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Leveling the playing field for academic success

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

SquashBusters, an after-school youth enrichment program located on Northeastern University’s campus, marked its 15th anniversary with the annual SquashBusters Derby that included spirited squash matches and a celebration of student achievements and the program’s success.

Since SquashBusters began in 1996, nearly all of the 300 participating urban youths have graduated middle and high school, with 90 percent going on to college. SquashBuster students start the program in sixth grade and continue through high school. Youths not only learn the game of squash, but also receive hands-on academic help and perform community service.

At the event, Northeastern was among the community partners honored for its longstanding support of the program. Peter Roby, Northeastern’s director of athletics and a member of the SquashBusters board of directors, said the program levels the playing field for many local youths to succeed academically and attend college. It also helps them learn more about themselves, and how to play a sport that is foreign to many inner-city children, he said.

“It’s a source of pride for us at Northeastern, and it’s certainly a source of pride for everyone associated with SquashBusters,” said Roby, who accepted an award on the University’s behalf.

The fifth-annual SquashBusters Derby, held on May 7 at the Badger & Rosen SquashBusters Center, corresponded with the running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

The eight derby teams were each comprised of a professional squash player, amateur players and SquashBuster youths. The first leg of the SquashBusters Derby was held in the months prior to the event, as teams worked to raise money and support for the program. On the day of the derby, the teams competed in round-robin matches, with players facing off one-on-one depending on their skill level.

Among the visitors in attendance were men donning suits and women in stylish dresses and fancy hats — mirroring the crowd gathered for the Kentucky Derby, which was shown live on a big screen.

SquashBusters moved to Northeastern’s campus in 2003 with the completion of the state-of-the-art Badger & Rosen SquashBusters Center. Greg Zaff, founder of SquashBusters, said this partnership played a pivotal role in the program’s success, and has sparked the growth of other urban squash programs for youth nationwide.

“Northeastern gave us a shot, and we succeeded because of Northeastern,” he said.

Ming Tsai, an award-winning chef and longtime squash player, served up Asian sloppy joes at the derby. Tsai, a member of the SquashBusters advisory board, said, “I’ve seen what this program does for these kids. It changes their lives.”