Youth squash their way to success

Access Youth Academy to hold second annual fundraiser, “A Squash Soiree,” 6-10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18 at La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club

Although squash is considered by most to be an elitist East Coast sport, for the past eight years a nonprofit organization operating out of a business park near La Jolla has been leveling the playing field, introducing the sport to students from poor, underserved neighborhoods.

Each week after school, 10 students enrolled in the Preuss School at UC San Diego are picked up by van and driven to the Access Youth Academy campus in Sorrento Mesa, where they receive both academic tutoring and instruction in squash — a sport played on a court with racquets.

“For three hours half of the students are on the squash court learning the game, while the other half are getting … additional, very targeted, very specific tutoring and mentoring in subjects like math or English that (they may be) struggling with,” explained La Jolla resident and Access Youth Academy Board Chair Blair Sadler, the former chair and chief operating officer of Rady Children’s Hospital. “Many students have said that it made the difference in keeping their grade point average up or even increasing their grade point average to be able to get into a great college.”

Access Youth Academy will hold its second annual fundraiser, “A Squash Soiree,” 6-10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18 at La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, 2000 Spindrift Drive.

Tickets are $300 each or $3,000 per table at (858) 202-0406 or stayclassy.org/squashsoiree The gala will feature a cocktail hour, dinner, silent auction and guest speakers.

The a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization is funded by individuals or foundations, and events such as a beer run held last month at the Embarcadero downtown.

Students enter the program in seventh grade, continuing on until they graduate high school, receiving further guidance in their college years through the academy’s “Twelve Year Promise.”

Sadler said first-generation college students studying out of state at an institution like Columbia University or Dartmouth College often drop out without the support of family close by. “Through our academic enrichment program we want to make sure that they have the highest chance of graduating from college,” Sadler said. “I think we do a good job.”

Sadler, who was introduced to the game while a student at Amherst College in Massachusetts, said squash, played in 155 countries around the world, enriched his college experience and worldview. “I know what the game can do for young people,” Sadler said. “It encourages good habits, self-discipline, sportsmanship and leadership.”

Once Access students gain experience in the game during middle school, high school players travel to compete in squash competitions in Southern California and at colleges on the east coast — all funded by Access Youth Academy.

Most of the students have never set foot outside San Diego and have parents who never attended college. Sadler said the experience of traveling to colleges such Yale, Columbia or Harvard is transformative.

“The double whammy here is they’re not only learning to compete against other girls or boys their age from New York, Boston, Philadelphia or Chicago, but they’re also seeing these remarkable colleges and often seeing college teams play,” he said. “The results have been quite remarkable in the number of our graduates who have gotten into terrific places with full scholarships.”

Sadler said Access Youth Academy is considering developing a similar relationship with Hoover High School in City Heights to accept players. More at AccessYouthAcademy.org

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