For more than 35 years ASB, with Horst Babinsky the founder and owner of this company, has developed squash courts and many other things around squash. “Squash is my life”, says Babinsky. The latest examples are the 11 courts, including an ASB ShowGlassCourt – that have now been completed for the Commonwealth Games in India. Please read more about this project and some more interesting details in the article of the international squash magazine “Squash Player”:
As ASB installs the courts for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Joe Laredo talks to the man behind the company, Horst Babinsky
A squash court on a cruise ship, glass floors, adjustable tins, a removable back wall – just some of the dozens of innovative ideas that have flowed in an almost constant stream over the last 35 years from the offices of ASB Babinsky. Those offices are in Stein an der Traun, a town of just 4,000 inhabitants in deepest Bavaria, near the Austrian border between Munich and Salzburg and far from the epicentres of world squash. They are just 20km from the home of the company’s founder, Horst Babinksy, who covers those 20km not twice but four times a day, in order to have lunch with his family.
It is very much a family business: Babinsky’s wife Petra is a part-time employee and their seven-year-old daughter Mona a regular visitor. The other 20-odd employees feel part of the family, and Babinsky regards his many foreign partners, including those at his production facility in the Czech Republic, as friends.
It was in 1965 that Babinsky started a company dedicated to fitting out schools, kindergartens and churches in and around Stein. Three years later, he developed an aluminium construction system and in 1972 founded Aluminium System Bau (Aluminium System Construction). Always a keen squash player (he still plays every week), Babinsky was asked to construct a court for a private customer in 1976 and, the following year, jumped at the chance to install a temporary court in the studio of Germany’s leading TV sports show, Aktuelle Sportstudio. His principal consultant on this project was no less a figure than Hiddy Jahan, who tested the court and gave Babinsky suggestions for improvements.
Those improvements have never stopped coming. The next two years saw the arrival of the glass back wall, the movable wall and the rotating back wall, the last designed to allow a court to be used as part of a larger space. In 1981 ASB launched the ‘healthy’ SportsFloor – made of 12mm, rather than 22mm, thick boards to increase its elasticity and reduce impact pressure on joints. The 90s began with the Game Court and the even more radical Rainbow Court, aimed at making squash more attractive and integrating the game into a range of other court-based activities, and ended with the all-glass showcourt. The new millennium brought the Sensitive Tin (emitting a light or sound signal if touched by the ball) and Top Squash (a scoreboard built into the tin and controllable by the players or referee).
“Life is about change,” says Babinsky. You have to constantly change your ideas, your way of thinking.
Not all of ASB’s ideas have met with universal approval. Especially controversial was the glass floor, developed in 2006 in order to give sponsors and advertisers greater TV exposure and to allow spectator-friendly indications such as ‘let’/’no let’ decisions and illuminated service boxes.
Although WISPA accepted the new floor for women’s Tour matches, the PSA rejected it on the grounds that it would be too rigid, although ASB claim that it is in fact more flexible than a standard floor and that the PSA did not test it adequately. (The idea has nevertheless been extended beyond squash, and ASB is due to open the world’s first glass-floored sports hall in April 2010.)
However, it is ASB’s courts that were installed in England’s National Squash Centre in Manchester and that have been used for all the Commonwealth Games in which squash has been included (since 1998). At the 2002 Games, the company’s contribution to the game was recognised by the World Squash Federation, former President Susie Simcock presenting Babinsky with an award “for innovation and outstanding service, which have been such a benefit to the WSF and the growth of squash worldwide.”
Babinsky is particularly proud of such recognition. “Squash has become my life,” he says. “It wasn’t easy for a German to be accepted in this ‘English’ sport. But I succeeded.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, Babinsky has continued to innovate. Top Squash now incorporates an LED display and an iPhone connection for remote operation; System 40 is a panel that can be fitted over an existing court wall within official measurement tolerances; and the latest all-glass courts are made of one-size panels, for easier erection and replacement. The latest improvements include the removal of lighting gantries (with lights now fixed directly to the walls) for improved viewing, a tin-level ventilation system to reduce court temperatures, and an elastic, moisture-absorbing floor. Babinsky declines to disclose his age but has no thoughts of retirement. He still travels constantly. “I don’t want to slow down,” he says. “I like my job.” And the secret of his success? “Always to be positive, to have goals, to remain objective and not to be influenced by too many ‘outsiders’. To go your own way.”
It is a philosophy that has made ASB synonymous with squash – and Stein an der Traun a centre of excellence for the sport.