For seven seasons, Urban Squash Cleveland has paired squash instruction with academic support and mentoring in serving Cleveland’s inner-city school-aged students. The organization partners with Urban Community School (UCS) and several other educational institutions to share its unique formula with the 25 students in the current program.
“Urban Squash Cleveland uses a system of academic support, enrichment opportunities, and the sport of squash in a very holistic way,” explains executive director Iago Cornes. “This is a great program for any child who really wants to develop.”
In the past, Urban Squash Cleveland has used spaces at UCS, Entrepreneurship Preparatory School, and the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine at John Hay High School to identify and recruit students in fifth through eighth grades, and then relied on Cleveland State University (CSU) and Case Western Reserve University (SWRU) for use of their squash courts.
But last Saturday, October 13, Urban Squash Cleveland proudly opened the doors to its very own Youth Development Center on the UCS campus at the corner of West 47th Street and Lorain Avenue. Not only is the new facility just the sixth of its kind in the country (and the only one associated with a school), but it will also allow Urban Squash Cleveland to double the number of students taking part.
“This is a great thing for the community but, most importantly, it’s great for the kids we serve,” says Cornes. “People are incredibly enthusiastic about the building, and the kids had fun [at the grand opening].”
Urban Squash broke ground last October on the $2.9 million, 10,000-square-foot Youth Development Center on UCS’ campus. Cornes says the result offers the group both function and convenience. “It’s amazing to be there,” he says. “It’s a pretty big difference. Now we can have programming six days a week.” (Previously, half of the programming was conducted on the CSU campus, while the other half was conducted at CWRU.)
The new facility boasts four squash courts, a 60-person classroom that can also be divided into two smaller classrooms, boys’ and girls’ locker rooms, and administrative offices. The centerpiece of the building is an all-glass squash court in the middle of the facility.
In addition to the youth programming, Cornes says they will open the courts to the public. People can buy monthly memberships for $50 or by committing eight hours of volunteer time each month. “It’s a great opportunity for the near west side,” he says.
Students who enroll in the Urban Squash program in fourth and fifth grade tend to stay through their college years, says Cornes. He and his team recruit participants through presentations at UCS and other partner schools by showing a video, explaining the program, and giving a demonstration using squash rackets and balls.
The team is now recruiting new members, who must participate in a nine-week tryout period. Cornes estimates they will have about 45 kids enrolled by the end of the recruitment period. “It’s a long-time commitment for us, and the families as well,” he explains of the prolonged tryout period and overall tendency to stay involved long-term.
USC and Urban Squash are part of the Squash + Education Alliance (SEA)—one of only 20 members in the world. SEA is an accredited program geared toward providing opportunities for youth to learn the game of squash, receive academic support, develop socially, visit colleges, and meet other youth from around the country who are involved in similar programs.
Anyone interested in getting a membership to Urban Squash Cleveland can contact Cornes or squash coach Marina De Juan.