Back in the Swing

Welcome home! That was how staff greeted our students as joy, laughter, music, and the unmistakable pop of a squash ball once again filled our facilities. Thanks to the diligence and dedication of our staff we found new ways to connect over the last 18 months, but there is no replacement for being together in person. Thank you to all of you who supported us through these difficult times. We are a stronger organization for having weathered the storm together. We remain watchful and diligent as the pandemic continues to evolve, but for now I hope you enjoy a glimpse into the first few months of our season.

BOSTON

This fall has been a season to celebrate as we welcomed 85 new and returning students back to the building after 18 long months of COVID twists and turns. From college visits and team trips to a return competition, it has been a season of discovery and renewal.

Our new middle school team jumped right in to a brand-new sport and a brand-new program. They explored Northeastern University’s campus with a student lead tour from our very own Vanel Joseph – SQB Class of 2019 – and they watched the highest level of collegiate squash as they attended the MIT vs. Trinity and Harvard vs. Dartmouth matches, giving them a glimpse of the power and potential of squash.

For our returning students, it was an opportunity to get back to programming as they knew it. Our seniors got a head start during their preseason post-secondary planning sessions. They worked diligently on their applications, personal statements, and financial aid paperwork, and we celebrated their hard work with a 12th grade trip to Spooky World. Not to be outdone, our juniors made sure they got their chance to celebrate their return with a team trip to see the Celtics defeat the Toronto Raptors at the TD Garden. Our 9th and 10th graders explored one of the city’s best colleges with a tour of Boston University that was led by SQB alum and current BU student, Pablo Rodriguez – SQB Boston Class of 2018. We also held our first varsity matches in nearly 2 years as our girls took on The Winsor School, and both the boys and girls varsity teams took on Nobles and Greenough.

As we wrap up the fall season, we are looking forward to deepening our connections and spending more time together. Our middle schoolers hosted their Family Potluck, and all students with excellent attendance (85% or higher) headed to Apex Entertainment for some bowling, laser tag, and much needed laughter. Our varsity boys will be on the road for a match against The Fessenden School, while both our boys and girls varsity teams will welcome Brookline High School to SQB. In the spirit of giving back everyone will participate in our first internal Goodwill donation tournament. Our middle schoolers will also be heading to Community Servings for an afternoon to serve home-cooked meals to those in need. It has been a great start to the year, and we are looking forward to all that lays ahead, especially our largest tournament of the year, the Squash and Education Alliance Team Nationals in January!

LAWRENCE

It’s been a busy fall at SquashBusters Lawrence! Students, families, and staff were thrilled to return to regular in-person programming following the challenges of last year. We have still had to be creative to find programming space but thanks to the generosity of local organizations we have been able to gather as a team and embrace our community. We have been lucky to partner with new local organizations to host our weekly practices – Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School, Cedardale Health and Fitness, our own office building at Island Street, and parks around the city. While these sites may lack squash courts, they have created opportunities for our students to learn new ways to stay active, have fun, and cross-train. Instead of squash, many practices now include juggling, pickleball, badminton, tennis, and (our students’ favorite) fitness!

Recently we’ve been fortunate to return to regular court usage at Brooks School, which in addition to more squash time has given us the space to run annual events like our Thanksgiving celebration: Gobble Games! Four teams of high schoolers competed in feast-themed challenges to capture the championship. The games were silly and fun, but more importantly they gave the higher schoolers the opportunity to gather as a full team for the first time in almost two years. The students also used this time to formally elect team captains for the 2021-2022 squash season – an important task before matches began in December! A huge thank you to Brooks for ensuring we have the space for these team moments this year.

Another remnant of last year’s program that has become a key component of SquashBusters Lawrence is the many trips the teams have taken around the state. Whether it is a bowling trip, a visit to a farm, or even just grabbing food after a late practice, students and staff have seized opportunities to bond and connect while off court. These have quickly become a favorite aspect of the program, and all our teams have grown closer because of the extra time together, especially on the bus! We’re excited for even more opportunities like these, and some long-awaited squash matches and tournaments, this winter.

PROVIDENCE

It’s official, SquashBusters Providence is back and is fully running in-person programming! From regular squash practices to enrichment and homework sessions, the kids are excited to be back in their second home. We have had a busy fall. Students have taken a college campus tour of Brown University and have done community service including a perennial favorite, making holiday cards for the Arbor Hill Assistant Living Facility. SQB’ers also traveled to Hope of Life, to clean their warehouse so that it is ready to ship food to malnourished children in Guatemala and they went to Roger Williams Botanical garden to repot plants.

Luis Morales, the Senior IT Analyst of Nautic Partners, LLC came to speak to our 8th graders about Information Technology (IT) and all the career possibilities in this field. He also spoke about the technological advances that we have seen throughout the years and students were able to agree and identify that technology is moving at a fast pace.

On the squash side our kids have joint practices once a week with the PVD squash students and the Moses Brown teams. During these practices they are coached by the PVD squash pro and SQB supporter, Arthur Gaskin. Students have had the chance to once again compete in tournaments, and our own Thiago Zabala won his first US Squash Bronze tournament, where he bested a field of talented local players. Ten students traveled to Chelsea Piers in New York City where they competed in a Squash and Education Alliance Regional Tournament, and battled against Capitol Squash, City Squash Bronx, City Squash Brooklyn, StreetSquash and Squash Haven.  It was a great day of squash and the boys and girls teams each finished fourth in their respective draws.

