Middle and High School Championships A Success

Bronxville's C Team: Dan Casperson, Daanyal Agboatwalla, Charles Bogatyrenko, Molly Stoltz, Laine Neild and Tate Burgin
Bronxville’s C Team: Dan Casperson, Daanyal Agboatwalla, Charles Bogatyrenko, Molly Stoltz, Laine Neild and Tate Burgin

By Nell Schwed

Team feels an incongruous word when used in the same breath as squash. Squash is individual, independent, not often thought of as combination, or unification. One court. Two players. Racquets, shoes, a ball. But when you’re part of a team—Al Pacino will tell you in Any Given Sunday, or those “clear eyes, full hearts, and can’t lose” attitude of Coach Eric Taylor’s team on Friday Night Lights—that it matters; it’s affecting, it changes how you play. And while squash is categorically not football, there is still strategy, there are still “plays” to be made, teammates to support, and occasions to rise to.

The High School and Middle School Team Squash Championships have seen tremendous growth in their twelve and eight respective years of existence. The High Schools this year attracted more than 160 teams across twelve divisions (boys’ and girls’) and is the largest team based event in the world—eclipsing even professional events like the Men’s and Women’s World Team Championships.

Hollis Lehv, current junior at the Fieldston School based in the Bronx, has the distinction of being the only girl on her varsity team, which she helps to co-captain.

“I really enjoy the sense of camaraderie that comes with being on a varsity team, despite the gender disparity,” Lehv said. “I have noticed that the boys I play tend to get more frustrated and collect more conduct warnings than the girls, but I think that my being on the teams sends the message that if girls want to play squash, they will be welcomed and can absolutely compete with boys.”

Of the twelve coed teams that competed in the Middle School Championships—of sixty-nine total teams—five were led by girls in the No. 1 position. Initially this may not seem a large number, but the growth of the Championships, as well as the ability of all genders to compete together—level playing field or otherwise—demonstrates tremendous opportunity for equity and competition in the junior arena of the sport. Professional events are still questionable as “prize money parity” becomes a buzzword and tin heights are differentiated by mere inches. There is always progress to be made.

For Lehv and Fieldston’s team—formerly club, and now a varsity program—it’s all about the support network that a team can provide.

“I love having my teammates watch my matches, and I know that they are supporting me. I also like watching others because I have a stake in the results.” Lehv shared. “It’s exciting to watch your teammates play, and I learn more when I watch them. We’re all trying to help each other improve our games.”

Lehv also enjoys the service component of the Fieldston team. Unlike other squash teams in the area, Fieldston works with StreetSquash players, both on the court and off—practicing drills and tutoring many of the students once a week.

“Not only do we improve our squash game,” Lehv said. “But we also have a great opportunity to serve the community and help Harlem students succeed. We learn so much from tutoring and mentoring the StreetSquash students—everyone wins!”

The Fieldston athletic department—directed by Gus Ornstein—supports twenty-two varsity teams, not including the up-and-coming club teams, like water polo, which Lehv coincidentally manages.

“There are so many things that are pulling at these kids,” Ornstein shared. “As a school we try to communicate amongst the administrators, faculty, the students, to make sure that our kids are able to balance everything that’s being thrown at them, and everything that’s on their plate.”

Fieldston is a “rigorously academic” independent private school in New York City. In their own mission statement, Fieldston places an emphasis on ethical learning, academic excellence, and a progressive education. They strive for well-rounded and adapted students, as most schools do. And while there is certainly emphasis placed on performance in the classroom, Fieldston’s students are encouraged to explore outside curricula, like sports.


“I’ve always thought team-sports are just everyone coming together to accomplish a common goal,” Ornstein elaborated. “The idea of each person knowing their part, their role, and that we’re all working together…we need to pick each other up, we need to push each other. It’s something that needs to be accomplished as a group, not as an individual.”


United we stand, divided we fall, and all that.


But squash is no longer a sport solely reserved for the private schools that can afford home-based courts and full-time coaches. The Bronxville School in Westchester found recent success at the Middle School Championships when their boys’ team finished first in both Division I and II. They were the first public school in squash history to do so.


The Bronxville team, in addition to their school commitments, plays on the FairWest League based in Westchester. The league was formed in 2008, run largely at first by parent volunteers, but has grown into a more efficient, board-like structure for standardized league play.


Jennifer Mackesy, current president of the FairWest league, believes the top priority for the league is increased growth and greater inclusion of schools.


