Nonprofit Spotlight: Cincinnati Squash Academy

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The Cincinnati Squash Academy is an urban squash program operating out of the Emmanuel Community Center in Over-the-Rhine where there are three brand new courts and a learning center. “We are aiming to blend squash and academics into one cohesive unit,” says Austin Schiff, executive director of CSA. The goal is to use squash as a motivation tool to keep kids accelerating their education.

Since the second grade, Schiff has played squash, a racket sport that has been around for more than 100 years. The game is played on a four-walled court with two or four players and a hollow rubber ball. CSA is the only urban squash program in Cincinnati and recruits from four low-income schools: Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School, Hays-Porter Elementary, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy’s Otto Armleder School and St. Joseph School.

We go into the school and do a presentation,” Schiff explains. “They sign up if they're interested and then they can come and try-out.” Try-outs can take four to seven months. Students begin at the bronze level to see if they fit well with the program; at silver they begin to track attendance and do a home visit to ensure the family is supportive and sees a future for their child in the program. Once a student reaches the gold level, they are fully enrolled in CSA and have complete access to all the resources, trips and the summer program. Try-outs are so extensive because it is very important that each accepted student succeeds in the program. “We want to be selective of the kids and families that we choose, knowing that this isn’t just a six-month fad,” Schiff says. He wants to find kids that are committed to staying in the program through high school.

CSA puts a major focus on school success along with learning squash. Kids come three times a week and their time is divided. Half the day is spent on the court and the other half is in the learning center working on homework and special projects. Rachel Parker, the academic director, works hard to help the students find their personal interests through different classroom projects and field trips. They have taken trips to the Cincinnati Art Museum and practiced gardening on Earth Day. At heart we are an education program,” Schiff saysTo the public we are squash, but it’s really much more than that.”

The main goal is not to train world-renowned squash players, but simply to provide education and motivation and to make sure the kids make it to college. They start preparing kids freshman year or earlier for college by exploring resume building, the application process and understanding financial aid. CSA took a group to Boston last year for an urban squash competition at Harvard University. When they weren’t playing, the students toured Harvard's campus. “A year ago, to them, squash was a vegetable or what you do to a roach on the family rug,” Schiff says. “Now they are on the all-glass show court at Harvard University playing a very traditionally high-class, high-brow sport.

Volunteers:

Currently CSA has 20-30 volunteers. Volunteers help on the court every day at practice. Experienced squash volunteers — the more skilled, the better — are invited to come and teach kids the meticulous technique that is so important to the game. You can do this during the school year or come for the 4-week summer program.

They need tutors in the classrooms and to chaperone trips. Schiff is looking for people who care and can connect with the kids. Volunteers as young as 12 can help in the learning center. “We want people who just love being with kids and want to push them to succeed,” Schiff says.

All volunteers must pass a background check.

Donations:

There is a big CSA fundraiser happening in April. Corporate sponsors are needed to provide squash supplies. Because all the athletic equipment is donated, rackets, goggles, shoes and squash balls are always in demand.

Basic school supplies like paper, pencils, dry-erase markers and a lot of disinfecting wipes are helpful in the learning center. CSA provides snacks for the students but haven’t had any luck getting a grant for fresh fruit and vegetables. Healthy snacks would be a great donation, but be mindful of students with allergies to peanuts and red dye.

The organization has its offices, referred to as the bunker, in the basement of the Emmanuel Community Center. The bunker is safe from nuclear fallout, but unfortunately is not very home-like. Schiff is looking for plants and art to spruce the place up. The office could also use a working copy machine because theirs recently broke.


For more information on CINCINNATI SQUASH ACADEMY, visit squashacademy.org.

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