This year, Buffalo Seminary has been hosting a program designed to instill a sense of teamwork, community, and interest in a growing sport in Buffalo public school girls. Sem has partnered with King Center Charter School to provide a group of 8-10 KCCS students with a chance to play squash and learn about fitness skills from trained coaches for two hours on Saturday mornings.
According to Gwen Ito, marketing and PR coordinator at Buffalo Seminary, coaches Phillip Barth and Kingman Bassett lead the program, while students at the high school are also involved in mentoring the younger girls. Ito said that Elizabeth Bassett ’11 and other members of Sem’s squash team participate by acting as mentors to the King Center students as they teach them how to play.
In addition to the squash team itself, King Center faculty member Ryan Keating and Buffalo Seminary dean of students Helen Marlette orchestrate the program from their respective schools, according to Ito. The program is based on models from squash programs in other cities, and Ito said that Sem hopes to introduce this as a formal academic component sometime in the near future.
“We will continue to work with the King Center Charter School and possibly add another group if there is interest,” Ito said. “We’d like to add a more focused academic portion in the future. We might pursue this as an after-school activity in the fall and spring next year. The size of our program will depend on the ability to get funding, so fund-raising will become a bigger priority next year.”
While Ito emphasized that the chance to learn squash from the Sem girls and their coaches is rewarding for the King Center students, the high school girls have been able to benefit from their participation as well. She said that some of this year’s participants have received scholarships from the Buffalo Squash Racquets Association that will enable them to get private lessons this summer.
Aside from providing high school and elementary students with a rewarding and team bonding experience, this program has positive implications for the larger community in Buffalo as well. Ito said that Sem has received many thank-you notes that the school has posted on a wall in their gym, next to the courts. Based on what she has seen, Ito said the King Center girls have enjoyed the experience.
“The girls love interacting with Sem students, learning squash, trying out the machines, getting a healthy snack, and exploring our 100-year-old building,” Ito said. “And of course, our students learn what it means to be a mentor. It’s gratifying and humbling at the same time.”
Ito said that since squash is becoming more prominent in many major cities, the fact that Sem is participating in this program is a step towards making sure that people are interested in and aware of the sport. According to her, the U.S. Squash Association “is making a big push for grassroots programs.”
Ito said that, by involving both the Sem and KCCS girls in this program, all of the individual students benefit. The athletic training, leadership development, and overall camaraderie of this unique sport enable Sem to give back to the Buffalo community by giving public school students access to diversity of athletic programs and people alike. In doing so, Sem gives back to the City of Buffalo.
“Squash provides the main activity, but it’s the lessons and opportunities presented by active participation which make the program unique,” Ito said. “Our hope is that Sem students can be strong mentors and role models for the King Center girls, and Sem students can in turn learn from the younger girls. There is so much to be gained from getting to know and working with people from different backgrounds.”