“He’s not a squash pro, he’s a squash genius,” Greg Burton said of Mike Weston, a former Professional Squash Association tour player, after just having come off one of the four singles courts at the Elmaleh-Stanton Center at the Southampton Recreation Center.
Not only were the singles courts full this past Friday afternoon, some of them with summer camp students, but so was the center’s doubles court, one of just a few accessible to the public in this country.
Burton’s three sons — Cameron, 13, Grady, 11, and Halsey, 6 — are among a number of Weston’s protégés. “He’s the best instructor possible,” the elder Burton continued. “He’s very technical and a great strategist. Plus he’s as personable as can be. He’s got that New Zealand attitude — always up and always excited. And he knows how to organize a program. He’s getting the casual guys excited, and the top ones too.”
In parting, Burton added that, even though Weston, a native New Zealander, is 43, “he probably could still play on the pro tour in singles and doubles.”
As for doubles, Weston, who’s built along the lines of a rugby back and who has been at S.Y.S. for the better part of the past year, has organized Friday evening doubles round robins for squash members and their guests that begin at 5:30. There are, likewise, men’s singles round robins on Mondays at 6:30, round robins for women on Tuesdays at 7, and open round robins on Saturdays at 1. In addition, on Wednesdays at 6:30 Weston gives an adult clinic in singles.
“We’re going to build more bleachers behind the doubles court,” Weston said during a brief break in a fully equipped pro shop run by his wife, Marjorie, that used to be largely unused space between the court area and the pro’s office. “We’ve already got new bleachers behind the singles courts, as you can see, and new carpeting. . . .”
Weston grew up on New Zealand’s north island, “on Hawke’s Bay, on the east coast. . . . Yes, where the wine comes from. There are many public courts in New Zealand and the game is accessible. A lot of families play it. New Zealand’s national teams are on the same level as the U.S. We’ve had world championship teams, men and women.”
His mother, who played on the national tour, began teaching him the game, he said, when he was about 5 or 6.
“We use the soft ball,” he said when this writer said that as a high school and college student in America he had played with the hard ball. “The hard ball,” he said, “is native to the U.S.”
The hard ball is only used now in doubles, and while he didn’t grow up with doubles, its being a North American game, he represented New Zealand on the doubles tour in this country and Canada, in addition to playing on the Professional Squash Association’s world singles tour. In 2005 he was ranked in the world’s top six in the 35-to-39-year-old age group.
He first came to this country, Weston said, in 2002, during a period when he had begun coaching high-level players, in whose number was to be Wael El Hindi, the 2010 U.S. Open men’s champion. “I played Preston Quick, the United States national champion, in a world tour event at Westchester Squash. He beat me in four sets — three of the games were decided by tiebreakers — and afterward they offered me a job there.”
Thereafter, he successfully managed the Heights Casino club in Brooklyn and the CityView Racquet Club, a tennis and squash club in Long Island City, before coming here.
“We’re very happy with him,” said Wally Glennon, who, with Victor Elmaleh, a former national doubles champion who summers in Bridgehampton, spearheaded the construction of the courts at S.Y.S.
“When Sayed [Selim, the former pro at S.Y.S.] decided to join up with an Egyptian friend of his who has a club in Westchester, we had to re-evaluate.Sayed’s a wonderful guy — I still stay in touch with him, but we were very fortunate that Mike was looking to make a move at that time. He’s not only a great coach, but also a great businessman, a wonderful combination. Having Mike here is a win on all levels. We’re very excited about our future.”
Known for his ability as a developer of young players — he had turned out some terrific ones at the New Zealand Squash Institute — as well as for his above-mentioned management skills, Weston plans to begin overseeing in the fall a squash and academic enrichment program to be known as the Academy, for children who might not otherwise learn how to play the quick-paced, four-walled racket sport, and who might someday use squash — much as those in the CitySquash program in New York City do — as a springboard to preparatory school and college scholarships.
“I will do the talent scouting . . . the kids, perhaps 8 to 12 to begin with, will be from here,” he said. “It will be means-tested. We’ll assist them in their studies and we’ll take them to tournaments.”
Meanwhile, he will oversee, from Aug. 11 to 14, five tournaments at the Elmaleh-Stanton Center, four days of top-flight play that is to include a women’s pro tourney, one for men playing on the U.S. pro tour, a pro doubles tournament known as the Elmaleh Cup, now in its second year, and the fifth Sotheby’s Junior Open.
Weston’s weeklong camps for junior players continue through this month and next, with elite camps capping the season from Aug. 15 to 19 and from Aug. 22 to 26. Wael El Hindi, the aforementioned 2010 U.S. Open champion, who Weston said was ranked eighth worldwide, will help him coach the elite campers.