By Amy Patton
It’s a sport that has flown somewhat under the radar over the past seven years since five courts were installed at Southampton Youth Services’ (SYS) Elmaleh/Stanton Center. Squash — a fast-paced indoor racquet game that has traditionally been associated with the Ivy League — has been described as a hybrid of racquetball and handball. According to Walter “Wally” Glennon, the president of Southampton Squash, Inc. it is also a sport that has seen its share of enthusiastic participants expand over the years in this country.
“The sport is growing very rapidly here in the United States, especially in the amateur ranks,” said Glennon, a part-time coach at SYS and a board member with the organization.
And local kids are grabbing racquets and getting onto the court, too. A summer camp at SYS is in full swing this month and next with squash instruction and play offered as part of the overall sports learning environment for youth. Glennon, who compared the evolution of squash to “what tennis was 50 years ago,” noted the sport has become so popular, in fact, that a professional woman’s competition is making its way to the East End next week boasting a sizeable purse.
The Women’s Doubles Squash Association (WDSA), an eight-team professional event with a $20,000 prize, comes to SYS July 12 through July 15 and the youth squash program is set to receive an infusion of cash as a result. The proceeds of the event will go to a non-profit program to give kids at SYS, even those whose families cannot afford it, admittance to the squash courts as well as lessons.
“The biggest priority for us is to provide the opportunity of access to the squash courts, so that people in the community who want to play are able to,” explained Narelle Krizek, the head of the WDSA.
Krizek, an Australian native who currently lives in New Jersey with her husband and children, is obviously passionate about the sport. She began playing squash when she was a young girl growing up in the city of Brisbane. While she wants to bring the sport into the consciousness of all young athletes, she acknowledges there is a price tag attached to the game.
“It costs money to run these not-for-profit programs such as the one in Southampton [SYS],” she said. “We chose them as a beneficiary of our tour proceeds because they open their doors to allow anyone to play and that’s why we wanted to support the facility.”
She cited the availability of a doubles court — SYS has five singles courts and one doubles court — as another factor that spurred her team to choose SYS as a venue at which to hold the upcoming tourney, titled the First Annual Wilson Cup.
Sponsored financially by Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management, Talmage LLC and Saratoga Partners, the competition will feature top WDSA players from the United States and other countries, including those who have earned their ranking playing throughout North America this past season. The women will also host a pro-am tournament in which players will team up with local amateurs who will pay for the privilege of competing with professional “squashies” as they are sometimes dubbed in Australia.
A recent visit to the SYS facility on Majors Path in Southampton found local youth hard at work on the courts, practicing drills and game strategy under the watchful eye of Egyptian-born coach Sayed Selim.
Fifteen year-old Alex Patricolo, a sophomore at Westhampton Beach High School, has been playing squash since the age of 11. Last year, he garnered a national junior ranking of 38.
“It’s a fast-paced game and you really have to be on your toes a lot to know what’s going on,” he said. “You need to have a good sense of anticipation too. You always have to be thinking about what type of shot the other player has planned next.”
While there’s no doubt that squash has millions of fans throughout the world, don’t expect to see it represented at the Olympics in London this summer. Although technically recognized as an Olympic sport by the International Olympic Committee, Krizek said squash hasn’t yet been approved for competition.
But there are hopes that, by 2016, as the sport grows in popularity the game will finally receive a nod from the IOC.
The Women’s Doubles Squash Association (WDSA) 1st Annual Wilson Cup presented by Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management will be played at SYS’s Elmaleh/Stanton Squash Center at 1370A Majors Path in Southampton July 12 through July 15. For more information, call 287-1511.
Above: Cameron Burton goes for a forehand against Cameron Munn during the squash summer camp at the Elmaleh-Stanton Squash Center at the SYS facility in Southampton on July 2. Photography by Michael Heller