Staples Squash Team’s Growth May Be Walled In

For years, the Gym at Southport Athletic — originally the Southport Racquet Club, then the Southport Athletic Club — was one of the only places around here to play squash. Its 4 courts became even more precious when the Westport Y built its facility at Mahackeno. The old building downtown had 3 courts. The new one has none.

But the game has enjoyed steady local growth. And that growth is spurred by young players.

They like its fast pace, tactical complexity and physical challenge. It doesn’t hurt that colleges are adding teams — and look favorably upon applicants who play squash.

This year, Staples High School formed boys and girls squads. The athletic department pays for buses. Students and parents raised money for a coach (Atilla Agh), and court time. They joined nearby teams like Fairfield Ludlowe High and Greens Farms Academy that also train there.

Playing against those schools, and others including Darien, New Canaan, Rye, St. Luke’s and Hopkins, the Wreckers have done well.

Staples' girls squash team. (Photo/Stacy Bass)

Staples’ girls squash team. (Photo/Stacy Bass)

But word on the Post Road is that the Gym at Southport Athletic may be removing its courts, to add space for other activities. That would leave Staples’ program out in the cold.

Though the Y is the obvious choice as a site for new courts, it won’t happen soon — if ever. Any decision about what to do with its newly purchased Red Barn property is far off.

Parents and players have worked hard to grow their sport. But they fear for its future.

The ball may soon be out of their court.


12 responses to “Staples Squash Team’s Growth May Be Walled In

  1. Wouldn’t the more “obvious choice” as the site for squash courts for a high school sports team be, say, at the high school? You know, like the soccer fields, track, football field, basketball court, tennis courts, baseball field softball field, swimming pool, etc. that are all at the high school?

    • Some teams do not have facilities there, like ice hockey. Some sports teams (soccer, football, baseball, softball, rugby) use non-Staples field for some practices and games. And of course golf and sailing are not at Staples either.

      • Hmmm…sailing and golf…somewhat obvious why those aren’t on campus though, happily, the town owns those facilities allowing them to be high school sports. Ice hockey is more interesting, though obviously demand is strong enough that various folks have figured out how to make ice rinks economically feasible so the school got lucky there too.

        I’m going to go out on a limb here and engage in some educated speculation. Squash is a sport with relatively limited participation. Originating in elite English schools (Harrow, to be exact), the sport followed the British Empire ruling elites, becoming the sport of local elites as well. The sport migrated to the US via elite northeast universities and prep schools for similar reasons but really hasn’t expanded more popularly like, say, tennis. In other words, it’s more like polo than ice hockey. 🙂

        In fact, I’m not sure where you got the story that squash was a hot college sport and that colleges “look favorably” on squash players. Maybe a handful of elite schools but certainly not generally. In 2014, a grand total of 35 schools fielded varsity squash teams over half of which are Ivy League or NESCAC schools (i.e. the northeast elites). Of those, all of 4 offered squash scholarships, I would imagine specifically endowed by a rich squash playing graduate. Cynically, if squash players are heavily recruited by colleges, I would imagine that would be as “development” prospects rather than a burning need to field competitive teams.

        I’m guessing that if the Southport Athletic Club is removing its courts, interest in the sport is sufficiently low that the economics do not support keeping them around even with supplemental income from renting to local sports teams.

        I would also imagine if demand was strong, someone could build a standalone squash facility, particularly in light of SACs exit. I’m guessing it is not and those economics don’t work either. Seemingly, the market has spoken.

        You mention the Y as the “obvious choice” to build a facility to house the high school team though I’m not entirely sure why given the ready availability of town owned land (will get back to this). But, the old Y did have courts so I can see why one might think they are a possibility. I’m guessing there was a reason squash didn’t make the cut when the new Y was downsized due to limited funds – relatively limited demand/few members served for the amount of space taken.

