Obituary of Christopher Rupert Stevens
Daily Squash Report is sad to announce the passing of Christopher Rupert Stevens, universally known as Chris (and as Stevie to his close friends), on July 19th at age 53. The Canadian-born Stevens was a leading member of Princeton’s late-1980’s teams that won the College Squash Association national postseason team championship in 1988 and reached the final round of that competition in 1989, when Princeton finished in a three-way tie for first place in the Ivy League as well. He then played No. 1 for the Tigers and made first-team All-American in both his junior and senior years (i.e. 1990 and 1991), following which he played on both the WPSA singles and doubles tours and had a stint on the pro softball circuit as well during the decade of the 1990’s. His career highlights included an advance to the quarterfinal round of the 1994 North American Open singles and the 1999 Silver Racquet Doubles title that he and Rick Wahlstedt won at the Racquet & Tennis Club. Stevens also served at various times as an assistant squash pro at the Merion Cricket Club in suburban Philadelphia, as well as at a number of New York clubs, among them the Uptown Racquet Club, the New York Athletic Club, the Printing House Fitness & Racquet Club and the Union Club.
But it was at Princeton that Stevens made his biggest mark after a high school career as a squash player and cross-country runner at Ridley College --- a Toronto-area prep school in the Niagara Peninsula not far from Buffalo --- that was impressive enough for him to be inducted years later (i.e. in 2017) into Ridley’s Athletic Wall of Distinction. Stevens’s remarkable freshman 1987-88 season at Princeton began with him rallying from two games to one down to win the deciding match in his team’s important early-season 5-4 road victory over Franklin & Marshall in front of a very vocal and hostile F&M crowd that included many members of its football team. When Stevens’s match ended, the team ran into the court, not so much to congratulate him, according to team captain Keen Butcher, but more in the interest of group protection. “We high-tailed it out of there as fast as we could,” team member John Pruett remembered.
In the postseason six-man team event a few months later, which was held at Princeton’s “home” Jadwin Gymnasium courts --- in which there were A, B and C Divisions, with each school’s Nos. 1 and 2 players competing in the A draw, the Nos. 3 and 4 players in the B and the Nos. 5 and 6 players in the C --- Stevens reached the final of the B Division. This result, supplemented by his fellow freshman Bob White’s advance to the C final and an all-Princeton A final in which Jeff Stanley defeated Butcher, enabled Princeton to amass an overall total of 58 points to second-place Harvard’s 49. It was the first time since the “Triple Crown” 1978-79 season nine years earlier --- when the Tigers won the nine-man regular-season college title, the post-season six-man college competition and the USSRA Five-Man National Team Championship --- that Princeton won the Intercollegiate six-man team event, and it broke Harvard’s seven-year grip on this championship.
The following season, the Crimson’s seven-year-long undefeated record in nine-man dual-meet competition would be punctured by Princeton as well in an 8-1 win in which Stevens accounted for the clinching fifth point with a furious rally from an 11-4 fifth-game deficit against Harvard star Jonny Kaye that came down to a simultaneous-match-point, at which juncture Kaye had a clear opening for a cross-court winner but his shot instead clanged the tin. The win over Harvard represented the first of three crucial dual meets in a compressed seven-day span, with Penn and Yale to follow in close order. In the Penn match that promptly followed, Stevens lost the first two games against Quaker star Peter Lubowitz but charged through the next three games, thereby adding an important point in Princeton’s eventual 5-4 win. On that occasion it was Derek Finkle, Steven’s former Ridley College teammate (and the person who persuaded Stevens, who had initially decided to go to Cornell, to change his mind and matriculate at Princeton instead) who won the deciding match, even though his right forearm cramped up near the end of the last game to the point where afterwards his hand remained locked around his racquet for several minutes.
Even after Finkle was finally able to liberate his hand, the fingers were involuntarily jumping spasmodically around, causing one teammate to quip that it looked like a scene from “Scanners,” a science-fiction movie that was getting high ratings during that time frame. Stevens then scored one of only two Princeton points against Yale, again (for the third straight time) after trailing two games to love, a phenomenon that was reflected in Daily Princetonian reporter Feisal Naqvi’s reference to Stevens having made “his now-expected comeback” in Naqvi’s write-up of the Yale meet. Despite the loss to Yale, Princeton did back into a three-way tie for the 1989 Ivy League pennant when Harvard defeated Yale in the last match of the dual-meet season. In a new format for determining the postseason champion in which the A/B/C play-downs were replaced by a straight-draw tournament (which was named the Potter Cup to honor Navy’s longtime coach Arthur Potter) featuring the eight top-ranked teams, Princeton reached the finals with wins over Cornell and Penn before again losing to Yale.
