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2014 December Update
During this holiday season, SquashBusters has much to be thankful for. Our program has touched the lives of thousands of people, young and old. Our youngest participants are 11 years old and our most senior alumni are 32 years old – the same age that Greg was when SQB was founded. Nearly 20 years of success with Boston youth is now translating itself into our wildly popular and expanding Lawrence program. The National Urban Squash and Education Association (NUSEA) is throwing an NYC bash, in celebration of our two decades and the expansion of the SQB model to 17 other cities. Closer to home, we're proud to welcome our newest 47 family members – 33 Boston 7th graders and 14 Lawrence 6th graders. Last but surely not least, two major Quilos (SQB word for Shout Out): to our Boston HS Ambassadors who have taken hold of the leadership reigns and made the program stronger and to all MashUp players and supporters who contributed just under $200,000 to support SQB Lawrence. Thank you!
On the weekend of January 16-18, National Urban Squash is hosting in New York City what may be the biggest squash extravaganza this country has ever seen. It is in celebration of urban squash’s 20th birthday which is another way of saying 20 years since the conception and development of SquashBusters. When Greg Zaff first put pen to paper in March 1995, his dream was to use the sport of squash, which had impacted his life so profoundly, to help make a difference in the lives of young people in Boston – public school students with limited opportunity whose paths almost certainly would not cross with squash. SquashBusters began with 24 middle school students from Cambridge and Roxbury, two school partnerships and an enthusiastic willingness of the YMCA, Harvard Club and Harvard to provide free courts and study space. Greg and his partner, Chris Lynch, who today is SQB’s COO, drove the van every day, stopped at Star Market to buy apples and granola bars as daily snacks, taught squash, tutored, went on field trips, met parents, fundraised and did every other job, big and small, to ensure that SquashBusters lived another day. The plan was to help as many Boston and Cambridge kids as possible get healthy, feel connected to a larger world of opportunity, and impact every student’s college prospects.
Never in a million years was there the expectation that SquashBusters would give birth to what might be the most successful and far-reaching urban sports youth development movement in the country. Today, 20 years later, there are 17 urban squash programs in the United States that have followed SquashBusters’ model. Collectively, these programs serve 1,500 middle and high school students, employ on a full-time basis 93 staff (10 of who are alumni), support 30 private high school and 181 college students (52 of whom are playing varsity squash), and have an aggregated annual operating budget of just under $11m. Three cities – Boston, Harlem and Philadelphia – have constructed dedicated youth centers with courts and classrooms and a fourth city – Chicago and METROsquash – will open its youth center this spring.
Many thousands of people are now directly involved with the urban squash. All that has transpired in these first two decades is a wonderful, somewhat astonishing development with our proudest result being the improvement of many people’s lives. As with other great movements, the proverbial first stone was cast here in Boston with SquashBusters. If you are interested in coming to NYC on the weekend of January 16-18 to celebrate SquashBusters’ and Urban Squash’s 20th birthday, please visit nationalurbansquash.org
Mashing It Up in Lawrence
World Champions clashed and world class generosity overflowed at the second annual SquashBusters Lawrence MashUp fundraiser on Sunday December 14th at Brooks School in North Andover, MA. Former World No. 1 players Thierry Lincou of France, now Director of Squash at MIT, and David Palmer of Australia reprised their 15 year world tour rivalry by leading their respective teams and dazzling the packed audience with their talent, sportsmanship and camaraderie twice during the course of the day. Their even split of the short shootout MashUp team matches echoed their tight career 9 to 8 head to head record, with Lincou owning the slight advantage over the long run.
All four 10-player teams were led by an elite pro, with Palmer heading captain Jon Karlen’s Andover Academics, Lincou leading captain Bruce Landay’s Merrimack Volley, South African star Clinton Leeuw helming captain Henry White’s Essex County Nicks and local hero and former New Zealand No. 1 Dan Sharplin taking the reins of captain Ross Elkin’s Lawrence Legion. Team rosters were filled out by six fundraising amateurs, a SquashBusters boy and girl and a player from either Brooks or Phillips Academy, the two schools that host the Lawrence after school program during the school year.
The talent laden Andover Academics won the day, earning a four point margin of victory in the round robin portion and laying a decisive 7-2 bombardment on the Merrimack Volley in the final. Aptly named, the Academics fielded three notable Phillips Academy faculty members, Head of School John Palfrey, Dean of Students Jenny Elliott and teacher/squash coach Tom Hodgson, as well as PA student Madeleine Mayhew, alumni Jon Karlen, Chris Kane and Alex Demeulenaere and SquashBusters students Joyce Zhang and Junior Ixlaj.
