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Racquet Up Detroit urban squash program bears fruit

Squash players

Squash players at Northwest Activities Center in Detroit.

By Warren E. McAlpine
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — After only two years since its establishment, Racquet Up Detroit, an urban program combining the athletic challenge of playing squash with academics, service and mentoring for youth has already yielded benefits for its participants and the community.

Based at the Northwest Activities Center in Detroit, Racquet Up serves 40 students in the program from two feeder Detroit Public Schools elementary schools, Schulze Academy and International Preparatory Academy at MacDowell.

Racquet Up is a member of the National Urban Squash Education Association (NUSEA), which includes similar programs in a dozen cities including New York City, Boston, Baltimore, New Haven, Minneapolis, Santa Barbara, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver and San Diego.

The executive director of the program, Derek Aguirre, is a Michigander who graduated from the University of Michigan and went on to acquire a master’s in business administration from Harvard University.

Aguirre worked with SquashBusters, the first such squash and education program, in Boston for several years before returning to Michigan to launch Racquet Up in Detroit.

Racquet Up Detroit student athletes have competed and placed in squash tournaments across the United States. Samantha Onwenu, a 4.0 DPS student and a top Racquet Up squash player, recently won the championship in her division during a weekend tournament in Chicago — the first such victory for a Detroit player.

Excellence in squash, like academics, requires discipline, effort and commitment, says Onwenu, who added that the Racquet Up Program has given her and her fellow teammates the opportunity to improve as students, learn and play the demanding sport of squash, as well as travel, meet and compete against fellow squash players at venues across the nation such as New York City, Chicago and Boston, among other places.

In Onwenu’s estimation, these are experiences far beyond what other kids her age even consider. Her goal, like many other young people in the program, is to continue with Racquet Up through high school, graduate and attend a university. It is important to note the vast majority of students in the National Urban Squash and Education programs like Racquet Up do, in fact, go on to college. Some of those students also obtain scholarships as a result of their high level of performance on the squash court and in the classroom.

The Racquet Up staff includes program coordinator Connie Loh, academic coordinator Patrick Morris and squash coach Emma Head, a former world-ranked squash champion from Great Britain.

In addition to the staff members, the program is buttressed by a number of volunteers in the classroom and on the squash courts.

To volunteer as a coach or tutor, or donate to support Racquet Up Detroit, call 313.600.9593, e-mail or visit Racquet Up Detroit is a 501c3 nonprofit organization and all contributions are tax deductible.

Warren E. McAlpine is a Metro Detroit lawyer, businessman and an avid squash player. He is a volunteer squash coach for Racquet Up Detroit.


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