Article courtesy of Bloomberg.com.
By Amanda Gordon
At least three types of squash players converged in the ballroom of New York’s Waldorf Astoria on Saturday night.
Charlie Parkhurst, a trader at Brevan Howard, started playing this physical chess game as a student at Princeton. His home court is the Apawamis Club in Rye, New York.
Nicol David, the world’s number one-ranked women’s player, was five years old when she hit her first rubber ball against all four walls at a public squash center in Penang, Malaysia. She’s competing this week at the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions at Grand Central Terminal.
And Guillermo Moronta, an associate admissions director at a boys’ school outside Boston, discovered the sport at 14 when two former professional players visited his gym class. The exposure led him to SquashBusters, an after-school program combining squash with academic and life guidance.
“I went to private school and played in college, ” Moronta said. “I’m not sure I’d have done the college degree if it hadn’t been for the path squash gave me.”
Plenty of Wall Streeters have enjoyed the primal competition of a game that puts a player right next to his or her opponent, as demonstrated by Gordon Gekko in the film “Wall Street.” Bill Ullman named his firm Right Wall Capital for the wall he plays in squash doubles.
According to “Squash: A History of the Game, ” by James Zug, the sport started at Harrow School near London in the 1860s and not, as legend has it, in the British capital’s Fleet Prison. The first squash courts in the U.S. were built in 1884 at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire.
The affluent young men who broke those courts in would probably not have anticipated the birth, about 20 years ago, of an urban squash movement with its own organizing body, the National Urban Squash and Education Association.
This was the group that gathered Saturday night to celebrate its 20 member nonprofits that bring squash to disadvantaged youth. The 90 minutes of play they receive on a typical day is said to make them fit, teach discipline and clear the head for another 90 minutes of academic enrichment.
SquashBusters was the first, formed in 1995 in Boston by Greg Zaff. Then came StreetSquash for Harlem youth, SquashSmarts in Philadelphia, and CitySquash serving the Bronx. Chicago’s MetroSquash is about to open a new $8 million squash facility on the South Side.
Collectively, the association’s member organizations serve about 2, 000 students a year, with 97 percent of them continuing their education after high school, said its chairman, William E. Simon Jr.
The association was started in 2005 to share best practices and help form new squash groups, as well as run summer camps. Minneapolis, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Baltimore, New Haven and Newark are all represented, as are India and South Africa.
“Squash is a natural urban game, ” Parkhurst said. “You play in a small place, you play in a relative short period of time — 45 minutes.”
Parkhurst would like to see existing groups get bigger and more groups form. “Collegiate squash continues to grow, ” he said. “The reputation that it’s elitist is diminishing.”
Financial-services professionals, among them Mitch Truwit of Apax Partners, Stephen Mandel of Lone Pine Capital, and Victor Niederhoffer, are big supporters. Gerry Murray, head of JPMorgan’s North America leveraged finance business, and David Ganek, founder of Apocalypse 22 LLC, are board members of CitySquash. Parkhurst and Morgan Stanley’s Brooke Cooper are on the board of the association.
Eric Muller, who was named a partner at Goldman Sachs in November, is on the board of StreetSquash.
“What resonated for me was the tangible impact, ” he said. “You know you are helping that kid. And you go up to the center and it’s full of energy and enthusiasm.”
The gala, which raised $2 million, followed a leadership conference, the Urban Squash Team Nationals, and the Champions Challenge, which had Moronta playing at the Racquet and Tennis Club on Park Avenue for the first time, a place he said was “very welcoming.”
“It made good sense to have the leaders of the urban squash programs come together, ” said Simon, a co-founder of William E. Simon & Sons. “The lesson, early, is you make a difference in people’s lives one by one. Also, the squash community is close-knit, and when we mobilize, the results can be extraordinary.”