Squash for all is the key target of the $40m Arlen Specter Center
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
Staging the U.S. Open in its spectacular new home provided a perfect backdrop as the $40m Arlen Specter US Squash National Center was officially opened last night in Philadelphia.
A congratulatory note from the White House was read out as President Joe Biden paid tribute to his friend, the late senator Arlen Specter, who was well known for packing a squash racket everywhere he went on his travels.
The family of Arlen Specter were the chief benefactors of this extraordinary project that has seen a state-of-the-art squash facility created inside a former armoury building on the campus of Drexel University.
Not only will the center provide a welcome training base for the nation’s leading players, it will also spearhead a determined nationwide drive to make squash affordable and accessible to communities on lower incomes.
Philadelphia, therefore, was the perfect choice for siting such a venture.
Even before the Covid pandemic, the city’s poverty rate stood at 23%, listed as 40% for Hispanics, 27% for Black people, 23% for Asian Americans, and 13% for White people, according to a report published by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Already, US Squash is paving the way for facilities to serve communities across the country, especially targeting low-income districts and incorporating outdoor courts to make these venues more visible to the public at large.
Their website report says: “The goal of the Community Initiative is to provide access and lifelong engagement in squash to people spanning the entire socio-economic spectrum, fostering lasting relationships across generations, genders, races and religions and building a lasting and diverse community rooted in shared values.
“Building off a strong foundation of traditional club and school-based models, squash communities of the future will be built around multi-purpose facilities which integrate a full range of programming.
“These community squash centers, featuring both indoor and outdoor courts, will dramatically increase access to the sport and bring a growing and diverse community together.
“This evolution of the sport requires investments in infrastructure to support the efforts of squash leaders nationwide, and to make gains in access sustainable. The US Squash Community Initiative, anchored by the Community Affiliate Network, will stimulate and support the establishment of centers nationwide.”
The language may sound a little too corporate, but actions speak louder than words. Sites already involved include Atlanta, Newport (Rhode Island), Portland Community Squash, MetroSquash Chicago, Access Youth Academy (San Diego), SL Green StreetSquash Center (Harlem), Urban Squash Cleveland, and two venues in Virginia, the Downtown Richmond YMCA and the Massad Family YMCA in Fredericksburg.
The need to provide affordable squash in multiple locations is of paramount importance as research shows that more than 400 facilities across the USA have closed their squash offering in the past eight years. Few people in squash seem aware of the fact that the IHRSA (International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association) and Sporting Goods Business magazine report a near 14% decline in US squash participation.
Changing the perceived image of squash is a key factor. Here in the UK, the game is often viewed as being too middle-aged and too middle-class. In America, the game is frequently perceived as being a pastime enjoyed by wealthy Ivy Leaguers.
The determination of US Squash, and Tim Wyant’s Squash and Education Alliance, to make the game relevant and accessible to low-income families in underserved communities is to be commended.
Harnessing the energy, passion and fundraising networks that led to last night’s official opening of the impressive Arlen Specter Center, they have every reason to be confident that this long-term project to give squash mass appeal across all sections of society will succeed.
‘This is a great night for America’
Report from US Squash:
The Arlen Specter US Squash Center held an official grand opening celebration Saturday, October 2, 2021 in Philadelphia. The ceremony, held during the 2021 U.S. Open Squash Championships presented by Truist, formally unveiled the world’s largest community squash center.
The Specter Center anchors the US Squash Community Affiliate Network, and joins existing Community Affiliate partners in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Virginia, Harlem, Newport, San Diego and Portland, Maine that share best practices and models to welcome and integrate people of all playing abilities, ages, faiths, and multicultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.
“We are excited to open the Specter Center and begin working closely with the community to realize our vision of ensuring everyone is able to enhance their health and well-being through squash,” said Kevin Klipstein, President & CEO of US Squash.
“The Specter Center proudly stands alongside facilities expanding access to the sport nationwide. We are fortunate to be located in the heart of a diverse and dynamic neighborhood in which we can provide access to thousands of new players, and we look forward to bringing visitors and athletes from around the country and the world to Philadelphia.”
The Specter Center is housed in the historic Pennsylvania State Armory Building on Drexel University’s campus and Philadelphia’s burgeoning University City. As the new home of squash in the U.S, the 20-court facility also houses the U.S. Squash Hall of Fame, a high-performance training center for Team USA athletes, the US Squash National Headquarters, and a Learning & Innovation Center through which SquashSmarts will expand its intensive out-of-school academic and athletic mentoring program.
The Specter Center will host numerous local, national and international competitions throughout the year, and will field the country’s first public school squash league with ten new school teams from throughout the city of Philadelphia.
The Specter Center’s opening during the U.S. Open marks ten years of partnership between Drexel University and US Squash that first brought the event to Philadelphia. The U.S. Open has been hosted in Drexel’s Daskalakis Athletic Center since 2011 until moving just across 33rd Street into its permanent home at the Specter Center.
The grand opening ceremony opened with a stirring rendition of the national anthem performed by Cameryn Strickland, a student at The University of the Arts, followed by Klipstein reading a congratulatory letter from President Joe Biden on the opening of the center and its naming in honor of his close friend and colleague, the late Senator Arlen Specter. Read President Biden’s letter in its entirety here.
Soo Venkatesan, the Chair of the Board of US Squash, spoke about three traits common to all squash players — including and especially Arlen Specter himself: “They are generous, tenacious and passionate,” she said, “and that is why we are able to open such a spectacular national center. And the center is about bringing in more of those people, a place for people who don’t yet know they are squash players — yet.”
The ceremony featured several video segments highlighting the impact that the Specter Center will have on the local community, and on the sport nationwide. In addition to Klipstein and Venkatesan, in-person speakers included John Fry, President of Drexel University; Jamie Gauthier, Councilmember of the City of Philadelphia; Dwight Evans, U.S. Congressman for the 3rd district of Pennsylvania; and Shanin Specter, founding partner of Kline & Specter, P.C. and son of Arlen Specter.
Before handing over the ribbon-cutting for the facility to a cross section of members of the Specter Center community and Sakora Miller, Specter Center Senior Manager of Community Squash Programming, Shanin Specter concluded the remarks for the evening.
“This is a great night for America,” he said. “This is a great night for Philadelphia. This is a great night for everyone. My father, if he was here tonight, would say, ‘Let’s play squash.’”
Watch a replay of the grand opening ceremony broadcast on the US Squash Youtube channel.
Pictures courtesy of US Squash