J. W. Smith Chapman was one of Canada’s top two hardball squash players, if not the best, ever. He made a major contribution as an athlete and as an administrator to the Montreal Badminton & Squash Club (“MB&SC”), now known as The Atwater Club, and to squash in Quebec, Canada and North America. He won every major singles title except the U.S. Nationals, and also won the Canadian National Doubles title. On the administrative side, he is a past Director and past President of what is now Squash Quebec and Squash Canada and a past President of the MB&SC.
Smitty died on January 9, 1987 at the age of 49, after a singles squash game at the MB&SC. He had won the match, as he usually did, and then suffered a massive and fatal heart attack, dying in a place he had been a part of for most of his life.
While remaining the focus of attention at the competitive level, he managed to assume the leadership at the organizational level as well. In 1962, he was President of the Province of Quebec Squash Racquets Association. Five years later, he became an officer of the Canadian Squash Racquets Association, his six years of service culminating in the presidency in 1972. As head of various squash and tournament committees, he was instrumental in the hiring of McClaggan’s successor, Jim MacQueenie, and his replacement Ken Binns as well. Most importantly, he was both inspiration and leader for a group of quality singles players of extraordinary depth and talent.
Nowhere was this better displayed than at the great team singles tournaments of the late sixties. In 1967, a group of M.B.S.C. players did something unique in the history of North American squash. They became the first team to win the U.S. Team Championships with a squad made up of players from a single club. And because the U.S. National Singles Championships were held the same February weekend, they did it without their two best players. Behind the scenes, Smitty was vital in selecting the order they would play, but it was Ross Adair, Derek Drummond, Bob Dubeau, lan MacAvity and Peter Martin who combined to nip Ontario for the title. And when a similar team was given the opportunity to play behind Smitty and Colin Adair at the thirty two team Centennial Tournament, it wasn’t even close.
The record Colin eventually went on to compile in national and international tournaments makes him Smitty’s only true rival for the title of Canada’s best ever hardball player. With his blazing speed and unparalleled physical fitness, he did not have the finesse of some players, but made up for it with power and relentless determination. For years the number one player at the M.A.A.A., it is a tribute to the M.B.S.C. and especially to Smitty that he chose to represent the Atwater while winning both his two U.S. amateur and two amateur titles.
In reflecting on hardball’s last great era, it seems oddly symbolic that although Smitty witnessed its demise as the premier game in Canadian squash, he never quite accepted its passing. For in 1987, the year he died of a heart attack, he was still playing regularly with a soft ball on the narrow court. In his honor, the Chapman Invitational Doubles Tournament (‘The Smittv’) has been established to keep alive the squash traditions he did so much to build. But perhaps in remembering the man, for those who witnessed it, it is best to recall the awesome sight of all those who loved ‘Smitty watching’ converging to his funeral at the United Church that rainy day in the Town of Mount Royal.
Information retrieved from Club Atwater