Students Kick Off First Day of U.S. Open

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Before the professionals took to the court for the first day of the 2022 U.S. Open Squash Championships presented by Truist, students from the Philadelphia area and beyond took to the courts of the Arlen Specter US Squash Center for a morning of fun, squash, and community.

Nearly a hundred young people spent two hours participating in carnival-style games that focused on squash skills, movement and mental agility. They played points against Ong Beng Hee, the Ganek Family US Squash Head National Coach, and competed in numerous activities such as timed court sprints and a high-pressure, half-court tic-tac-toe game. Volunteers from the area, including Truist employees, engaged the students in friendly competitions throughout the Specter Center. Players earned raffle tickets, redeemable for prizes. The most popular prize was a US Squash water bottle; one ambitious player worked hard enough to collect sixty raffle tickets to secure a highly-prized US Squash tee-shirt. Players then avidly took seats to watch the opening day matches at the U.S. Open.

A central focus of the day was to bring juniors from different regions and backgrounds together under one roof, enjoying the festival of squash surrounding the U.S. Open. Players attended from three urban squash programs—SquashSmarts (Philadelphia), First State Squash (Wilmington) and StreetSquash (Harlem)—as well as players from Philadelphia-area junior programs at Cynwyd Club, Berwyn Squash & Fitness and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. More students joined to watch the matches as the day progressed, including students from Science Leadership Academy Middle School who have learned squash at the Specter Center over the past year.

SquashSmarts, the award-winning athletic and academic mentoring program founded in 2001, helped host the event. SquashSmarts is an official partner of the Specter Center which runs its West Philadelphia core programs year-round at the facility. “I told the kids they had to come here at 10am,” said Ashley Trawick, the Program Site Director for SquashSmarts at the Specter Center, “and they started to complain about having to get up early, and then I said that kids from other programs were coming and they all immediately said, ‘sign me up now.’”

For out-of-towners, they loved seeing a state-of-the-art squash center. “All these courts, this giant building is dedicated to squash?” said Gabriel, a StreetSquash team member. “It is amazing. Twenty courts? Wow.”

“I love the aesthetics, the feel of the Specter Center,” added his teammate, Michael, another first-time visitor. “It’s like a night club: all the lights, the scoreboards flashing.”

“Squash is more than just a Wilmington thing,” said Kendrick, a First State Squash team member, “and coming to the Specter Center gets us into the wider squash community. There are players from two dozen nations here. I love that.”

Olivia Fiechter, a Team USA member and world No.9, signed autographs. Other top professionals stopped in to say hello to the players, including Nour El-Tayeb and James Willstrop. Many of the pros were well-known to the team members. “We had the kids prep for our visit,” said Makyla Kelley, Squash Director at First State Squash. “Each member studied two players—where they are from, their squash career—and watched video of them playing. Today they are watching those players and bringing back five things they learned—how they warm-up, how they strike the ball, how they move after getting a dropshot.”

“To start the U.S. Open in this way is a perfect metaphor for the purpose of the Specter Center,” said Sakora Miller, Senior Manager of Community Partnerships of US Squash. “We envision people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds enjoying squash. Here at the Specter Center, we are constantly creating opportunities for people to become part of an ever-broadening squash community.”