By Joseph Tepper / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
An uptown after-school program has students competing harder in the classroom and on the court — the squash court, that is.
“StreetSquash” is serving up squash to Harlem middle and high school students.
Keeping them active, it turns out, can also be a great hook to improve their academic game.
“The real goal is to make sure these kids get a good education,” says George Polsky, the StreetSquash founder.
Polsky started the program in 1999 as a way to use a sport virtually unknown among Harlem kids to improve their chances of graduating high school and getting into college.
What started as 25 kids playing on a handful of borrowed courts has grown into 160-plus players in StreetSquash’s $9 million facility on W. 115th St. between Fifth and Lenox Aves.
“I think that it’s the community that we’ve created and the services we offer that has attracted all these kids,” Polsky says.
Danny Cabrera, a 17-year-old senior at Thurgood Marshall Academy, says he wasn’t the “squashhead” he is today when he joined the program seven years back.
Now, he competes with the organization’s top-ranked team. “I had no idea what squash was before I came here,” Cabrera says. “I thought it was just a vegetable.”
The program has no athletic requirements, but students are expected to show equal commitment to the sport and their schoolwork.
They spend four sessions per week playing squash and engaging in academics through SAT prep, college advising and private tutoring.
“You don’t have to be a squash superstar,” said Cabrera, who hopes to make the Colby College squash team in the fall. “Even if you come here as the worst student and the worst squash player, you just have to stay dedicated on the court and in the classroom to succeed.”
StreetSquash boasts a 100% high school graduation rate, and program organizers say that 85% of those students go on to graduate from college.
“The program helps them get an education, go to college, graduate from college and find employment,” Polsky says. “Whether they can hit a forehand or not, that’s not relevant to me.”
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