The game of squash generally evokes images of the cucumber-sandwich-eating East Coast elite. But on any given weekday afternoon, a group of fifty inner-city public school children gather to swing their racquets on the courts of the University of Chicago’s Henry Crown Field House.
METROsquash, a non-profit in its fourth year, gathers fifth- through eighth-graders from three South Side schools for daily squash lessons and academic tutoring sessions. “Most of these kids have never heard of the game,” says David Kay, executive director of the program.
Kay views squash as a gateway to higher education. “All the great prep schools and most of the top fifty colleges have squash teams,” Kay says, reminiscing about his own days on the boards at Groton.
Joseph, a seventh-grader from Kozminski Community Academy who has been playing squash for the past four years, has travelled to at least seven colleges for squash tournaments. Unlike most 13-year-olds, Joseph is now thinking about his distant future. Inspired by his coaches, he plans to apply to top East Coast boarding schools next year. “I never really thought about it before,” Joseph says. Now, encouraged by the METROsquash tutoring program, Joseph has definite plans for his future. “I want to go to college, be a pilot, and keep playing squash,” he says.
Newer players, like fifth-graders Elizabeth and Jershed, aren’t quite sure yet that squash is the game for them. “I play all the sports except football,” Jershed says.
The two girls are more certain about METROsquash’s weekend excursions, which often involve community service. “Last week we went to a seniors’ home, cooked, and played bingo,” Elizabeth says. Other weekend itineraries have included trips to local museums and tours of college campuses.
The only downside to the program, it seems, is snack time. Snacks like carrots, celery, peanuts, and raisins are offered daily. “If you like chocolate, you can’t have it,” Elizabeth says. “It’s okay though, because we’re learning to eat healthy.”
“I love celery!” Jershed chimes in. “Cauliflower is my favorite though.” Looks like not everyone misses chocolate. (Dani Brecher)