        Of course with the generous bequest from Ruth Bedford, the Y is in a different financial position now so presumably could “afford” to build squash courts. I would imagine though that their priorities would be to serve as many folks as possible rather than build something with limited appeal. As you know, Dan, the fitness center could certainly use expansion given how crowded it often is. Or relocate the gymnastics program back from rented space in Norwalk. Or reconstitute the nursery school.

        Not being involved, I don’t know where squash courts would be on the Y’s list of priorities but I can’t fathom how it could be anywhere near the top of the list. Still, that would be their decision to make if there were a compelling enough story. Or, I imagine, if someone raised the money to fund construction if they felt strongly enough.

        Which brings us back to town owned property for a high school sponsored team. There is plenty of room at Winslow Park to build squash courts and still leave room for the dogs if there really is overwhelming public demand. Or probably some other town owned property would be feasible. Maybe even the Wilton Road/Kings Highway corner if the town buys that (believe me, a squash facility would not add much traffic). Heck, given what we now know about CTE, I can’t imagine why Westport still fields high school football teams – they are just a lawsuit waiting to happen. We can easily reconfigure the Staples fields to make room for squash if we do the right thing and get rid of football. I’m guessing the demand just isn’t there to support building squash courts.

        • Jerry-you owe a bunch of 15, 16 and 17 year old girls and boys an apology. They are ‘the best of Westport’ and you chose to insult them.

          These wonderful students created teams, did all the work themselves including rasing money, scheduling matches and finding a coach. They purchased their uniforms and pay the coaches themeslves.

          They practiced at 8 pm on week nights in order to get court time while balancing their rigourous demands that Staples requires. Most players were fairly new to the sport and in a short time have improved tremendously and have won matches.

          Instead of criticizing the new squash team at Staples, you should have taken the time to praise the players for taking the initiaivtve to create this opportunity for current and future Staples students.

          This experince has given players an opportunity to play on a team and compete against other local high schools while learning a life long sport.

          We should be proud of their accomplishments and offer our suppoort and suggestions to help get them court time so this program can continue.

          • Bart – I’ve re-read my comment three times and fail to see an insult (or even mention) of the squash team or its members. However, I did suggest a solution – the town can build squash courts on town owned land – albeit with the implied doubt that you and the other taxpayers of Westport would be willing to pony up.

    • Nancy Hunter Wilson

      When I think squash court I think Country Club. Build one at Longshore.

  2. Learned squash 35 yrs ago at SRC…lost my hubby there, too. To a better player. C’est la vie. Bittersweet memories.

  3. LA Fitness on Main Street in Norwalk has 4 squash Courts. Stables “may” be able to establish a relationship. Matt is the Head of Operations

  4. Bonnie Scott Connolly

    I used to play squash with my dad in the 60s but it was when we lived in Philadelphia and it was at Episcopal Academy where he had been a student. I still have my wooden racket. It doesn’t look any thing like the squash rackets of today. I like it better than racketball.

  5. Boo…………. hoo.

    Squash… really? Oh dear!

    Maybe the Westport Y will someday emulate the New Canaan Y and offer programs for children and young adults with developmental issues. Kids who will never go to college. Their numbers are growing by leaps and bounds, but not the programs. They, and their parents, are left to twist in the wind.

  6. Would one possible solution be to consider pursuing a donation for a facility to be built at Staples in return for naming rights?

    My alma mater has an endowment of $25 billion and still seeks alumni donations for major renovations and new facilities in return for the venue being named in honor of the donor (and this is done at many other universities),

    Plus, Westport has already taken a similar approach with respect to the Levitt Pavilion built on public property. Perhaps a very wealthy local squash enthusiast or a Staples alum who is passionate about the sport would be willing to finance this. And, if the current school/town naming policy prohibits this type of deal, perhaps that policy should be revisited.

  7. Kudos to the Staples students for taking the initiative to start a squash program! My daughter discovered squash as an 8th grader at Hopkins and co-captained the team last year as they placed 2nd in their division at Nationals. She loves this lifelong sport and is now on her college team. You can check out squash for yourself at College Team Nationals at Yale the next two weekends or in early March when Chelsea Piers in Stamford hosts the Individual Championships