By Jennie Shulkin
While the Harriton-Lower Merion squash team may not win every match, it is unique.
Over 10 years ago, Harriton French teacher, Susan Gross, questioned why squash was played only in private clubs and private schools. So that her daughter, a nationally ranked squash player, would have a school to play for and to expose other students to the sport, she established the Harriton-Lower Merion squash program in 1997, the nation’s first public school squash program. The club combined two high schools from the Lower Merion School District (10 miles west of Philadelphia), Lower Merion and Harriton.
Establishing the squash program proved much easier than finding a place to practice. Club after club refused to allow the team entrance since, at the time, it was unheard of for a private club to welcome non-members. Finally, the Cynwyd Club agreed to be the home of the new program. The next step was introducing the sport to students and raising interest to try to get a group together. The students had to be very committed since the district was unwilling—and is still unwilling—to fund the sport, so each parent was financially responsible for covering a student membership including court time, the coaches, and additional costs.
In 2003, the club became a team and has since grown to include a boys’ varsity and junior varsity, and a girls’ varsity and JV that all train together on the Cynwyd Club’s three singles courts.
The skill of the athletes varies greatly. Many of the athletes have never picked up a squash racquet when they sign up to try out for the team. On the other hand, there are top-ranked players, such as Danny Greenburg, a 2009 graduate of Lower Merion High School, and Amy Gross, Susan Gross’s daughter. Yet, the team shares a close-knit bond, and the cohesiveness between the athletes is excellent.
Support, enthusiasm, and numbers have grown each year. In fact, this past season, the coaches, Shane Coleman and Gavin Jones, were forced to make cuts since the numbers were so large.
Influenced by HLM’s success, many more public school teams have sprung up nationwide, including Conestoga and Radnor, two rival high schools also in the Philadelphia area. Look for these public school teams at High School Nationals, where they compete at the end of every season.