“And then I tried it,” the 13-year-old eighth-grader told AP, “and I love it now.”
The urban squash programs originally operated independently, after a squash pro began the first initiative in Boston in 1995. However, since 2005, the programs have banded together as members of the National Urban Squash and Education Association, the New York-based umbrella organization.
The growth of these unconventional programs was aided by a simultaneous growth in the sport (squash’s popularity reportedly increased from 600,000 in 2007 to almost 1.3 million in 2012) and an unforeseen accessibility to well-maintained facilities thanks to a global ruling on squash courts.
Apart from being trained in a sport typically associated with privilege in the U.S., program participants also receive travel opportunities, intensive mentoring and partake in community service–three things guaranteed to impress a college admission counselor. On a microlevel, the award-winning urban squash programs also track the cardiovascular fitness of each student, as well as grade-point averages and college placements.
“In a district with a high dropout rate, all those who stayed in the club for seven years have graduated on time and been accepted to college,” SquashSmarts’ executive director Stephen Gregg told AP.
Ultimately, Gregg points to former alum like Miller who are prime examples of the change that the urban squash programs are striving to achieve.
“When the students of SquashSmarts grow up to become the academic directors, the squash directors, the executive directors of this program,” said Gregg, “that, to me, is change in a community.”