Bristol’s Mike Riley has the distinction of being one of just five certified World Squash Federation Referees, of which he is the only one in the United States. His love affair with the sport began over 40 years ago when he returned to his hometown Salford, England after attending high school in Sweden and the talented soccer, hockey and golf athlete discovered squash.
Mike travels ten weeks of the year to referee professional tournaments across the country, and occasionally overseas. This month alone he will be crisscrossing from Charlottesville, San Francisco, Philadelphia to NYC refereeing some of the biggest tournaments in the world. Mike is a squash teaching professional at Rhode Island Country Club in Barrington, and for Barrington High School’s club team. With an impressive list in his own win column from years of playing, Mike competes in the Rhode Island Squash League, and in a half dozen tournaments a year around the United States.
When he’s not holding a squash racket, Mike reaches for a hammer to fulfill his other passion, carpentry. He and his wife Carol are parents of four grown children, and have spent the last 25 years in their Narrows home, which he has lovingly renovated. Mike can be reached at MFR56@hotmail.com.
After high school I began playing squash and really fell in love with it. In England when you play squash, you referee each other’s matches. So my path to refereeing is not as glamorous as it may sound. I had played in a New York squash tournament for teaching professionals and helped out refereeing that tournament and then refereed the touring professionals’ tournament. I guess I did a good job. They have been asking me to referee at that event since 1992.
Worldwide squash is a blue-collar game, but in the States it is a white-collar game. Nobody has ever been able to explain to me why that is with an answer I am satisfied with. In the States, squash is played in private clubs in the old English enclaves of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, with a little bit in San Francisco, Atlanta [and] Dallas.
When I first started off it was a fairly boring, pedantic game to watch at a professional level. Over the last ten to 12 years it has gotten a lot more exciting. The players are more aggressive, fitter and stronger so they can stay out longer on the court. They don’t have to try to keep a rally going but win it with something more spectacular. The people basically ruling the squash world at the moment are the Egyptians. A couple of those guys came through ten years ago are still playing, and they brought that excitement into the game. They are more artistic with the racket, playing balls to different areas of the court more often.
You’ve got to pay attention. There is so much going on. I get so involved because I love the game. I want people to be entertained by quality playing. With the players there is a fine line between the show and being completely rude and obnoxious. The [fewer] words out of my mouth apart from the score the better the match is. If I am involved the entire time it can get a bit messy.
When I first started coaching going back 28 or 30 years, there was no kids program. It was primarily adults. Now it’s a complete reversal. Ninety-five percent are kids starting as young as preschool. When I was starting to play I was nearly 18 and was the youngest guy around by far. Now kids are playing by three or four years old. It is played in high schools more and more now. Kids find it’s a way to get into college, especially the Ivy League schools which are big into squash. We need more courts, that’s always been the problem, not enough courts. –Nina Murphy