Move over, basketball. A nontraditional sport has unexpectedly worked its way into a number of inner-city neighborhoods nationwide.
Over the past decade, a string of urban squash programs have been popping up across the country, in hopes of helping underprivileged students develop better exercise skills and providing academic assistance.
“They were like, [it’s] squash,” Sakora Miller told AP, reminiscing on her introduction to the racquetball-like sport years ago in seventh-grade. SquashSmarts, a Philadelphia after-school program, had been visiting Miller’s gym class to recruit students to try-out the alien-sounding sport.
“I was like, I’m not learning that,” said Miller. “It’s not for me.”
MUST READ: 12 Toys For Your Sports Obsessed Kid
Still, she decided to try out the new sport and proved to have a knack for squash. Fast forward to 2014, where the 23-year-old upcoming Penn State graduate has just been hired as squash director.
On a mission to “[give] kids their best shot,” SquashSmarts and 14 additional programs in cities like Baltimore, Bronx, Harlem, Oakland and Chicago serve about 1,400 students and boast a combined annual budget of more than $7 million. Plans to expand programming to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Hartford, Conn. and Cartagena Colombia are currently in the works.
Due to the foreign nature of squash in urban neighborhoods, a number of students have no qualms about rejecting the sport at first glance. Like Miller, current SquashSmarts participant Joshua Smith was reportedly skeptical about the joining.
“What is squash? That’s stupid,” he thought, mirroring Miller’s initial disbelief.
“And then I tried it,” the 13-year-old eighth-grader told AP, “and I love it now.”
The urban squash programs originally operated independently, after a squash pro began the first initiative in Boston in 1995. However, since 2005, the programs have banded together as members of the National Urban Squash and Education Association, the New York-based umbrella organization.
The growth of these unconventional programs was aided by a simultaneous growth in the sport (squash’s popularity reportedly increased from 600,000 in 2007 to almost 1.3 million in 2012) and an unforeseen accessibility to well-maintained facilities thanks to a global ruling on squash courts.
Apart from being trained in a sport typically associated with privilege in the U.S., program participants also receive travel opportunities, intensive mentoring and partake in community service–three things guaranteed to impress a college admission counselor. On a microlevel, the award-winning urban squash programs also track the cardiovascular fitness of each student, as well as grade-point averages and college placements.
“In a district with a high dropout rate, all those who stayed in the club for seven years have graduated on time and been accepted to college,” SquashSmarts’ executive director Stephen Gregg told AP.
Ultimately, Gregg points to former alum like Miller who are prime examples of the change that the urban squash programs are striving to achieve.
“When the students of SquashSmarts grow up to become the academic directors, the squash directors, the executive directors of this program,” said Gregg, “that, to me, is change in a community.”
Also On HelloBeautiful:
1. Blue. #May10 #NYC
2. Daddy & Me
Blue Ivy walks across mommy's at-home photoshoot, but it's the most adorable photobomb ever!
4. One Big Happy Family
The royal family, Bey, Jay & Blue are all out shopping and we're sure they spent our entire life's savings in 30 minutes or less.
5. Beyoncé, Jay Z & Blue in Beverly Hills — Nov. 11
Beyonce in these heels though?!
6. Beyoncé & Blue in NYC — Nov. 4
Look at Blue in her adorable little bow!
7. Beyoncé & Blue spotted in NYC — Nov. 4
Blue holding on to mommy for dear life.
8. Beyoncé & Blue spotted in NYC — Nov. 4
Momma Bey looking fierce with her mini me in tow.
9. Blue dressed as Michael Jackson.
10. Blue & Ivy
Just look at that face. Seriously, Jay could never deny this child! She knows how to make all his mean mugs!
11. Beyoncé, Jay Z & Blue in Beverly Hills — Nov. 11
Look at that cutie!
12. Beyoncé, Jay Z & Blue in Beverly Hills — Nov. 11
OMG Blue in a top knot? Yasss!
Blue has grown up to be an adorable toddler! We're swooning over this photo of her playing on the beach.
Looks like Blue is taking a walk in mom's shoes...literally.
15. Beyoncé & Blue
There's nothing like being cuddled up in mom's arms.
Blue is looking all kinds of adorable! Look at that left hand go! LOL.
