The dream of a national home for squash in the U.S. Has been envisioned for decades. Having a critical mass of courts in one location would create a space to bring the entire U.S. Squash community together, to broaden access and nurture the development of excellence in the sport. In 2011 us squash brought management of the u.S. Open in-house and moved the event to Philadelphia in partnership with Drexel University. Just across the street from where the PSA pros competed at the Daskalakis Athletic Center sat the Philadelphia Armory. At the time, no one could have predicted that within a few years plans would call for the historic building to be turned into the largest squash facility in the americas and the future home of US Squash: the Arlen Specter US Squash Center.
The merits of having a national center are immediately identifiable. The center will include exceptional facilities to host U.S. championships and serve as an anchor location for top athletes to strive towards being their best. It will serve as a chance to develop new models of access that can be exported around the country. It will be a place to recognize and build the shared values of the squash community, where they can celebrate the traditions of the game and focus on the future by inspiring champions.
“The Center will allow us to fulfill our mission of increasing access, encouraging sportsmanship and achieving excellence,” said Kevin Klipstein, President & CEO of US Squash, “and it will offer unparalleled access to squash locally and regionally by modeling community engagement. Everything we do at the center will all amplify the squash community’s inclusiveness, rooted in tradition and shared values, ones that will be passed from player to player and from one generation to the next.“
The US Squash national headquarters will move to the Specter Center upon its opening, returning the organization to Philadelphia where it was founded in 1904 and was based from 1978 to 2006. The center will host a new state of-the-art, interactive U.S. Squash Hall of Fame to properly honor the greats of the game. Exhibits showcasing women in squash, sportsmanship and character, national teams, urban squash and doubles will amplify the inclusiveness of the squash community, rooted in shared values.
Construction of the Specter Center will begin in the spring of 2019 and is targeted to reach completion in early 2021. The facility’s 65,000 square feet will house eighteen singles courts and two hardball doubles courts. This will provide capacity to run layered programming throughout the year including hosting of national championships, adult and junior recreational play, top-level coaching and training, community-access initiatives and the creation of new scholastic play opportunities from elementary through college-age participants.
The Specter Center will be centrally located in heart of rapidly developing University City neighborhood of Philadelphia. Wrapped by Drexel’s campus and immediately adjacent to the University of Pennsylvania, it sits a five-minute walk from the iconic 30th Street Station—one of the nation’s busiest train stations—and is easily accessed from the airport by car or train. The building is at the western border of the dynamic Schuylkill Yards project, a twenty-year, $3.5 billion development initiative that will bring six million square feet of mixed use indoor space within two blocks east of the center.
“Squash is an international sport that continues to grow and is poised to become an Olympic event,” said John Fry, Drexel University President and former US Squash Chairman of the Board. “Drexel is a research university with a global outlook that is also growing and reaching new heights. Locating US Squash in an iconic building on our campus will put Drexel at the center of the sport and make the game accessible to residents in our West Philadelphia community who may otherwise not have the exposure to a sport that bridges international divides. We are especially honored to have late U.S. Senator Arlen Specter’s name on the center since he was a great global ambassador for squash.”
The Specter Center is fully funded by private donations so that no resources are diverted from core US Squash programs. The campaign is spearheaded by a leadership gift from Tracey and Shanin Specter and supported by the generosity of donors from around the country. Ongoing fundraising will support reaching the full vision of the project and endowing future programs focused on access, excellence and sportsmanship. “It has been incredibly energizing and inspiring to have witnessed the level of support and generosity for the Specter Center from squash communities around the country,” said Ned Edwards, Specter Center Executive Director. “Each day it reminds us that we are doing the right thing in creating a national center to serve all the constituents of US Squash.”
The creation of the Specter Center will add to the rich history amassed by the Armory since its construction in 1916. For nearly a century, it primarily served as a home for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s 103rd Engineer Battalion. (The Battalion can trace its history to Ben Franklin’s call in the 1740s for Philadelphians to unite for their common defense. Under different monikers, the unit fought in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, both World Wars and the Korean War.) In 2008 Drexel acquired use of the main drill hall space. It has since been an active part of student life at the University, hosting numerous recreational sports and everything from job fairs to concerts. Going forward, these activities will shift to other updated locations on Drexel’s campus, including two state-of-the-art seasonal domes. Past performers at the Armory such as Nirvana and Snoop Dogg will now cede the stage to the likes of Amanda Sobhy and Mohamed ElShorbagy.
The core challenge and opportunity for squash in the U.S. is to increase access. The programs at the Specter Center will aim to tackle this head on by creating opportunities for players to step on court who otherwise never would have been exposed to squash. The central location in a major metropolitan area provides convenient approaches to a broad cross-section of populations. The Specter Center adult wellness programs and corporate partnerships will add to the already robust adult participation in the region, while proximity to numerous primary and secondary schools and local universities will open doors to younger members of the community. Programmatic learnings from the Specter Center are not a one-way conversation with the broader squash community. Programs piloted at the facility will be exported nationwide, while learnings from existing models around the country will be integrated into Specter Center programs as well. It is also expected that coaches from across the country will have the opportunity to be “in residence” to continue to hone their skills, while at the same time expose US Squash’s national coaches to the wealth of talented professionals in the U.S.
SquashSmarts, Philadelphia’s award-winning youth squash and education pro – gram founded in 2001, has been selected to serve as the official partner and community program provider for the Specter Center.
The SquashSmarts/US Squash partnership will operate the Learning & Innovation Center, and will focus on three key strategic relationships through its longstanding partnerships with Drexel, the School District of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Squash Racquets Association and Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative. Together we will set the example of what inclusive, community-oriented squash programming looks like for the rest of the country.”
