By Whit Sheppard, VSRA member
Squash in Virginia continues to grow rapidly under the friendly auspices of the Virginia Squash Racquets Association (VSRA), a non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to the “support, promotion and development of squash throughout the Commonwealth.” VSRA membership is currently at an all-time high, hovering around 155 active members, a 150% increase over the past three years. According to U.S. SQUASH, the VSRA is the third-fastest growing SRA in the country.
The combined efforts of the VSRA’s 15-member board and many dedicated volunteers help ensure that the organization’s impact is greater than the sum of its parts. The VSRA supports junior development programs, increases awareness of the game, runs a full tournament schedule, and offers occasional instructional clinics such as late October’s Season Kickoff, held in conjunction with the Price-Bullington Invitational qualifier final.
It’s no coincidence that the VSRA’s growth spurt coincides with the tenure of Gus Cook as head pro at the Country Club of Virginia (CCV). Cook, a native of England and a longtime VSRA board member, moved down I-95 from Baltimore in late 2002 to become Richmond’s first full-time squash professional. Ably assisted the past two years by Zambian native Patrick Chifunda, Cook has spearheaded efforts to promote squash in the region and increase participation via clinics, league play and other initiatives. A burgeoning junior program has been in place in Richmond for several years and high-school teams at the St. Christopher’s School (boys) and the St. Catherine’s School (girls) benefit from the pair’s vast experience and technical expertise, competing against other Virginia schools such as Woodberry Forest, St. Anne’s-Belfield, Episcopal High School and others.
Cook is also the tournament director of the Davenport North American Open (naosquash.com), a Super Series Silver event held on the campus of the University of Richmond Feb. 23-28, 2009. To date, 8 of the world’s top-10 PSA players, including reigning world champion Ramy Ashour of Egypt, will be coming to Richmond.
The most recent VSRA-sponsored event was the annual Fall Classic, contested in early December at the host CCV in Richmond. Main-draw and feed-in consolation play took place in five divisions—all filled to capacity—ranging from 3.0 to 5.0 (Results: vsra.us-squash.org/fallclassic).
The first weekend of November saw the 38th edition of the Price-Bullington Invitational, the nation’s longest-running amateur invitational, hosted by the CCV. The 16-player draw comprised 15 top college players and the winner of a local qualifying tournament. Richmond’s David Hetherington, who played collegiate squash at Trinity in the early 90s, once again earned the right to test his mettle against the collegians in the main draw. While it was one-and-done for 30-something Hetherington, he gave hope to those who dream of having the opportunity to mix it up with some of the game’s best young players. Harvard’s Colin West, a Canadian import, captured his second consecutive PB-I title with a four-game win in the finals over top-seeded Kimlee Wong of Princeton via Malaysia.
Upcoming VSRA-sponsored events include the Virginia State Open (Feb. 27-Mar. 1), and a full slate of junior events, including the Virginia Junior Open at Episcopal High School in Alexandria (Jan. 23-25), and the second annual Salty Hawkins Junior Tournament, hosted by the CCV in Richmond (Feb. 6-8). Additionally, a college-level team scrimmage featuring up to six emerging club teams, including UVa and the Univ. of Richmond, will take place at the Woodberry Forest School squash complex in Orange, VA (Jan. 29-30).
With interest rising from Roanoke to Norfolk to Richmond, growing sponsorship participation and a strong organizational approach, the VSRA region is as healthy as it’s ever been.