And, excitingly, Jesus Mateo-Diaz is in the process of applying for a full-scholarship to Moses Brown. We think he is a great candidate.

Looking ahead, our yearly fundraiser, The Rumble, takes place on Saturday January 22nd and will feature some world-class squash pros. And, we are prepping students for the Squash and Education Team Nationals in mid-January. A total of 25 SQB Providence students will join another 60 from SQB Boston and Lawrence to compete at this national event in Philadelphia at the new Specter center. Two years ago, almost immediately after this event, COVID turned all our lives upside down. Since then, our students have missed out on a lot. With this event officially back on, we are hopeful that things are slowly going back to normal, and our students are excited to compete, bond, relax together and enjoy a great weekend.

POST-SECONDARY STUDENTS

Fall 2021 has been a monumental season for the Post-Secondary department. This year, 171 students are receiving post-secondary access or support services, including 34 high school seniors, and 137 students working towards post-secondary degrees, certificates or engaged in full-time work. In September, 35 students matriculated to post-secondary opportunities, at colleges and universities such as John Hopkins University, Boston University, Northeastern University, UMASS Amherst and Lowell, and at apprenticeships for HVAC and real estate licensure courses. In addition, our 12th grade students have received early acceptances from MIT, Tufts, and Babson!

A student-led Peer Mentor initiative launched on three campuses, with upperclassmen meeting with, and mentoring, underclassmen. And, we launched the Lawrence Alumni Committee to work alongside the Boston Alumni Committee, organizing social events and opportunities for SQB graduates of each site to gather. The presidents of each alumni committee, Ravi Rao for Boston and Jiberly Sandoval for Lawrence, are also members of the Board of Directors, extending their support to program development and hiring amazing staff.

On the Career Services side, SquashBusters launched SQB Connect, an internal jobs board and mentoring platform, that connects post-secondary students and alumni to our outstanding network of supporters. Through SQB Connect, students are growing their networks and connecting with individuals for informational interviews, resume support and interview preparation, and applying to internships for summer 2022. We have hosted four career exploration panels to expose students to a variety of positions across different industries – thank you to the many MashUp players, and supporters across the squash community, including, but not limited to, JP Morais, Thierry Lincou, Amanda Sobhy, and Busani Xaba for sharing your expertise with us!

If you are not yet on SQB Connect and wish to join, please follow this link, then click “Sign up” in the top right hand corner!

THE 2021 MASHUP

Ending the year on a high note, we were thrilled to be back together in person after a virtual MashUp in 2020. More than 80 squash and paddle players and pros battled it out on the courts at the Snyder Center on the campus of Phillips Andover Academy, the North Andover Country Club and The Country Club on Sunday December 12th and raised over $400,000 of critical funds. (Click here to read more.)

On the squash courts, Captain Jon Karlen’s Andover Academics once again carried the day, as the “blues” ran out to big wins over both the Essex County Nicks in the semifinals and then the Merrimack Volley in the Finals.  Their pro, Kiwi Campbell Grayson, former PSA No. 24 and current Yale Assistant Coach, topped the table in the pro competition by defeating the Nicks’ Arthur Gaskin first and the Volley’s Adhitya Raghavan last.  Raghavan, a 2020 Princeton graduate and varsity standout, was a generous last-minute substitute for SQB favorite Timmy Brownell who fell out earlier in the week with a hamstring injury.  Perennial supporter Clinton Leeuw of South Africa rounded out the pro contingent and encountered his own injury with a strained knee during his 3rd place match with Gaskin.

The day on the squash courts began in a novel way by featuring Harvard’s top two varsity men, Victor Crouin and Marwan Tarek, in a first-to-10 point mini-match scored in honor of SQB Lawrence’s 10th anniversary this year.  The impressive Frenchman, now ranked No. 23 in the world while still a senior at Harvard, edged his Egyptian teammate 10-7.  Captain John Manning of the Lawrence Legion and Co-Captain Bill Paine of the Volley led the charge as team players, while Volley Co-Captain Bruce Landay and Nicks captain Henry White cheered mightily from the bleachers.

Two waves of paddle round-robin competition took place simultaneously at North Andover Country Club and The Country Club, with some of the game’s best pros joining 24 dedicated SQB supporters. Sunny skies and a brisk wind added some extra challenges to the games, with the Lawrence Legion just edging out the Andover Academics in overall victories.

During a closing Zoom ceremony SQB Lawrence student, Julissa Morales (SQB Lawrence 2022), and alumni, Waleed Khiyaty (SQB Lawrence 2020) and Vicky Flamenco (SQB Boston 2006), spoke movingly about what the program has meant to them and how the love, caring, steadfastness, and support has changed the trajectory of their lives.  The Andover Academics walked away with both the Golden Mill award for top team fundraising and the Krapels Cup, as tournament champions. We were honored to have the family of Ed Krapels once again join the event and remind us of the kindness and generosity that Ed bestowed on SQB.

More photos of the day can be found here and a video wrap-up here.