No sport should be reserved for the elite. Especially a sport such as squash, which is a fast paced racket game that is mostly played at private clubs, Northeast colleges and boarding schools. A number of years ago I watched a documentary on a squash program that had sprung up in Boston, where squash enthusiasts set out to level the playing field for urban youth that would typically not have access to courts and programs. The program was the first of its nature. It was also considered a major success, as the students that enrolled in the program also tended to matriculate to college.
Since that initial Boston program, that was ahead of its time, a similar squash program has been rolled out on a broader scope, known as the Squash + Education Alliance (SEA). SEA currently oversees 19 squash and education programs in the United States. Now, a Buffalo expat by the name of Hope Blinkoff Lynch has returned home to roll out a local program called 716 Squash – Buffalo’s urban squash and education organization. The program not only operates in a similar manner as SEA, it is also a partner with the umbrella organization. Moving forward (starting today), 716 Squash will provide academic and athletic access to disadvantaged urban youth who would not normally be able to participate in this revered sport.
“The mission of 716 Squash is to empower youth in Buffalo to reach their full potential as students, athletes, and engaged citizens, by providing long-term support and life-changing opportunities through education, mentoring, service, and squash,” said the program’s Executive Director Hope Blinkoff Lynch, who was formerly deputy director for Baltimore’s SEA program, SquashWise.
In order for the 716 Squash program to work, Lynch made arrangements with Nardin Academy for year round access to squash courts and classroom space, just off Hertel Avenue. Volunteer partners have also been established at Buffalo Seminary, Nardin Academy, and Nichols School. The program is also partnering with Buffalo Public Schools Strong Community Schools and Say Yes!
Initially, in the first year, 716 Squash will recruit 25 fourth and fifth graders from its main partner school, West Hertel Academy. After-school and summer programming will also be a primary focus of the initiative. Ultimately, in years to come, these young squash players will be given the opportunity to compete against athletes in other SEA programs. They will also be offered chances to attend squash and academic camps at myriad colleges and universities. More than anything else, 716 Squash will instill the squash virtues into each and every player/competitor – virtues such as honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect for your opponent, and fair play. Another important element is the “off the court” lessons, which teaches the students to excel beyond the squash court, into the classroom, and eventually into the competitive workforce.
When I first learned of the Boston program, I remember thinking to myself how wonderful it would be if Buffalo could have such an instrumental unsertaking. Well, I’m happy to say, “Mission accomplished.” Hopefully, this is just the beginning, and in years to come, we will be able to take this successful initiative to an entirely different level.
Seed funding is being raised and several foundations have received 716 Squash grant applications. These efforts are being led by a Board of Directors that includes, Richard Lynn, Lynn Associates Inc., Chair; Carey Anderson, J.R. Militello Realty, Vice-Chair; William Pearce, Pearce Ventures, LLC, Treasurer; Carolyn (Bobbie) Dukarm M.D., Carolyn Piver Dukarm M.D., LLC, Secretary; Steve Bell, Eric Mower + Associates; Patricia Nelson Fast; Helen Marlette, Head of School, Buffalo Seminary; Latrese Myers, Let’s Talk; Charles Jacobs, Nixon Peabody; Steve Foley, Paul William Beltz PC; James Wadsworth, Hodgson Russ; Tim Wyant, Squash + Education Alliance.