Specter Center aims to be a top venue and the driving force for growing squash across America
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
The 2021 US Open is moving to a spectacular new home in October when the event is staged inside the Arlen Specter US Squash Center.
The PSA World Tour Platinum tournament will be held from October 2-9, 2021 at the spacious and well-equipped converted drill hall in Philadelphia.
The Specter Center boasts 18 singles courts and two hardball doubles courts. It will also house the US Squash Hall of Fame, offer world-class high-performance training resources to Team USA athletes, serve as the US Squash national headquarters, and operate a Learning and Innovation Center in partnership with SquashSmarts, Philadelphia’s award-winning urban squash and education program.
The confirmation of the 2021 US Open dates marks a key milestone in the comeback of the sport after the cancellation of the 2020 tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The best professional squash players from around the world (48 women and 48 men) will descend on Philadelphia to compete for the US Open title and equal prize purses. In 2013, the US Open became the first major tournament to offer prize money parity for both sexes.
The 2021 US Open marks the 10th edition of the event run in partnership between US Squash and Drexel University, during which time the event has secured its place as one of the world’s top events and a mainstay on the Philadelphia sports calendar.
The US Open will anchor the opening season of the Specter Center on Drexel University’s campus in Philadelphia’s burgeoning University City.
“When Drexel and US Squash first partnered on the U.S. Open more than ten years ago, we believed it would bring international attention to Philadelphia and make a significant impact on the sport in the US,” said Drexel University President John Fry.
“We are very proud to be part of this 10-year milestone at the Specter Center, the U.S. Open’s new home.”
The Specter Center will aim to connect all threads of squash in America. The facility will act as the headquarters for the US Squash Community Affiliate Network and aim to provide broad community access from its location in one of 22 federally-designated Promise Zone neighbourhoods, while at the same time delivering an innovative broadcast and entertainment venue that will amplify the presentation of events like the US Open.
The Specter Center will begin hosting limited activities this spring with a gradual ramping up of activity through the summer, leading into full programming in the fall and a grand opening event during the US Open.
Defending their 2019 US Open titles will be World No.2 Noran Gohar and World No.1 Ali Farag. Team USA has four women in the top 25 for the first time, including national No. 1 Amanda Sobhy, who is now at a career-high world No. 5 ranking and reached the final of her most recent PSA platinum event, the Black Ball Open in Egypt last month.
“Cancelling the 2020 event was an obvious yet still difficult decision, and the professionals have suffered this last year,” said US Squash President and Chief Executive Kevin Klipstein.
“We are very pleased to be able to put the U.S. Open back on the calendar to celebrate and showcase their incredible athleticism.
“The Specter Center will be a magnificent venue: comfortable and welcoming to players and the community, and at the same time, capable of hosting world-class events such as this.
“To have the 10th hosting in Philadelphia be the first at the Center is special, and none of it would have been possible without Drexel’s early and generous support.”
Ned Edwards, Executive Director of the Specter Center, added: “A National Center has been a long dream for the sport of squash. Creating the Specter Center within the vast, majestic Drexel Armory Building located two blocks from Philadelphia’s 30th Station has been an opportunity beyond what we could have imagined.
“This has been a huge undertaking and has only been possible with an amazing cross-section of supporters and enduring partnerships with Drexel University, SquashSmarts and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We can’t wait to see visitors at the Specter Center and to share it with many brand-new members to our wonderful squash community.”
Throughout the coming year, the Specter Center will host a series of opening events to bring in constituents from the entire squash community and showcase the potential of the facility to individuals and partner organizations.
US Squash will continue to treat the safety of players, visitors and staff as paramount throughout the opening of the Specter Center – the 75,000 square foot space provides ample room to not overcrowd the space – though as always, plans may adjust as the circumstances of the pandemic change.
The Way Forward to National Level Competition
The 2021-2022 national championships calendar is expected to be posted in draft form in the coming weeks and could potentially include fall 2021 national events in order to avoid missing yet another year in the history books.
As announced earlier this month, US Squash will follow a three-stage process from April through September 2021 for the return to national junior competition and tournament points-based junior rankings. Stage 1, beginning April 12, incudes “preparation for play”, with Stage 2 starting six weeks after this “pre-season” on May 28. Point-earning tournaments will resume in Stage 2. Stage 3, beginning on September 8, will mark the resumption of points-based rankings.
Over the coming weeks and months, US Squash will release more detailed information on plans to support the return to play and competition at the national level and in conjunction with the opening of the Specter Center – including everything from community access to competitions, memberships and more special events.
“The world has experienced previously unimaginable difficulties in these modern times, our sport and community members included,” said Kevin Klipstein, President & CEO of US Squash. “More than a year after the organization’s decision to suspend accredited play and national championships, we are so inspired by people’s spirit and resilience, and are really looking forward to not only welcoming people back to the courts, but also welcoming them to their center, the Specter Center. We’re so fortunate to have this home now, which we are confident will begin to transform the way the game is accessed, presented, and experienced.”
Tickets for the U.S. Open are expected to go on sale in June of 2021.
Pictures courtesy of US Squash and PSA