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The History and Tradition of the Naval Academy’s USS Barb Squash Racquets Perpetual Trophy

Rear Admiral Eugene B. Fluckey
Rear Admiral Eugene B. Fluckey

Annapolis, MD — The United States Naval Academy is rich in traditions.  While some traditions date back to the school’s founding in 1845, the USS Barb Squash Racquets Perpetual Trophy, another Naval Academy tradition, started on the squash courts in 1958.  To understand this tradition and this trophy, you have to look back to the Second World War and the beginning of Navy squash.

In 1935, almost fifteen years prior to the first Midshipmen squash team, Eugene B. Fluckey graduated from the Naval Academy.  He ascended the ranks quickly and by 1944 he assumed command of the USS Barb (SS-220), a 1525-ton Gato class submarine. During World War II the Barb patrolled the Pacific Ocean, where it often encountered enemy vessels.

While commanding the Barb, Fluckey is credited with sinking the most tonnage of enemy vessels by any U.S. commander.  In recognition of his work on the Barb, Fluckey received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military honor awarded by the United States government.  He was also recognized with four Navy Crosses and the Presidential Unit Citation during his illustrious military career.

In the mid 1950s, Fluckey returned to his alma mater as the chairman of the electrical engineering department.  In 1950, two years after the founding of Navy squash, Art Potter began his 27-year coaching career with the Midshipmen. During his tenure, he led the Midshipmen to 267 wins and only 62 losses.

USS Barb (SS-220)
USS Barb (SS-220)

Despite having to teach the game of squash to virtually every Navy player, Potter led the Academy to national team titles in 1957, 1959, and 1967. Until Trinity won its first title in 1998, Navy was the only non-Ivy League school to win a national nine-player team championship. In 1990, not surprisingly, Potter was in the inaugural class of the Men’s College Squash Association Hall of Fame. He is also the namesake for the Potter Cup, which is awarded to the winner of the A Division at the men’s National Team Championships.

Fluckey’s connection to Potter and the Navy squash team may be lost to history, but he was one of the highest ranking officers at the Academy during the 1950s.  Potter always invited officers to watch the Midshipmen’s matches. Current Navy coach Craig Dawson ’73 explains that “there would always be a crisp white sheet on the seats in the stands reserved for senior officers to watch the match.”

During the 1958 season, Fluckey established the USS Barb Squash Racquets Perpetual Trophy.  The Trophy was in honor of the USS Barb, Fluckey’s submarine in World War II. As Potter continued to build Navy’s squash program, the Barb Trophy became a tradition.

Andy McCann (Barb Trophy Winner '99, '00, & '01) & Fluckey
Andy McCann (Barb Trophy Winner '99, '00, & '01) & Fluckey

At the beginning of each season, the Barb tournament is played to set the Naval Academy’s roster.  Sixteen players compete in a round robin competition, which sets up a single elimination tournament.

Fluckey retired from the Navy in 1972 with the rank of Rear Admiral.  Upon his death in 2007 at the age of 93, Fluckey was laid to rest at the Naval Academy Columbarion.

Dawson recently expanded the tradition of the Barb Trophy. In final preparation for the tournament, he takes the Midshipmen on a motivational run to Fluckey’s burial site.

In the 53rd installment of the tournament, senior Nils Mattsson captured the honor for the second consecutive year.  He defeated classmate Ben Mantica in three games to capture the title. According to Dawson, as part of the tradition Mattson will receive a “beautiful ship clock at the Naval Academy’s prizes and awards ceremony.” In addition, Mattsson’s name will be engraved on the Barb Trophy, a honor that only 35 Midshipmen have received.