Article courtesy of US Squash
Photos by Chris Smith
March 30-April 1 marked the fourth annual Urban Youth Squash Team Nationals, hosted at the SquashBusters Center at Northeastern University in Boston. The event brought together more than 240 middle and high school aged squash players representing urban squash programs from five different cities. They competed in a weekend-long national five-person team tournament. The players are all members of five long-term, intensive youth enrichment programs using the game of squash to help inner city middle and high schoolers from economically disadvantaged households realize their full potential as active learners and engaged members of their communities.
SquashBusters in Boston, StreetSquash from Brooklyn, CitySquash from the Bronx, SquashSmarts from Philadelphia, and MetroSquash from Chicago are programs that are changing the game of squash while changing the lives of hundreds of youth. Each program engages kids in a three-day-a-week commitment for participants, lasting up to seven years. The programs work toward these goals by combining squash instruction and competition, academic tutoring, mentoring, education counseling, and a range of community service and cultural activities. The heart of all three programs is the emphasis on strong, reliable and consistent relationships that build trust between the participants and the coaches, tutors and mentors who work with them.
All the programs entered multiple teams of five players in six different divisions (BU13, BU15, BU19, GU13, GU15, and GU19). The teams of five battled head-to-head in a draw format until the winning teams were decided on Sunday. The weekend marked high levels of solidarity, camaraderie and rivalry, but it also raised the level of symbolism around urban squash as a whole. It was in 1996 that Greg Zaff started SquashBusters, and many at the time questioned whether the organization could survive. Eleven years and four established sister programs later (and more on the way), people are now wondering just how far the urban youth squash movement can go. All the urban programs are now part of the newly formed National Urban Squash and Education Association (NUSEA). Tournament Director and Northeastern Squash Head Coach, Chris Smith, commented on the talent, commitment and camaraderie of the players over the weekend. “The fact that this event, in its fourth year, had 240 kids representing four cities and five programs, shows just how far Urban Squash has come.”
The NUSEA Team Championships is in fact the third largest junior tournament in the United States (250 played at the US Junior Closed and 280 played at the US Junior Open).
In the Girls U13 Round Robin, SquashBusters claimed a decisive victory, losing only one match out of 15 played. New York’s CitySquash, another juggernaut, claimed the GU15 draw, also losing only one match on the road to victory.
Harlem’s powerhouse, StreetSquash, flew through their draw, eagerly awaiting West Philadelphia’s SquashSmarts in a painfully tight GU19 title match, with StreetSquash edging out SquashSmarts 3-2.
David Kay’s prior experience as a teaching pro and coach at Rochester University was evident in the BU13 draw, as his enthusiastic MetroSquash team clinched the title in an intelligently fought battle. CitySquash ruled the BU15, defeating SquashBusters 4-1.
A standing room only crowd packed Northeastern’s spectacular facility to watch some of the best squash in the BU19 final. SquashBusters proved themselves to be the best, decisively picking apart StreetSquash 4-1 in a creative display of squash that left viewers in awe.
“It is unbelievable how quickly many of these students pick up the game and develop,” remarked SquashSmarts’ Steve Gregg. “They’re tremendous athletes, but they are also tremendous people. Each child here is proud to identify with his or her team. And we are just very honored to be a part of the whole culture. It’s a special reunion—every year.”
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