A nontraditional sport has unexpectedly worked its way into a number of inner-city neighborhoods nationwide.
Over the past decade, a string of urban squash programs have been popping up across the country, in hopes of helping underprivileged students develop better exercise skills and providing academic assistance.
“They were like, [it's] squash,” Sakora Miller told AP, reminiscing on her introduction to the racquetball-like sport years ago in seventh-grade. SquashSmarts, a Philadelphia after-school program, had been visiting Miller’s gym class to recruit students to try-out the alien-sounding sport.
“I was like, I’m not learning that,” said Miller. “It’s not for me.”
Still, she decided to try out the new sport and proved to have a knack for squash. Fast forward to 2014, where the 23-year-old upcoming Penn State graduate has just been hired as squash director.
On a mission to “[give] kids their best shot,” SquashSmarts and 14 additional programs in cities like Baltimore, Bronx, Harlem, Oakland and Chicago serve about 1,400 students and boast a combined annual budget of more than $7 million. Plans to expand programming to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Hartford, Conn. and Cartagena Colombia are currently in the works.
Due to the foreign nature of squash in urban neighborhoods, a number of students have no qualms about rejecting the sport at first glance. Like Miller, current SquashSmarts participant Joshua Smith was reportedly skeptical about the joining.
“What is squash? That’s stupid,” he thought, mirroring Miller’s initial disbelief.