SquashBusters Program Director Dora Lubin orchestrated the MashUp once again with an eye for every detail. From the pathway balloons, welcome lunch, player gifts, delicious food and hospitality to the well organized squash schedule to the compelling video and uplifting personal remarks from high schoolers Joyce Zhang and Antar Jimenez, the day was a success on all fronts. SquashBusters Founder Greg Zaff brought the crowd to its feet during the program portion by recognizing Dora as “the greatest youth social worker” he has ever met and giving the credit for the MashUp success and, indeed, the success of the Lawrence program entirely to her efforts. The pair was assisted during the day by John Nimick, who handled the hosting role, and staffers Barrett Takesian and Audrey Guerrero who wrangled dozens of excited and energetic SquashBusters students for scoring, recording and support duties. The event was possible thanks to the efforts of the Brooks School staff, especially Doug Burbank, Chair of the Math Department and Squash Coach.
In the end, the highly successful 2014 MashUp raised more than $190,000 to help fund the SquashBusters Lawrence annual mission to improve the lives of urban youth.
As part of a growing commitment to foster student leadership at SquashBusters, the trailblazing Ambassadors Program was pioneered this fall. A series of student-led initiatives generates opportunities for program participants to express themselves as leaders and peer mentors. Sixteen high school students (grades 10-12) comprise the first group of Ambassadors; each applied for selection. As the name suggests, Ambassadors initiate and build goodwill and shared vision among staff, students and their families. Ongoing activities enhance participants’ capacity to lead as they build a group of culture-keepers who share SQB values.
Program activities range in scope, and will evolve as the Ambassadors’ visions broaden. In their debut, the Ambassadors led the program-wide family meetings in September, during which they welcomed new and returning families into the SquashBusters community. They entertained and informed program participants and families as they cleverly and theatrically presented SQB values, expectations, and program goals, sharing insights about the SQB journey through their own personal anecdotes. Ambassadors also played an essential role in integrating the new 7th grade SQB students into the program: They volunteered as coaches and mentors during Saturday Middle School Practices; wrote personal letters welcoming and congratulating each of the new 33 7th grade students onto the team; escorted 7th grade parents through the SQB building to familiarize them with the history of the program and present-day program highlights. Ambassadors meet on a regular basis to reflect on their contributions, as well as discuss ways to improve themselves as leaders, enhance their public speaking skills, initiate new culture-building activities, and commit to learning every participant’s name as one way to build a sense of community at SQB. As we celebrate these students’ contributions, new applications for 2015 winter/spring term will open. The second cohort of Ambassadors will build on what their peers have done, and look forward to a series of new initiatives, including the second annual project with STRIVE— a Boston-based after school program that helps teenagers with sickle cell disease. The Ambassadors Program will capitalize on each participant’s individuality; and in so doing, will demonstrate how every student has a contribution to make to SQB’s culture and programming.
SquashBusters Class of 2020 and 2021 Begin the Journey
Every fall beckons in a new recruitment season at SquashBusters filled with challenges and opportunities. Early in the process, staff visit our three Boston partner schools – the Timilty and O’Bryant Schools in Roxbury and the Rogers School in Hyde Park and our two Lawrence school partners – the Wetherbee and Arlington Schools, where they introduce over 500 students in gym clinics to our program. An excess of 100 interested students begin a lengthy six week tryout process where they are required to attend three practices per week and work hard on the squash court, show dedication in the classroom, and push themselves during strenuous fitness routines. These hurdles are designed to test participants’ character and inner drive which are traits that will help them be successful throughout their time at SquashBusters and beyond. Our highly selective process narrows this large tryout group down to 33 Boston and 14 Lawrence inspiring and enthusiastic recruits. SQB looks for a variety of attributes in our new students including the ability to develop the emotional capacity and confidence to take risks and persevere. The program provides a safe environment where kids are challenged to push themselves and make positive decisions that can be directly translated to the outside world. During the tryout process we are also looking for participants who can handle and resolve conflict and work productively with others. Interacting with other students from different schools and walks of life can be a challenge and we look for individuals who are open to these opportunities and have an innate ability to handle these situations with grace and poise.
Once accepted into the program, students receive a tremendous amount of support in all facets of life. Throughout the program year, we have nearly 100 meetings with each participant between playing squash, working on their homework, participating in community service, or applying for college. Our competitive squash schedule includes matches against neighboring schools, local tournaments, and weekend long excursions to New York City and Western Massachusetts to participate in large Urban Squash tournaments. During the summer our students attend camps ranging from squash specific training like Squash and Beyond at Williams College to outdoor recreation experiences at Camp Dudley to Boston University and MIT science camps and Exeter Academy Summer School. All these opportunities are tailored to each individual. During the school year, SQB provides in-depth college and high school counseling through test preparation, application evaluation, and practice interview sessions. These challenges and opportunities set our students on pathways to obtain educational success and lead positive and fulfilling lives.