Changing direction: The nineties
The success of the eighties carried through to the early nineties in particular, notwithstanding that numbers playing the sport had continued to decline.
End of an era
1992 saw the end of the 'Susan Devoy era' when she retired after capturing her fourth world title. Susan also won her eighth British Open and her tenth successive national title that year, bowing out on the highest possible note after returning from what had been, by her standards, a relatively quiet 1991 year.
With Ross Norman (and other Kiwi professionals) based in Britain and not returning for the New Zealand National Championships after 1985, a group of young players emerged as champions. Stephen Cunningham had won four successive titles from 1986 to 1989 and he was followed in 1990 and 1991 by New Zealand's first champion from
Maori descent, Glen Wilson. This exciting young Wellington protegé showed exquisite touch and went on to represent New Zealand throughout the nineties.
Stole the limelight
It was Bay of Plenty's Paul Steel however, who stole the limelight during the decade remaining unbeaten for eight years as national champion, from 1992 through to the close of the century. In doing so he eclipsed Charlie Waugh's long standing five-year run achieved between 1960-1965.
The South Island's Philippa Beams emerged as the first 'new face' on the womens championship trophy winning successive hard-fought finals over another young star Leilani Joyce, in 1993 and 1994. Hamilton's Joyce turned the tables in 1995 and then won back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998. During 1996 two very highly talented juniors Sarah Cook of Christchurch and Wellingtonian Jade Wilson contested the final, with Cook the victor. She also won in 1999, in the absence of the, by now, dominant Joyce.
New Zealand's international performances, while not as prominent overall as during the eighties, have been punctuated with some extraordinary achievements during the last decade.
What would probably rank as the best ever women's team performance came at the 1992 Championships when Susan Devoy, Donna Newton, Philippa Beams and Marie Pearson stole the show by upsetting the highly-fancied English team in the semi finals, only to go down in a hard-fought final against Australia. Key to the upset victory was Donna Newton's famous win over English No 2 and former World Champion Martine Le Moignan. This ended up also being Newton's swan song for New Zealand, after a long and wonderful career dating back to 1980 when she first competed in the World Junior Individual Event.
Runner up for the women in 1992 followed third place in 1990, with fourth being recorded in both 1994 and 1996 and a bronze medal again in 1998.
Triumph and tragedy
Junior womens teams events had commenced bi-annually in 1985 and from inception New Zealand had third and fourth placings, through to 1991. In Malaysia, in 1993, two of New Zealands' best ever junior players Sarah Cook and Jade Wilson, with team mates Glenda Knox and Katrina Black, led the Kiwis to second place. This was repeated in 1997 in Brazil when Shelley Kitchen, Lara Petera, Hayley King and Tania Tatana finished runnerup to England, and the performance reflected the excellent work of new national coach Paul Wright who had only recently joined SNZ, after a notable career coaching England's national teams.
In between times, in 1995, the New Zealand junior womens team finished third in the Sydney World Championships in 1995, but in that year's individual event (the late) Jade Wilson created history becoming the country's first (and to date only) World Junior Squash Champion. Her victory stamped her as one of the world's best junior players ever.
During the following two years Jade went on to turn professional and reach No 18 in the world rankings representing New Zealand at senior level. It was one of the sports greatest tragedies when Jade took her own life in the late evening of May 14, 1998.
Men's squash, in comparison to the women, has not had many international highlights in the nineties. The Senior men, led by Ross Norman, on both occasions, recorded gritty fifth placing in both the 1991 and 1993 championships, slipped to 7th in 1995 followed by 11th in 1997 and to 14th in Cairo in 1999. The Junior men have fared along similar lines, the best being 5th in 1990, ending the decade in 15th place in 1998 in the USA.
Doubles squash success
The introduction of World Doubles squash in latter years has added to New Zealand successes. Philippa Beams and Leilani Joyce won the coveted inaugural women's world title in 1998. That year also saw squash introduced to the Commonwealth Games for the first time and Sarah Cook and Glen Wilson captured the bronze medal in the mixed doubles.
In the past ten years New Zealand staged three World Championships. In 1989 Lois Smith, the very able and long-serving National Director of Junior Squash through the eighties and early nineties, oversaw the Hamilton-based organising commmittee (successfully led by Lyn McCleary) in what was only the third ever junior womens championship. Also it was the first time the event had been held outside of England. The highlight of the tournament was Rotorua's Lynora Hati reaching the finals with some spectacular hard-hitting squash before losing to the top seed Donna Vardy of England.
In 1991 the North Shore Club (with backup from Browns Bay and Belmont) under the direction of Bob Lints successfully hosted the inaugural World Masters Championships. This delightful venue overlooking Lake Pupuke, set an ideal standard for ongoing world masters events to be held around the globe every two years. Six world champions emerged at that event for New Zealand: Trevor Colyer (40), Barry Gardiner (50), Arthur Wright (60), Carol Chard (40), Jenny Webster (45) and Kathy Hargreaves (50) all won their respective age groups.
1994 saw Christchurch stage the Junior Mens World Championships, hosting 28 countries - the largest entry ever in a teams event at any level at that time. It was also the first occasion where New Zealand had held a world championship that the venue was in the South Island, and this proved a very popular move.
By utilizing the refurbished Christchurch Squash Club and other surrounding venues, including the setting up of the SNZ Perspex Court at a public venue, championship director Murray Withers and his team created a very fitting world event, acknowledged by all who attended from overseas.