17. Blue On The Big Screen
Bey & Jay look at Blue during a video played at an "On The Run" tour stop. How precious!
18. Pardon Blue's Back
She's growing up so fast! We're loving the top knot. Take that Blue Ivy hair critics!
19. Jump Around
Bey & Blue share an adorable moment on the trampoline. Hello summer!
20. Rocking Some Cute Ponytails
Blue Ivy was spotted with a new 'do! Bey & Jay's mini-me was holding on to her father during a little day stroll.
21. Strolling With Mom & Dad
Blue, Jay and Bey all spotted in East Hampton.
22. Blue Has A Manicure Day With Mama Bey
"Me and my Blue, and my Blue Blue, riding🐝"
23. Hanging Out With Mom
Baby Blue is walking to the door, and it looks like Bey is trying to keep up!
24. Trying On Some Heels
Will Blue be slaying a performance in the near future?
25. Holding On To Mom
Blue looks like she has something to say to Bey.
26. Playing A Game Of Tennis
Blue walks on the tennis court.
27. Cuddling With Mom
Blue & Beyonce have some much-needed cuddle time.
28. Blue Ivy
"The blueprint 🐝"
29. Bey & Blue Take A Stroll
Doesn't Blue look adorable with her colorful dress and cute hair ribbon?
30. The Carter Lounge Together
The family was seen out and about.
31. Jay Z Carries Blue While Bey Looks On
Jay carries Blue in his arms.
32. Leading The Way
Blue Ivy looks too cute with her bowler hat and Mama Bey watching from behind. She's really growing up!
33. Out On The Town
Blue Ivy & Momma Bey enjoy some much deserved time off in Spain.
34. Traveling With Mom and Dad
Blue is used to traveling with Mama Bey and Poppa Jay, but she also looked a little flustered at some moments. It's ok, baby Blue!
35. A Day At The Park
Poppa Jay Z lets Blue Ivy have her way with the bouncy horse.
36. It's A Family Affair
Beyonce, Jay and Blue jetsetting in Dublin.
Blue dressed up like a hipster and plays a quick game of peekaboo! How adorable!
38. OMG It's Blue's Beautiful Face!
FINALLY! We get to see how beautiful Blue is! Look at the adorable headband! "Blue 💙"
39. Blue Ivy
Life's a beach!
40. Brooklyn Stand Up!
"Beyonce & Blue"
41. Blue Ivy's Got Her Own iPhone
"Momma, what's your password?"
42. Beyonce's Lazy Day With Blue
"Momma, I asked you for your password!"
43. When Blue Ivy Takes Your Phone, Beyonce Be Like...
"Fine, I'll go ask Daddy!"
44. Blue Ivy On Tour
"Bey & Blue"
45. It's Playtime
Beyonce & Blue take some time out to play.
46. A Chilly Day In NYC
"Beyoncé, Jay Z and Blue Ivy in NYC - Jan. 19"
47. All Bundled Up
The royal family makes their way to their fancy car.
48. Kisses From Dad
Blue's all bundled up, getting love from Daddy.
49. Blue At The White House
Blue Ivy's taking after mommy and writing a letter.
50. Blue Loves Bo
The White House pup, Bo is showing Blue Ivy some love.
51. The Carters At The White House
Check out the royal family checking out the scene at the White House.
52. It's Christmas Time Again
Blue and Bey checking out the White House Christmas tree.
53. Blue Lovin' Bo
Blue Ivy, dressed like a Princess, showing Bo some love.
54. Like Father, Like Daughter
Blue playing dress up with Daddy's hat.
55. Fun Times With Mommy
Blue Ivy spends some QT with mommy.
56. Mommy & Me
Blue and Bey take a break for some snacks.
57. Silvery Blue
Beyonce carries Blue, while the adorable toddler rocks a metallic jacket that we want and need.
58. The Holy Grail
Blue, Bey & Jay
59. One Big Happy Family
"#miami #newyear #2014"
"Beyoncé & Blue 💙"
61. Blue & Daddy In A Blue Jacket
"Jay and Blue 💙 #NewYear #2014 #Miami"
62. Hold On To Me
"Happy New Year Mommy!"
63. Dora Dora Dora The Explorer
"Beyoncé, Blue and Dora the Explorer"
64. Daddy & Bey
"Look over there Blue, you own that too."
