Courtesy of Trinity Sports Information
HARTFORD, Conn. - Trinity squash players are known for their prowess on the court and in the classroom. What many people do not know, however, is the extent of their passion for coaching and mentoring. This year, Trinity has partnered with Capitol Squash, a new urban squash program that provides both squash and academic enrichment to students of Hartford.
Capitol Squash recruits students in fourth and fifth grade at Dr. Michael D. Fox School, a neighborhood Hartford Public School. An overwhelming 99 percent of students from M.D Fox qualify for free or reduced lunch. To provide students from Hartford schools with opportunities they otherwise may not have experienced, Hartford students and Trinity students meet at least three days each week after school for three hours of squash and academic coaching. The goals of the program are character building and college placement.
Trinity Men's Squash Head Coach Paul Assaiante is proud of Trinity's partnership with Capitol Squash. "We're a school with an urban setting," he said. "That's what defines us. Rather than build the walls up, we need to bring them down, and by doing so, we are celebrating students' experience of engaging with the community. It is so heartwarming to see what happens when you give hope to young people for whom breaking out from the community is a task."
Trinity Women's Squash Head Coach Wendy Bartlett agrees. "It is their chance to give back to the community by teaching, tutoring, and coaching area youth. All the Trinity students who volunteer act as motivators for the Capitol Squash students, and shows them that college is an attainable goal. My experience has been nothing but positive! To see these kids walk up to the courts every day, watch them improve as squash players and as students, and see their excitement, is very rewarding," she said.
Meg Taylor, the Executive Director of Capitol Squash, attributes much of the program's success to Trinity students, who are an integral and indispensable part of the program. "Each day we have at least two Trinity players on court with our students. Our students look forward to seeing these players each day, as they are role models both as athletes and individuals," she said. "Capitol Squash is incredibly fortunate to be partnered with Trinity Squash. Our students are mentored, tutored, coached, and inspired by elite squash players and coaches, who epitomize what Capitol Squash is aiming to achieve."
Hartford students apply to be part of the Capitol Squash program. Students are selected based on various factors including effort, parental involvement, teacher references, athletic ability, character, and attitude. The program intends to keep students involved from the fourth grade until they graduate from college.
Capitol Squash is part of a larger network of urban squash programs. The National Urban Squash and Education Association has 15 programs across the country with more than 1,500 elementary, middle, high school, and college students enrolled nationwide. Aside from the academic mentoring, Urban squash gives students a chance at winning athletic scholarships. Urban squash students have won over $20 million in high school and college scholarships. There are 38 urban squash alumni currently involved in collegiate squash at various colleges around the country.
John Lamont is a senior on Trinity's squash team and has been heavily involved with Capitol Squash in Hartford. "It has been a humbling experience to help out with Capitol Squash. I know many squash players playing collegiately who are products of an Urban Squash program. When I was playing in junior squash tournaments and made my way to an American event, there was always an Urban Squash program in attendance. To see an Urban Squash program in Hartford is wonderful since I have seen firsthand how it can provide a gateway for kids to not only fall in love with the game but to get them playing the sport in college," he said.
Jillian Davey is a first-year on Trinity's squash team and has also been heavily involved with the program. Despite the fact that she cannot coach with the program due to an injury, her love for the program has inspired her to stay involved. "I was in a photography class this semester, where we had to find a story to cover for the whole semester and I asked Meg Taylor if I could use Capitol Squash as my story. I love photography and want to be a photojournalist so I offered to help out for the next four years that I am here with Capitol Squash's media related projects. Meg loved the idea. So now I take pictures of the kids and have written several articles about them. I created a Flickr account for Capitol Squash so that everyone can see just how great this program is, and what everyone is doing to help these kids. Some of my pictures have been sent out to all of the CS parents and sponsors and one was even used by the National Urban Squash and Education Association in an email to all of their affiliate organizations to show the great strides that Capitol Squash is making," she said.
Lamont's experience has been equally satisfying. "I believe in giving back to the game. I was fortunate to have older players play with me when I was just starting out. I used to be in awe when an older kid would come on my court to hit with me. I wanted to be as good as them one day. If just being on court with one of these young kids strengthens their love of the game, that alone is gratifying," he said.
"I can't even begin to put words how much this program is going to do for these students," Davey said. "Not only are they gaining these skills but they are getting one on one attention and help with their schoolwork, learning what it means to love a sport and work hard, forming valuable friendships, and learning skills that will directly help them achieve their dreams. Every single one of these kids is so ambitious. I asked them what they wanted to be when they grow up, and the answers ranged from doctors, to EMTs, to teachers, to artists, to fire-fighters, to policemen and everything in between. And knowing that this program will actually help them achieve their dreams – there are no words for that. I can't even begin to say how much that means. As for me, I love every second of it. I always walk away with a smile on my face."