To most Southerners, squash is a vegetable not a sport, but with the grand opening last week of the five new squash courts inside the Johnson & Silcox Gymnasium, that could change.

Although the nonprofit Kids On-Point (KOP) has been using the courts since last summer after a four-month renovation of the existing racquetball courts, the official opening was held on the evening of Nov. 1, 2018, to thank the major donors, many of whom contributed $50,000 a piece. With a total of $500,000 in donations for the project, the new Kids On-Point Squash Center is open to students, faculty, staff and its namesake students from around Charleston.

Interim President Stephen C. Osborne Speaks at the squash court grand opening. (Photos by Heather Moran)

“As many of us know, it took a while to complete this project, but as you can see, the end result was well worth the wait,” said Interim President Stephen C. Osborne ’73, standing in front of one of the gleaming new courts. “I want to thank the donors who made this center possible. Thank you for your generosity and for your patience in getting the project off the ground and completed.”

Formerly Chucktown Squash, KOP is a robust after-school and summer program supported by the College that provides academic support and enrichment opportunities for under-served children in the fifth through 12th grades. The College has partnered with KOP since 2010, utilizing 65 undergraduate volunteers so far to provide tutoring, mentoring and guidance, many of whom receive credit for their work. Since the program began, 60 grade-school students have participated in it, two of whom are now students at the College.

“It’s a great program that’s going to be even better with this wonderful new facility to showcase,” said Fran Welch, the dean of the School of Education, Health and Human Performance, who has been integral in the partnership.

So why squash, the racquet sport invented in Britain in the 1830s that is often associated with elite universities in the Northeast? Turns out, there’s a growing urban squash and education movement in the U.S. since the first one began in Boston in 1995. Now there are 21 programs like KOP across the country, most of which operate under guidance of the Squash and Education Alliance.

“It’s a unique hook,” says Lauren Herterich, KOP’s executive director, of the sport. “But it’s not just about squash, it’s about academic and personal advancement, and exposing underserved kids to the world of opportunity.”

And what a world it is – three hours per day, five days per week during the school year and six weeks in the summer for all seven years in many cases (the program has a 94 percent retention rate). KOP even tracks the kids’ academic performance through college after they leave the program.

The evening concluded with a fast-paced exhibition between Peter Nicol – the first player from the UK to hold the No. 1 world ranking – and Peter Winzeler, KOP’s new director of squash.

“What an amazing job you’ve done here,” said Nicol, the founder of Nicol Champions Academy, which is helping to design the squash and character development curriculum for KOP. “I’m super excited with the potential here and such a motivated community.”

Featured image: KOP Director of Squash Peter Winzeler and pro squash player Peter Nicol competed in an exhibition match in a newly renovated squash court.