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Playing out of poverty: SQUASH helping inner-city students

Playing out of poverty: SQUASH helping inner-city students (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) – SQUASH is yuppie racquetball invented at a British boarding school in the 1800's.

The game's heritage is one of old privilege and old money.

"When you think of SQUASH it's an elitist sport, played by the wealthiest people in the country at the wealthiest schools," said Rachael Parker, SQUASH Academy Academic Director.

In other words, rich and white.

But some SQUASH players were anything but rich and their faces were mostly black and brown. It was SQUASH in the inner city.

One student told Local 12, "Well, I didn't know what it was at first, but after I learned I wanted to play it."

Welcome to the Cincinnati SQUASH Academy, housed in an Over-The-Rhine community center. The academy provides cultural activities, community service projects, and after-school tutoring for students from four inner-city, low-income schools. And there's coaching and competition in a sport most of the kids had never heard of, let alone done.

Vir Seth, SQUASH Academy coach, said, "I think the biggest thing they're not used to is the idea of playing a sport within four walls. I think that's a completely foreign concept to them."

Racquetball and SQUASH were pretty similar. There were a few rule differences, but the biggest differences were the SQUASH racquet was bigger and the SQUASH balls were smaller. And unlike a racquetball, a SQUASH ball hardly even bounces. Which means kids have to run faster to get to the ball and hit it harder to give it some zing.

Students have to think, plan, and follow the rules.

Lydia and Edie Tesfaye know all about stability and hard work. The daughters of Ethiopian immigrants, the girls have been with Cincinnati SQUASH since 2014, the program's first year. Connections through the SQUASH Academy helped Lydia and Edie get scholarships to the private and expensive Seven Hills School. And that was just the first step. There were also SQUASH scholarships to colleges... expensive, elite colleges. That was the hope for each of the 45 kids there.

The SQUASH Academy plans to nearly double the number of kids over the next five years. Of course, that's still a drop in the bucket when considering all the low-income children in Cincinnati. But leaders said the academy model could be adapted to other activities by other agencies; basketball, soccer, chess, as long as it's not just simply after-school sports. Students also need the academic, cultural, and personal growth components.

The Cincinnati SQUASH Academy partners with four, high poverty schools in the West End and Over-The-Rhine; Hays-Porter, Taft, Saint Joseph's, and CHCA. If participating students earn scholarships to private schools, they're still allowed to remain in the SQUASH program. The academy also tries to help kids gets into high-performing public schools like Walnut Hills.

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