While the New Zealand team had no notable success (finishing 14th) the championships were dominated by a very classy and professional Egyptian team led by Ahmed Barada, who by the end of 1999, had earned himself third ranking in the world.
In addition to the six world champions that emerged from the inaugural Masters event in 1991, five other titles have been captured during the nineties. These include Carol Chard (40), and Kay Newman (Collins) (35) in 1995. Jenny Webster (55) in 1997 and Ross Norman (40) and Barry Gardiner (60) in 1999.
New Zealand Open Championships featured as major events on the world circuit during the latter half of the eighties and these continued successfully through to 1992. After that they were scaled down and eventually discontinued in 1994 due to decreasing sponsorship and television opportunities.
The 1990 event proved the zenith for this tournament with the semi-finals and finals staged on the SNZ perspex court at the newly opened Aotea Centre in Auckland. Crowds of 1300 and 1700 respectively set new squash spectator records in New Zealand and the atmosphere of the luxurious venue surpassed everybody's expectations. In doing so it lifted the sport to a new level of public awareness. Quality fields including virtually all the top men's and women's players from around the world provided an array of marvellous squash, fittingly climaxed by victories to two of the games greatest exponents, Susan Devoy and Jansher Khan.
Televised Squash had become 'if not the norm' certainly regular in the country during the heady years of the eighties and early nineties and this reached a peak during 1990 when Susan Devoy's world championship victory that year in Sydney was watched live, during primetime, by 800,000 Kiwis. While earlier in the year the NZ Open final, had followed live the All Black vs Australian rugby test on television.
Previously, the only live televised squash had been the Susan Devoy - Lisa Opie final at the 1987 World Championships in Auckland. Live prime time television for squash returned briefly during the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.
Express Squash has launched in 1999, designed specially for television (as well as being suitable for recreational players) and the inaugural event was won by the Central team comprising of Michelle Martin (World No. 1), Mike McSherry and Willie Bicknell.
A Grand Prix event, incorporating six District Opens and the National Championships and titled the Revelation Series, was re-introduced and the new champions are Leilani Joyce and Iain Higgins.
Club supremacy has continued to be contested via the Cousins Shield and Mitchell Cup, however domination has clearly moved to the north and Auckland in particular. Remuera won six women's titles during the decade and while the men's event has been more evenly contested Auckland clubs have won nine out of the ten tournaments.
The National Graded Teams event continued its very popular path and has been strongly supported each year with over 400 teams entering each time.
Susan Devoy Foundation
During 1993 Squash New Zealand established the Susan Devoy Foundation essentially aimed at promotion youth squash. Initial promotional events the following year to the clubs struck some difficulty at a time when restructuring was foremost in the minds. The foundation however, remains very strong in its objectives and the new millennium could provide the incentive to further these.
Ray Southey of Masterton was President from 1990-1992 during the lead-up to the major management restructures.
Major changes were made in 1992 to the Squash New Zealand constitution including the national management structure. The District representation format being replaced by a more streamlined management board of directors. The Board elected its own chairman and Don Cotter, a former New Zealand representative and successful Auckland businessman, was appointed to the historic post.
Chairmen who followed included Peter Adam and Murray Withers, both from the South Island. Neven Barbour had a short stint at chairman during 1998-99 but stepped aside to head the new Squash New Zealand initiative 'Squash Dynamics'.
Marketing Executive Dave Bassett, of Wellington, took over and is set to see in the new millennium. His involvement as the leader of Squash New Zealand follows a busy period with Squash since 1992 when he started utilising his expertise by assisting with the research and subsequent new marketing thrust.
Sylvia Wesney from Nelson was elected to the Presidential position in its new capacity, from 1993 and served through to 1996. Barry Gardiner (Christchurch) the long-time South Island squash identity and World Masters Champion carried on for two years. Afterwards the position was discontinued.
Bill Murphy retired as Chief Executive in 1994, having overseen the major changes in the previous five years. He was followed by Grant Scoones for two seasons and in 1997 David Knowles moved into the role, bringing with him a wealth of experience in both sport, leisure and recreational activity. In his relative short time in the drivers seat he has stamped his mark by steering the introduction of the proposed National Squash Centre, the Squash Dynamics business venture, Express Squash and the Squash Development Officer network.
Butch Gifford's retirement from the Association at the end of the 1995 season brought to a close a remarkable period with the sport spread over nearly 30 years. He first came to Squash New Zealand management in the early seventies and during his ensuing involvement was a national selector, director of coaching and education officer. Beyond that he was also one 'advisor/mentor' to many young players and permanently enriched youth squash with his invention of the Micro court.
An emerging personality through the nineties has been Mark Devoy, based in the Waikato. He has been the flag bearer for the new microcourts. As part of his involvement with youth squash he has also stood out as a coach and national team manager.
1996 saw the appointment of a second New Zealander (following Murray Day), namely Susie Simcock, as President of the World Squash Federation, bringing a significant honour to sport in the country, a position which she retains at the closing of the century. Nationally ranked in the top ten in her playing days, Susie Simcock was a very successful New Zealand team official during the eighties when she managed three teams to successive world championships, all finishing in top positions.
Her personnel and management skills further came to the fore in 1987 when she headed up the highly-regarded Womens World Championships event in Auckland. Around the same time she also became the inaugural leader of the fledgling World Womens Association and saw it through to merger with the men's Federation in 1988.
The New Zealand Sports Foundation have also recognised Susie Simcock's attributes, appointing her to their Board of Governors and to its powerful Athlete Grants Board. This followed on from her success with the establishment of the New Zealand Squash Institute and related high performance programme.