Squash squad

METROsquash“What you see in front of you is a bunch of junk.”

Alex Sisto, ’11, states the obvious, even if the half-dozen seventh- and eighth-graders in front of him are hoping for some greater underlying significance to the boxes of empty Gatorade bottles and cereal boxes at the head of the table.

One man’s trash is a tutor’s arts-and-crafts material. Sisto and four other tutors supplied the materials they had gathered over the previous several weeks for “junk sculptures” at METROsquash, an after-school and summer program joining squash practice with academics and activities for elementary-school students from Hyde Park and the surrounding neighborhoods. Minutes after Sisto’s pronouncement, all hands are active, cutting up the plastic bottles and taping together pieces of cardboard into a model city.

“I don’t think they get a lot of chances to work with their hands and actually build things—a lot of it is just sitting in a desk all day,” says Sisto, a work-study tutor at METROsquash since last October, “so we like to give them a chance to be creative.”

Squash isn’t normally known for its popularity in the urban community, but METROsquash executive director David Kay, a former squash pro, says “squash is a great unifier—people from many different backgrounds can play, meet, and share common values.” In addition to squash practice and competition, the program offers students help with schoolwork, assistance in the search for high school options, and mentoring for the older students.

It was a light group for the summer program on junk-sculpture building day, but since it began in 2005, METROsquash has grown from ten fifth-grade students its first year to about 60 fourth-through-ninth-graders expected when its after-school segment begins in August. With a full-time staff of several work-study and Lab Schools tutors and dozens of other volunteers, METROsquash’s extended community includes about 150 people.

Operating out of the University Church and Henry Crown Fieldhouse, METROsquash partners with the University’s Athletics Department and Office of Civic Engagement, which provide court space and work-study tutors through the Neighborhood Schools Program. Kay calls the University “a critical partner” in helping develop the program, though he sees it as a two-way street.

“METROsquash sees itself as a bridge between the University and the community,” Kay says. “Squash is a really wonderful sport. It’s a great differentiator for students who are trying to get into a good school, and we hope to see our students one day soon, within the next few years, knocking on the door of the University of Chicago and submitting some very compelling applications.”

Jake Grubman, ’11


July 28, 2009