But there are lots of other sports, that while lesser known to the majority of the population, has its own large base of devoted fans: fencing, lacrosse, cricket, swimming.
And squash. Yes, squash!
Learn more about StreetSquash, the Harlem-based sports organization that has been quietly making a difference in the community for nearly 15 years while popularizing the sport.
A. Squash is an indoor racquet sport where two opponents score points against each other by hitting a small rubber ball against a wall until one hits it out or can't hit the ball back to the other opponent.
While that may seem easy enough, a squash ball is small and doesn't bounce very much; so not only do you have to be able to hit the ball so that your opponent can't return it, your opponent is doing the same thing so both players are trying to come up with a strategy to beat the other person but also running to chase down their opponent's shots all over the court. It ends up being a fast-paced game, with a great deal of running all over the enclosed box.
Q2. Please share the story of StreetSquash. What is your history and goals?
A. StreetSquash was founded in 1999 by George Polsky, a social worker who had also been a teacher, and was a former captain of the Harvard squash team. From the beginning, the goal was to provide educational support and squash-based training for boys and girls from Harlem public schools, along with many enriching experiences visiting colleges and communities beyond New York City.
For the first 9 years of the program, StreetSquash built partnerships with Harlem public schools and ran programs at Columbia University, The Harvard Club and the West Side YMCA -- wherever we could find squash courts and classrooms that were accessible by subway. Everyday, we would pick students up from school, ride the subway to programs, and bring them back to Harlem at the end of the day.
In 2008, we opened the doors to the SL Green StreetSquash Center on 115th Street in Harlem, with 8 squash courts, 4 classrooms, our offices and a library where we now run all of our programs. Through long-term, intensive support over a number of years, it is our goal that our students will achieve educational and personal success. 100% of our program graduates go to college, and 85% of them will earn a college degree, or are currently enrolled in college.
In 2012, we launched StreetSquash Newark, with 2 partner schools and 26 students. The goal in Newark (based at the YMCA of Montclair) is to approximate the success we had in Harlem, building the program over time with the goal of providing long-term support for children and their families.
Q3. What are some common misperceptions about squash?
A. Some misperceptions about squash is that is either (a) very easy to play because all you have to do is hit a ball against a wall or (b) that is very hard to play because most people who play have learned it from a young age.
Squash is both and neither. It takes dedication to become good at the sport, but it can be a very addictive activity because it is challenging and provides a great workout.
Q4. Where is the game most popular?
A. Squash is popular all over the world, especially in the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, South Asia and parts of Africa, as well as across North and South America. Currently, the best players in the world are from England and Egypt. In the USA, squash is played largely in the northeast but has spread across the country. Squash corts are primarily located in private clubs, universities and private schools.
There are a growing number of urban squash programs like StreetSquash with 12 programs across the country that are expanding access and building facilities in partnership with communities and colleges.
Q5. What are the age ranges of the participants and the gender ratio?
A. The afterschool programs are for 11-18 year olds. Daytime PE programs are for 8-12 year olds, and the College Access and Success programs are for ages 18-25 year olds. The gender ratio is nearly even year to year.
Q6. How many kids do you have enrolled in a typical year?
A. The program has grown each year. Currently, we have about 500 children enrolled in our programs: 180 participants in the Afterschool program, 200+ in the PE programs, 50+ alumni, and 40-50 in the Summer Discovery Program.
Q7. When does enrollment begin? Is there a fee?
A. Enrollment starts during the summer for middle school students from our partner schools to participate in the Summer Discovery Program in July and August. Students who successfully complete the Summer Discovery Program are invited to try out for the afterschool program, and we recruit from our partner schools to fill any open spots.
There is no fee to participate in any StreetSquash programs.
Q8. Do you have kids from outside of Harlem? From what boroughs?
A. We have students from all 5 borough, but the majority live in Harlem or the Bronx and 90% attend Harlem public schools. The students at StreetSquash Newark are all from Newark public schools.
Q9. Once enrolled, do kids have to reapply each year? What is the ratio of returnees vs. newcomers?
A. Once enrolled, it is our expectation that a student will stay in the program through college graduation. From year to year, 90% of our students re-enroll. If a student leaves the program, there is always an opportunity to re-enroll, even if they do not finish high school as a team member.
StreetSquash does not recruit new students after the 10th grade to ensure that we have time to build meaningful relationships with our students and family members.
Q10. Please describe the academic portion of the program?
A. Students attend a minimum of 3 academic sessions weekly, including 2 tutoring sessions for a minimum of 75 minutes each, working with tutors and volunteers.
Middle school students attend weekly learning enrichment sessions for 75 minutes on Fridays. In middle school, the focus is on building study skills, addressing academic deficiencies, and completing homework assignments.
In high school, students attend additional college prep sessions for 90 minutes to 2 hours each week, with SAT prep, essay writing and building college awareness. Additional tutoring is provided to students who need additional help on weekdays and Saturdays. Academic Directors visit schools every week to meet with teachers and school staff to keep track of students and school-based subject matters.
Q11. Who do the students compete against? Are there local/national teams or tournaments?
A. Students compete against anyone who wants to play squash with them! StreetSquashers compete as individuals in the US Squash junior tournaments, and as a team against prep schools, high schools and other urban squash teams.
Twice a year, we compete in the Urban Squash National Championships, for teams in January and individuals in June. Additionally, StreetSquash students compete in the NY Squash leagues against adult clubs across NYC, and in adult tournaments.
Q12. Can you share any stories about a particular student that stands out in your mind?
A. One of our standouts is Gabby Robinson, a graduate of StreetSquash and Thurgood Marshall Academy.
Gabby went to Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she played squash all four years and studied English. In September, she joined the StreetSquash staff as an AmeriCorps Volunteer running programs and doing outreach to our community members.
Q13. What colleges and universities have your students gotten into based on their participation in StreetSquash?
A. We have an intensive college prep and placement program to support all of our students throughout the admissions process to attend college or institution that best fits their needs.
StreetSquash has students currently playing college squash at Bates, Mt. Holyoke, Wesleyan, Franklin and Marshall, Hobart, Ithaca and NYU.
Q14. Given the state of the economy, how is StreetSquash faring in terms of fundraising?
A. Fundraising is always a challenge, and one that our staff and board are constantly looking to find new foundations, organizations or individuals who can be supportive.
Q15. I know that there is a national organization dedicated to promoting squash in urban areas, can you explain more about it?
A. The National Urban Squash and Education Association (www.nationalurbansquash.org) supports 12 urban squash programs across the country, including StreetSquash. It has been very successful at sharing best practices and standards for new programs to meet.
Q16. Is there anything else parents should know?
A. StreetSquash's partner schools are: Thurgood Marshall Academy, Frederick Douglass Academy II and The Young Women's Leadership School. The majority of StreetSquash participants attend one of our partner schools.
Support the good work of StreetSquash today. Visit them at www.streetsquash.org. Learn how you can volunteer or make a donation.
To learn more about other equally valuable programs in the NYC area, order "Reaching for Greatness: A Parents' Guide to Programs and Resources to Help Their Children Succeed!" by ordering your book here.
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