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Natick’s Len Bernheimer a US Squash Hall of Famer

By Marvin Pave
Globe Correspondent / September 9, 2012
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Bernheimer to join squash pantheon

As a varsity basketball and tennis player at Newton High, Len Bernheimer always felt comfortable with a racket in his hand.

“But when I didn’t think I couldn’t make the basketball team at Williams College,” he recalled, “I turned to squash, a sport I hadn’t played before. I was fortunate to be coached in college by Clarence Chaffee, who would make total novices like me into players.”

More than a half century, and 38 United States, Canadian, and world singles and doubles titles later, the Natick resident has reached the pinnacle of the sport.

In recognition of their achievements, the 70-year-old Bernheimer and his close friend and doubles partner, Tom Poor, will be inducted into the US Squash Hall of Fame. The accolade will be formally announced Oct. 6 during the US Open championships in Philadelphia, with the ceremony to be held at a later date in the Boston area.

“It’s an unbelievable honor, a great thrill,” said Bernheimer, a 1963 graduate of Williams. “I feel so blessed to still be active in the game these many years, and to go in with Tom makes it even more special. It couldn’t have been scripted any better.”

A member of the University Club in Boston since 1970, Bernheimer won his first US championship in 1981, in the 35-and-over singles division. His most recent US title was three years ago, in the 65-and-over doubles bracket with Poor. They captured four straight Canadian titles, from 2008-2011.

Bernheimer, a retired printing company executive, and Poor, a retired investment analyst from Norwell, have totaled more than 20 national doubles titles and three world titles.

“Tom and I were adversaries in singles at one time, but when he joined the University Club we became doubles partners and we’ve been together since 1993,” said Bernheimer, who has focused solely on doubles after undergoing coronary bypass surgery 17 years ago.

“I joke with Tom that between the two of us we have one body,” said Bernheimer, a member of the silver medal-winning US squad at the 1977 Maccabiah Games in Israel. He also represented America at the 1978 world championships.

Bernheimer is a former president of the US Squash and Massachusetts Squash associations, and has been on the state organization’s board for more than four decades.

“I try to give back to the sport as much as I can,” said Bernheimer, a founder and current chairman of SquashBusters, a program at Northeastern University that involves Boston youth in after-school programs, community service, and squash instruction.

In 1993, Bernheimer was awarded the President’s Cup by US Squash for his service to the sport. Bernheimer and Poor codirected the Boston Open from 1972 to 1991, a major stop on the pro hardball tour.

Squash is played on a walled indoor court (the doubles court is larger and higher). Shots must land above a metal strip on the front wall, and all four walls can be utilized.

Bernheimer, a member at Belmont Country Club, stays competitive by lifting weights and biking. A captain on his high school tennis team, he still enjoys the sport, and also has two holes-in-one on the links.

He and his wife, Lyn, have two children, Beth, who lives in Wellesley, and Jonathan, an intercollegiate squash champion while at Harvard who played on the pro tour. The pediatrician now lives in Cape Town.

Here and there

Ben Balter didn’t qualify for match play at his first US Amateur golf tournament, held recently at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado. But the 18-year-old, whose family lives in Wellesley, said the experience has whetted his appetite to qualify for next year’s event at The Country Club in Brookline.

“It was a little disappointing, but very exciting, and I learned so much from being there,” said Balter, who attends private school in Naples, Fla., where he lives with his aunt and takes lessons from Dr. Jim Suttie. He will enroll next year at Wake Forest University. . . .

Belmont's Drew Papas, a senior safety on the Catholic University football team, was named the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week. The Rivers School graduate made four tackles, forced a fumble, and scored his first career touchdown on a fumbled punt recovery in his team’s opening game, a 45-28 win over McDaniel College. Catholic University, in Washington, D.C., is a Division 3 program. . . 

Holly Szafran, a Brandeis University freshman out of Newton North High, scored her first collegiate goal and added an assist in the women’s soccer team’s 5-0 win over Clark, bringing the Judges to 2-0 heading into Wednesday’s scheduled game vs. Roger Williams. She is joined in the starting lineup by classmate Sara Isaacson, a midfielder who attended Medfield High. Their teammates include two juniors — goalkeeper Leah Sax (Lincoln-Sudbury Regional) and midfielder Megan Kessler  (Hopkinton High). . . 

Brown University freshman Will Twyman (Lincoln-Sudbury) is among 26 finalists for the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame’s High School National Scholar-Athlete Award. The five winners will be announced early next month. . . 

Wheaton College freshman goalkeeper Taylor Wilson was honored as New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week in women’s soccer. A Bellingham High graduate, Wilson helped the Norton school get off to a 1-0-1 start with an 0.58 goals against average and five saves. . . 

Bentley University senior Julie Pomponi (Belmont High) has been named a cocaptain on the women's soccer team again.

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.

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