65. Blue's Big B-Day
"Mommy make sure they can only see the back of my head."
66. Painted Faces For Blue's Bday
"Let me get down Mommy, I wanna play!"
67. Kisses From Mommy
Beyonce and Blue prepping for Momma Tina's Masquerade Ball
68. Talk To The Hand!
Beyonce, Jay Z and Blue Ivy were spotted leaving Joey's restaurant in Miami, on January 8th, and Blue had a message for the paps! Talk to the hand!
69. Me & My Daddy
While Beyonce's arm rested, Jay carried Blue from Joey's restaurant, in Miami on January 8th.
70. Blue's First Words
"I'm ready to slay right along with you, Ma!"
71. Imagine The Sound Of This Lullaby
A newborn Blue Ivy gets serenaded by her superstar mother.
72. Don't Mess With Blue!
Every now and again, Blue Ivy reminds you...she is her father's child!
73. All Gold Everything
Blue Ivy takes after her dad's swag. The inseparable duo were spotted in South Beach, Miami illuminating the streets outside their hotel with their yellow luster!
74. All Of The Lights!
"Mommy! All the pretty colors are so blinding! I'm...just..so..overwhelmed! When's my shot coming?! When's my shot coming?!" Blue plays on set with Bey at her 'Blow' video shoot.
75. Hey Blue!
"I can be happy sometimes, see?"
76. Blue Ivy With Daddy
"Why are we clapping, again? I'm not in the shot."
77. Jay Z Tries To Get Blue To Listen To "Magna Carta Holy Grail"
"Daddy, I'm more of a Nas fan."
78. Stepping With Mom
"Wait, Ma. I want the camera to see all angles of this sick dress!"
79. Splashin' & Playin'
"Mom, this water is clean, right? Because I'm not trying to splash in water I can't trust."
80. Beyonce Discusses Important Matters
"Mommy, I completely get it. Yes, I promise to watch the throne."
81. Mommy's Hugs
"Ok, Ma. I love you to pieces, but I like oxygen too." Bey may be the Queen, but this scene from her video "Blue" makes it look as if she can't get enough of being Mom.
82. Blue Ivy Twirls
"Aaaahh, I'm having so much fun not thinking about anything...wiippeee...oh, wait...getting a little sick."
83. Just So You Know...
"I run things. Don't get it twisted."
84. Mommy & Me Loungin'
"Oh, Mommy, I'm so tired of seeing the wigs you snatched last night all on our floor. It's so exhausting. Like, when're they getting picked up? Not now? Oh. Ok."
85. A Kiss For Blue
"Mommy, let me sleep, dang!"
86. Slurpin' On That Milk...Slurpin' Slurpin' On That Milk
"Mommy, gimme that bottle!"
We could watch this adorable GIF of Blue Ivy nonstop forever!
88. Jay Sneaks In Kisses
"Dadddd! Get..Away!..I don't want...No, ugh..No kisses!"
89. Blue Stares Back...
"Hey! Who's that?!"
90. Blue Still Doesn't Get Why Anyone's Here
"No, really, who are you? You're getting to close."
91. Blue and Bey Out For Lunch
"I'm over this now. People just won't let us be. Mom, why can't we just be?!"
92. Blue Is One Tough Cookie
"Ma, please let me just kick them in the face. Like, please, I can't see through all these lights."
93. Blue Jetsets With Jay
"Dad, do we own this boat? I just figured we owned everything, so..."
94. Beyonce Keeps Blue Covered
"Mommy, I think you forgot my feet. I'm cold right now. Are we inside?"
95. Beyonce LOVES Her Blue
Look at that face, how could you not kiss it?!
96. Blue Swings With Mommy
"I like the swing, this is nice, Mom--Oh, I'll let you pose for that shot."
97. Blue Decked Out In Pink
"Are we actually meeting people right now? Oh, I'll get it together, then."
98. A Hot Pink Summer
"Doesn't my mom look absolutely amazing? I know you're hating right now."
99. Working Her Moves
"Was Blue trying out Bey's bootylicious moves already?"
100. Mean In Green
"I'm going to be just as tall as you soon, Mommy! And, by soon, I mean tomorrow."