Setting a new standard for dynasties

Paul Mayne // Western News

Derek Moore, left, in his first year as Mustangs men’s squash coach, led the team to its 33rd consecutive title. All of that success, Moore said, was because of the tireless work of legendary Mustang’s coach Jack Fairs.

When you talk sports dynasties, you think of the Chicago Bulls (six NBA titles in eight years), the New York Yankees (nine World Series titles in 16 years) or the UCLA Bruins (10 national championships in 12 years). But if you consider those dynasties, what do you call 33 consecutive Ontario University Athletics (OUA) men’s squash titles?

With their most recent title earlier this year, the Western Mustangs now hold the OUA record for most consecutive championships in any sport, beating the long-standing 32-year-old record previously held by the University of Toronto swim team.

Legendary Western coach Jack Fairs, who at 92, made the trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake to cheer on the team he led for so many decades, said there is no single secret to the team’s success.

“Well, some of it is luck,” laughed Fairs, who needed only two years to lead the squash team to its first championship in 1963. Until then, Toronto and McGill had been powerhouse schools on the squash courts. “We had a lot of great players over the years and had some great battles. But we had some talented teams, there is no question about it. Talent is critical and anybody coaching will tell you just that.”

Fairs, who joined the university faculty and coaching staff in 1947, initially split his time between football and basketball, before moving to squash. The 1970s belonged to Western as the team reeled off nine straight OUA titles. After a three-year title dry spell, the Mustangs took the championship in 1983-84 and no other team has won the Harald Martin Trophy since. Western has won 43 times in the trophy’s 65-year existence.

Jack Fairs, left, poses with the 1963-64 men’s team after winning the school’s first-ever Ontario University Athletics squash title. The men’s program has since won 42 additional championships, including 33 consecutive dating back to the early 1980s. Pictured with Fairs are Bob Armstrong, Chris Lang, Dennis Brown, Mike Usatis and Phil McDonnell.

Special to Western NewsJack Fairs, left, poses with the 1963-64 men’s team after winning the school’s first-ever Ontario University Athletics squash title. The men’s program has since won 42 additional championships, including 33 consecutive dating back to the early 1980s. Pictured with Fairs are Bob Armstrong, Chris Lang, Dennis Brown, Mike Usatis and Phil McDonnell.

Recently, Fairs passed off the coaching reins of the team. Today, Derek Moore has the pleasure – and the pressure – of heading up the storied program. A squash pro at Good Life Fitness and co-owner of Of Courts sports store in London, Moore felt the weight of this record-breaking season.

“As soon as someone hears I’m the coach at Western, they instantly know those are huge shoes to fill,” Moore said. “The first thing I always get asked is, ‘How’s Jack doing?’ Everyone loves him, and for good reason. He’s such a kind and caring person. I don’t want to mimic him, because I’m my own person, but to try and be something like him would be amazing.

“I’m really passionate about the game, and the legacy that Jack has left here. I love everything about squash; it’s pretty much my life. A 100-hour week isn’t really 100 hours a week when you love all of it. It makes it easy.”

Western is the only Canadian squash team to play in the United States, facing Top 20 teams such as Cornell, Brown, Amherst and Rochester. While the team struggled this past season down south, with almost half the team being first-year players, Moore is looking to rebound next season.

“Squash is such an individual sport, and no one knows how to be a team, when you compare it to basketball or football,” said Moore, who expects solid recruits on next year’s team. “The goal is trying to figure out how to make them feel like a team. This year, we focused on it more than ever. The team put in a lot of work and, if they hadn’t, we would have lost – guaranteed.”

Get Fairs talking about squash, and his time at Western, and you will need to book the day. Be it about star players, long hours on the road, rivalries or beating the teams no one thought they would, there is no shortage of anecdotes. Even the times he thought ‘The Streak’ would come to a close, ended with a smile.

“We easily could have lost,” said Fairs, recalling a time one championships ended in a tie and had to go to points to determine the winner. “Everyone thought we were done, but would you believe we ended up winning.

“We had a lot of great players and coaches over those years. You can’t have a record like that without talent. Some years we wouldn’t have any big shots on the team, but we were still good.”