With Stanley’s graduation that spring, Stevens moved into the No. 1 position in the Princeton lineup, where he remained throughout his junior and senior seasons, earning first-team All-America honors both years. His best results during the 1989-90 season were in that year’s Potter Cup, in which he defeated both 1989 U. S. Nationals winner Rudolfo Rodriguez of Penn and Yale’s John Musto. Stevens and Bob White were elected co-captains for the 1990-91 season. They were close friends (and roommates during their senior year) but opposites in terms of personality and playing style, since White was measured, analytical and organized, while Stevens did everything at warp speed --- including doing a tremendous number of sprints at track and leaving everyone far behind in a timed three-mile run --- which earned him the affectionate nickname “Turbo” among his teammates. Scott Dulmage, who had some epic matches with Stevens in Canadian junior squash tournaments --- and who defeated Stevens in the final round of the 1986 U. S. Junior Nationals --- often said how relentless Stevens was and how often he would roar back just when he seemed down and out. That latter quality was on full display in Princeton’s 5-4 wins over Yale during his senior year in both the dual meet and the semifinal round of the Potter Cup, in each of which Stevens triumphed over Musto in the deciding match, fending off a match point against him in the Potter Cup tilt.
The next-day final against Harvard also came down to the No. 1 match, in this case between Stevens and his Canadian compatriot Jeremy Fraiberg. A number of the Princeton team members massed right behind the court and spent the last game holding hands, just as the New York Giants players had done a few weeks earlier prior to the decisive field goal attempt in the closing seconds of the Super Bowl against the Buffalo Bills. The Giants got their wish that day, when Bills kicker Scott Norwood’s 47-yard attempt went wide right, giving New York a 20-19 victory. But the Princeton attempt to grab some of the same magic failed, as Fraiberg prevailed in four brutally contested games. At the team banquet that spring, Stevens, White and their fellow senior Niko Guethe were named co-recipients of the George C. McFarland Jr. Squash Award, given annually “to that member of the Princeton men’s varsity squash team who, through enthusiasm, ability, sportsmanship and leadership has contributed most to the sport and his team.”
After his playing and coaching years came to an end, Stevens returned to Canada at the outset of the 2000’s and spent the final two-decades-plus of his life holding down a series of jobs (most recently with a construction crew) and courageously battling the unrelenting challenges of mental illness, which on multiple occasions landed him in the hospital for lengthy periods of time. Despite these extended stretches of adversity, Stevens remained close to his long-time friends and never lost hope that he might someday regain his health and even return to playing squash. During his final few years, Stevens turned to artwork as a form of therapy and a constructive means of self-expression, and he sent a number of his drawings and paintings to his friends and family members.
Even though more than three decades have passed since Stevens’s final college match, his teammates from those years remained loyal to him and hopeful for him right to the very end. One of them, Jim Obsitnik, expressed the hope to his teammates in a 30-person Princeton-squash email chain after learning of Stevens’s passing that, “Chris is in a better place now and is resting and at peace after his difficult time on earth,” while Finkle, who knew Stevens the longest of anyone on the chain as his teammate and close friend at both Ridley and Princeton, promised his former teammates, “We will share a toast to Turbo at our next get-together.”
Chris is survived by his mother, Elizabeth Andreen, father Peter Geoffrey Stevens, sister Sarah Anne Stevens, nephews Carlin and Devon Saunders and niece Emma Saunders. Arrangements have been entrusted with Essentials Cremation and Burial Services and cremation has taken place. Family and friends are invited to a graveside service and interment honouring Chris' life at 11:45am on Wednesday, August 17, 2022 at Park Lawn Cemetery, 2845 Bloor Street West, Etobicoke, M8X 1A6.
August 17, 2022Start Time:
11:45 amEnd Time:
Park Lawn Cemetery, 2845 Bloor Street West, Etobicoke, M8X 1A6.
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