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March 2015

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Squash Is Quite the Racket for Gibbens’ Grandsons By Leonard Shapiro For Middleburg Life

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s a Texas native, Wayne Gibbens admits “I’d never even heard of squash, except for what you eat, and I didn’t much like it.” These days, however, he can’t get enough squash—the sport that is, and still definitely not the vegetable. Gibbens and his wife Beth are the properly proud Middleburg grandparents of Sam and John Epley, the teenage sons of their daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband Mark. The boys are among the nation’s finest junior division squash players, with Sam, 18, heading to Dartmouth to play the warp-speed racket game as a freshman next fall. John, 15, also has the potential to soar to the same stratospheric level. The Epleys live in Old Greenwich, Connecticut and Sam and John go to the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., a 40-minute commute from their home. Elizabeth Epley grew up in the Washington area and spent much of her free time riding and showing horses in and around Middleburg. Her family spends a good part of their summers at the Gibbens farm not far from town “and I really do consider Middleburg home,” she said. All of them also spend a good bit of time watching Sam and John play in events around the country and abroad, as well. In early January, Sam was a member of an elite four-man U.S. National team that represented the country at the prestigious British Junior Open in Sheffield, England, considered the Wimbledon of junior squash competition. Last year, he participated in the U.S. Junior National championships at Princeton and was presented the William T. Ketchum Jr. award for being the most improved player in the nation in his age

group. He’s now ranked No. 9 nationally in the 19-and-under division, and already has two tournament victories over No. 2 Bransten Ming of Burlingame, California. At one point, John was ranked No. 9 nationally in the 13-and-under division, but he’s been hampered by hip injuries for a good part of the last two years. He’s recovered nicely from corrective surgery and is now rounding back into shape and playing competitively again with his game clearly moving in the same top-tier direction as his big brother. “A lot of people call squash physical chess,” Sam said. “It’s chess at 150 miles an hour. It’s a huge stress on physical strength and mental strength. You’re always thinking, and it en-compasses everything a sport should be.”

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John Epley

Sam Epley

“I like the quickness of it and the strategy of it,” John said. “And it’s a social game, too. You make a lot of friends, and you can play until you’re 90.” Both boys played lacrosse and baseball until about five years ago. The family had been living in Bronxville, N.Y. and were members of a local tennis club that also had squash courts. Better yet, several world class squash players also belonged, including Gamal Amir, an Egyptian who introduced Sam and John to the sport. “The year Sam started, we had something like 20 snow days,” Elizabeth said. “”Sam would walk down the hill over to the club, and he’d play with Gamal and some of the Egyptian players. They play a really fun style of squash. The English style is a little more precise and disciplined. The Egyptians use a lot of tricks; they play a more free form style, and the boys fell in love with it because they made the game super fun.” There are other great benefits. When they travel abroad, the Epleys make certain to add

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a healthy dose of culture to the itinerary, with side-trip visits to museums and other local sights. Both boys have pals around the world. And Wayne and Beth Gibbens more than occasionally come along, as well. Elizabeth said her notoriously gregarious father also has many friends on the circuit. The boys actually were somewhat mortified when Wayne sidled up to Alister Walker, one of the world’s top-ranked players, at a sandwich bar one day and started chit-chatting with him. “Then we all got to know him because my dad made friends with him,” Elizabeth said. “Everyone knows my dad. He even took Sam on some recruiting trips this year.” “I love going to the tournaments and watching them play,” Wayne Gibbens said. “I never imagined when they started they’d be the players they are now. But what really pleases me is that they’re not only good players, they’ve also been named as scholar-athletes by the National Squash Association. No. 1, they’re just super kids. Great people.” n

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