to play can be difficult; a player seeded ninth can practice against his fifth-seeded teammates.
But Jernigan, the top seed, has no higher-seeded teammates with whom to play. His practice consists of attempting to reach his own "standard of perfection."
When asked if he would choose squash as a career, Jernigan said, "I'm definitely going to turn professional in March; as to my career plans, I'm not too sure. I'm majoring in Computer Science, but I'm not that excited about spending my life sitting at a desk. Wouldn't it be great to live life playing a game?"
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