For these Philly black and Latino teens, the future lies in squash
The racket sport is not only keeping them active but also has them on track to attend the best colleges in the U.S.
Photos and Story By Rachel Wisniewski
When it comes to academics and sports in Philadelphia, the statistics are sobering. Philadelphia is America’s poorest big city, with 1 in 3 kids living in poverty. Philadelphia public and charter schools do not offer organized sports for K-8 students, and the dropout rate for students in grades nine through 12 is a shocking 60 percent. Not shockingly, 40 percent of kids in the city are overweight or obese, 60 percent of kids have no organized physical activity, and heart disease is the leading cause of death for all African-Americans. However, a free nonprofit mentoring program called SquashSmarts has been working to challenge and change those statistics since 2001 by introducing black and Latino preteens to squash.
SquashSmarts focuses on sixth- to eighth-graders in North and West Philadelphia and requires them to make a six- to eight-year commitment, guiding them through middle and high school in preparation for college. The program partners with four middle schools in the city: George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science, Esperanza Academy Charter School, Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary and Overbrook Educational Center.
By boosting their academics and athletic involvement, the program helps students to get into boarding schools and private colleges with intensive three-days-per-week academic and athletic instruction. While squash has long been associated primarily with majority-white private clubs, in Philadelphia the sport has become an outlet for black and Latino teens to stay active and be accepted to some of the best schools in the country, including Lincoln University, Temple University and Morehouse College.