“Growth in number of schools is the key to the league, and also having public schools able to compete with the private schools in the Northeast,” Mackesy elaborated. “Private schools have traditionally been the powerhouses of Nationals, but our goal is to see these teams be successful at that level, and all levels, so participation is very important to us.”


The founding schools of the league—Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, Staples and Rye High Schools—committed themselves to the idea of competitive squash within interscholastic environments.

Bronxville's Molly Stoltz (L) looks for the backhand at the 2015 U.S. Junior Squash Championships (Closed) in Princeton, NJ. Stoltz defeated Lucie Stefanoni (R) in the finals, finishing first in the GU11
Bronxville’s Molly Stoltz (L) looks for the backhand at the 2015 U.S. Junior Squash Championships (Closed) in Princeton, NJ. Stoltz defeated Lucie Stefanoni (R) in the finals, finishing first in the GU11

“By nature, squash at the public school level is logistically challenging,” Mackesy said. “The facility costs alone are very dramatic, and unfortunately it requires the need for players to have to pay to participate on the team.”

“At our school [Bronxville] we are able to offer scholarships, if there is a financial need—we don’t have an issue where children aren’t allowed to play if they can’t afford to,” Mackesy continued. “Logistically though, the challenges are still there—we utilize three different facilities in order to accommodate all of the kids in the program, and we have to pay significant facility and coaching fees to be able to do that.”


Though Bronxville, as a school and community, may not face many financial constraints—ranking in the top twenty of median household incomes of all cities in the U.S. for 2014—there are many other public schools, in less wealthy areas of the country that struggle to support their sports, arts, or even science and math programs. The “private versus public” school ability to field squash teams, in particular, remains disparate—for instance, of the top finishers (winners and finalists) of each division at the High School and Middle School Team Squash Championships, there was one public school (Bronxville) compared to the twenty-two private schools represented.


That disparity of representation is why leagues like FairWest are so essential to, as Amy Charlton, chair of the Middle School for the FairWest League said, “keep more squash players in the system.”

FairWest league looks to grow their numbers, and provide a place for players of all levels—whether those who are top-ranked Gold/JCT competitors, or just beginners—including private and public school students, to play and get better at squash. It is an outlet for squash players, who may not have the best team programs at their schools, to play more often and with other kids of their same level, or better.


Charlton, as Middle School chair, is responsible for organizing inter-league competitions called “jamborees” and is well aware that her two sons (twins!) love competing with their team.

“For my kids, because they’re Gold level players, for them it’s a great way to break up the year and do something different, than just playing or training alone,” Charlton said. “It definitely brings a new aspect to the game for them.”

Sam Charlton, a seventh grader at Bronxville, said: “I like the social aspects of playing on a team. It’s nice because you’re not so isolated.”


Both Mackesy and Charlton regret the anxiety and stress that solo squash competition can produce.


“Squash is an individual sport, which makes it a pretty stressful athletic experience. It’s very much individualistic, but can also be kind of solitary,” Mackesy said. “I don’t want to say lonely, but being able to compete as a team has been wonderful for my two boys as well, on the team and for the team.”

“Part of it is more nerve wracking, I think because other people are relying on you,” Charlton said.

Charlton then added: “But I would say that they rise to the challenge. I felt like our team—you know you always have ups and downs with how you play in tournaments—but for the Nationals, I felt like they played their best every match. The kids channel that energy into their playing, and it shows.”

Charlton, the younger, has learned how to be more controlled and stable on court: “Although occasionally I forget, I’ve learned to be a calmer player and person. When I was younger I used to get very upset during matches.”


Sisters Katherine and Caroline Pellegrino, eighth and seventh graders respectively, play on the Saxe Middle School team in New Canaan, CT.

“I love the Saxe team—it’s a great group of kids, and our team is very supportive of each other. We have a lot of fun together,” K. Pellegrino said.


“This is my first year on the team—I mostly focus on US Squash tournaments—and it’s really great to play team squash, as I have never done that before,” C. Pellegrino added. “It is totally different than the pressure you feel at [individual] tournaments.”


For many players, team squash provides a competitive outlet that’s a more relaxed, less pressure-filled atmosphere than some junior tournaments. You’re not just playing for yourself, but for others. You work together and support one another, win or lose. Perhaps it’s a break from the rigorous training schedule of the JCT/Gold circuit, or you’re a burgeoning player, fresh on the scene, just dipping your toes into the “water” that is squash. Whoever you are, team squash may be for you.