Community access programs will aim to engage local schools and civic groups to introduce thousands of pre-k, elementary, middle and high school students and families to squash, while SquashSmarts core programs will expand on their current model of intensive out-of-school squash and academic mentoring for hundreds of underserved Philadelphia youth. “We are honored to partner with US Squash on this historic project,” said Stephen Gregg, SquashSmarts Executive Director. “The Specter Center and its programs will be a beacon of light that shines locally, regionally and nationally to inspire a generation of young people to be the best version of themselves on and off the squash court.”
SquashSmarts’ workforce development initiatives will also integrate with US Squash’s national professional development programs to train the next generation for careers in squash, education and youth development.
“The exciting vision taking shape here is for squash to become the national leader in using sports and education to create access to and bridge socio-economic boundaries,” said Andy Nerhbas, SquashSmarts President and co-founder.
The Specter Center will become the focal point of efforts by Team USA athletes to achieve excellence on the world stage—pursuing the goal of being “always on the podium.”
Since the transition from hardball to softball singles several decades ago, U.S. athletes have made steady progress and appear poised to make the next leap. The U.S. women’s team is knocking at the door of the world’s top four teams and is flush with young talent, while the men’s team is also adding younger athletes and making steady gains. The U.S. junior teams are now consistently finishing among the top countries at world competitions, and those athletes will soon contend for position on the adult national teams.
The Specter Center and its pioneering Coaching Excellence Center will serve a dual role in meeting US Squash’s high-performance program needs. It will be a home base for full-time training athletes. It will also be a landing spot for junior, college and adult players coming 34 Squash Magazine January 2019 from around the country for Team USA squad training and work with the national coaching staff. “We’ve been so proud of the hard work our Team USA athletes and coaches are putting in,” said Rich Wade, the US Squash Senior Director of National Teams, “The results are showing from our adult Elite Athlete Program players on the PSA Tour to our juniors. Our players are now challenging traditional powerhouses like Egypt and England, and the Specter Center will provide us the platform to strive towards our goal of having the world’s top squash athlete development structure.”
Athlete development at the Specter Center will work in close concert with Drexel’s award-winning Division I athletic facilities, where the Dragon’s athletic department has been an innovator in training methods and sports science. “The creation of the Specter Center allows us to expand recreational activity offerings to Drexel students, while bringing some of the world’s best athletes to our campus,” said Eric Zillmer, Drexel Athletics Director. “Our partnership with US Squash affirms Drexel’s deep connections with the squash community and our position as a driver for positive change in our city.”
Programs at the Specter Center will look to absorb lessons from other sports and squash federations that have consolidated development efforts under a national center. Team USA athletes in current Olympic program sports have benefitted from facilities such as the U.S. Olympic Complex in Colorado Springs, CO run by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Center of Excellence in Park City, UT. The Specter Center will act as a springboard for squash’s Olympic ambitions and will be considered by the U.S. Olympic Committee as a possible Olympic training site. The state-of-the art Specter Center will make squash a national leader as it joins fewer than a dozen other official purpose-built national centers around the country aiming to develop U.S. athletes into the world’s best.
“Squash athletes are second to none, and providing a pathway for them to compete on the world’s grandest sports stage really matters,” said to Paul Assaiante, the Ganek Family US Squash Head National Coach, “and I have no doubt that the Specter Center will provide the solid foundation Team USA needs to reach its full potential.”
Annually, the Specter Center will host many of the most significant events on the U.S. championship calendar. Massive events like National Middle and High Schools and the U.S. Junior Open—presently hosted at multiple sites, some more than an hour’s drive from each other—will be consolidated to the Specter Center. Two all-glass exhibition courts at the center will be surrounded by sixteen additional singles courts, with multi-level viewing allowing unparalleled spectator viewing. For overflow, there will be twelve additional courts at the University of Pennsylvania’s new facility (currently under construction and slated to open in the fall of 2019), and seven currently at Drexel’s current Kline & Specter Squash Courts. Thus, the total count on 33rd Street—within a three-minute walk of each other—will be thirty-seven singles courts.
“Our goal is to always provide great event experiences for the squash community,” said Kim Clearkin, US Squash Vice President of Programs and Events. “Our ability to do so will be brought to new heights by the Specter Center’s central location in a major city, best-in-class facilities and technology and unparalleled court capacity.”
Club Locker display, reservation, scoring and streaming technologies will be featured at the Specter Center, allowing fans on and off site to closely follow the play. Digital integrations on site will ease delivery of event information to players, create efficiencies for coaches and families and facilitate enforcement of good conduct and proper refereeing.
The University City neighborhood has many hotel and dining options and Philadelphia’s robust cultural offerings are all easily accessible. This proximity along with increased efficiencies during events will permit players and families to take advantage of all the city has to offer.
The Specter Center also allows for long-term investments into the presentation of the U.S. Open, keeping the tournament at the forefront of innovation and presentation on the PSA Tour. Within a few short years, the U.S. Open—more than sixty years from its founding—will move across 33rd Street to take up permanent residence in the Specter Center.
The impact on the squash community will be unprecedented. When its doors open the Specter Center will help the game flourish—revolutionizing access, creating champions, celebrating excellence and sportsmanship and being a true home for the sport where all are welcome.
Mark Pagon, US Squash Chairman of the Board put it this way: “US Squash has a history of innovation and has always sought to encourage lifelong positive engagement in squash. The Specter Center will allow the organization to not only support others’ efforts in providing this but also be able to do so in a very direct and inspirational way.”