Article courtesy of Cincinnati.com.
by Adam Turer
The popularity of squash is well-established in the northeast and rapidly growing on the west coast. As the sport focuses on expanding in the Midwest, squash players and administrators are seeking a hub to help the sport grow in this region. Why not Cincinnati?
Neal Tew has played squash at a high level nearly his entire life and his sons are now among the top youth competitors in the nation. After returning to Cincinnati, the St. Xavier High School graduate wanted to create more opportunities for young people in the area to fall in love with the sport. In 2012, he opened The T Squash Academy in Fairfax, a nonprofit devoted to making squash instructive and accessible in Cincinnati.
“As a person who grew up playing squash, it’s exciting to see the growth in this area. Most of the growth begins at the youth level, ” Tew said. “When we started, the Midwest was the desert of squash. Now, Cincinnati is one of the strongest cities in the Midwest for squash.”
On Feb. 21, “The T” hosted Kevin Klipstein, president and CEO of US Squash. His organization helped The T get off the ground through grants and he is excited to see the evolution of the sport in Cincinnati.
“This is probably the model for growth of squash in the country, ” Klipstein said. “Our main task is to foster collaboration locally, regionally, and nationally. As the sport grows, hopefully those connections grow stronger.”
At The T, Klipstein watched youth teams play, which is the city’s first squash equivalent of a youth soccer league. Six teams of seven players each, with team names like the Blue Devils and Cavaliers, square off against one another in tournament-style play. The camaraderie built through team play is special to The T.
“Growing up, I played a lot of junior squash and it’s just you, your parents and your coach, ” The T’s squash director Laura Caty said. “There’s something very nice and unique about the kids coming together. It’s cool to see.”
Following youth play, the adults competed. After that, four of The T’s youth players performed a music recital. That performance was emblematic of the larger goals of academy, to foster enrichment in all area’s of a child’s life.
“Our goal is development and enrichment of young individuals through squash, ” Tew said. “We’ve seen the growth in character and grit of our kids and the gains in self-confidence and self-assurance that they develop on the squash court.”
Squash has gone through a major change in the past two decades, since US Squash switched to the international version of the game. This caused existing facilities to change their dimensions, or to convert racquetball courts to squash courts. According to Klipstein, squash participation in the United States has doubled in the past six years to 1.4 million players. The common goal shared by US Squash and The T Squash Academy is to make the sport convenient and accessible to anyone who is interested in learning the game.
“Most people don’t even know what squash is when they come in here to check it out, but about ninety percent of the kids who come in here are hooked and they stay for a couple of months to play, ” Caty said.
For those who have spent most of their lives in and around the sport, the retention rate at The T is not surprising. The children playing on Saturday expressed their appreciation of the community atmosphere and quality coaching that they receive at The T.
“You can enjoy it really quickly, you don’t have to be any particular body type, there are no cuts, and you can feel good about participating regardless of your ability. We found it to be really sticking in that sense, ” Klipstein said. “Kids try it, as long as you have good people supporting the program, like Neal and the coaches. The sport really sells itself as long as people get exposed to it.”
“It’s really easy to get hooked on squash, ” said Rob Goering, president of Cincinnati Squash Racquets Association. “It’s happened to everybody I know.”
The support from US Squash and the Cincinnati Sports Club will help The T as it seeks to expand its number of courts and continue to recruit new players. Tew spent the past eight years working to build the academy to what it is today, home to players of all ages and youth from 14 area schools. He spent six years trying to get Klipstein to visit and provide feedback. Those efforts came to fruition this past weekend.
“He’s become a very faithful and supportive ally, ” Tew said. “I hope he sees in our program a model for growth of squash in small markets. This is an innovative concept that I believe could be repeated. We know there are more powerful results yet to come.”
The T is located at 3917 Virginia Ave. For more information, visit www.tsquashacademy.org.