Squash With Street Cred

Squash With Street Cred

Christian Henze, Williams Class of 2010 (back row, left), Jessica Lovaas, Williams 2006 (back row, right), and Tony Maruca, Williams 2008, (front row, center), with StreetSquash students in Harlem.
Christian Henze '10 (back row, left), Jessica Lovaas '06 (back row, right), and Tony Maruca '08 (front row, center), with StreetSquash students in Harlem. Photo by Peter Freed.

The squeak of sneakers. The pock-pock-pock of balls ricocheting off the walls. The clamor of adolescent voices. It’s a typical day at the Stephen L. Green StreetSquash Community Center in Harlem, where Williams alumni Christian Henze ’10, Jessica Lovaas ’06, and Tony Maruca ’08 provide academic enrichment, athletic instruction, and healthy doses of community service experience and college preparation to inner-city kids.

StreetSquash is one of nine so-called “urban squash” programs nationally that, over the course of 14 years, have served more than 1,000 youngsters, mainly from impoverished families, failing schools, and dangerous neighborhoods. The programs’ results are remarkable: Every one of the participants has graduated from high school. Ninety-three percent have graduated from college.

Urban squash traces its roots back to Greg Zaff ’84, Williams’ top player and a three-time all-American, who developed a case of socioeconomic claustrophobia during his seven years on the professional squash circuit. “We’d be playing in Detroit or Philly or Boston,” he says, “but we were all Ivy/Williams types doing something completely disconnected with the cities surrounding us.”

Zaff launched the first urban squash program, SquashBusters, in the greater Boston area in 1996 (winning a Bicentennial Medal from Williams in 2003 for his work). He then went on to found the National Urban Squash and Education Association, which counts among its leadership many former Williams squash players. Meanwhile, Ephs seem to have their hands in many of the urban squash programs around the country.

Read more about the rise of urban squash, and the Williams community’s role in it, in the March 2011 Williams Alumni Review. (For the text-only version, click here.)