IVCA Civic Engagement Profiles – Doug Grissom, Madison Dearborn Partners serves up MetroSquash

IVCA Civic Engagement Profiles – Doug Grissom, Madison Dearborn Partners serves up MetroSquash

February 17, 2016

The definition of civic engagement is the following: individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.

This week Doug Grissom, Managing Director at Madison Dearborn Partners introduces us to MetroSquash, a Chicago leader in promoting academic achievement, healthy lifestyles, and access to opportunity for youth. 

Doug played squash for 4 years in college and knows the discipline that comes from seriously playing a sport.  He is a believer in the power of combining a physical activity like squash with supportive academic services.  Doug is an avid squash player and has been involved in MetroSquash for 10 years; serving on both the Board and the Executive Committee. 

MetroSquash’s mission is to engage underserved Chicago youth through academic support, squash and wellness, mentoring, enrichment, and community service to develop high school ready middle schoolers, college ready high schoolers, and career ready adults.

MetroSquash, which launched in 2005, combines athletic instruction, academic tutoring, and wellness programming. The combination has helped some students gain admission to well-regarded charter schools, prestigious out-of-state boarding schools, and top ranked colleges.  In the fall of 2016, MetroSquash will have 43 students enrolled in a diverse range of colleges such as, Bates, Denison, U of I Champaign, Northwestern, UIC, Lake Forest College, and many others.

The goal of the Squash curriculum is to empower our students to be fit, healthy and active through the vehicle of squash.

They accomplish this by:

  • Squash instruction from trained professionals
  • Competitive play
  • Wellness and nutritional awareness
  • Fitness curriculum
  • Emphasis on sportsmanship and teamwork

Football, basketball and boxing have long been portrayed as tickets out of low-income neighborhoods, giving young people dreams of college scholarships or pro careers. But in recent years, other sports have begun to offer a different vision of athletic deliverance.

Sports such as lacrosse, squash and sailing are pastimes generally associated with the wealthy and privileged. Boosters who bring these sports to underserved students say they offer an old-fashioned kind of social uplift by creating the habits, friendships and educational opportunities that can help teens connect with successful people.

Former squash pro Greg Zaff sparked the urban squash movement in 1996 when he founded SquashBusters, the Boston-based prototype on which all subsequent programs have been modeled, which combines squash, academics and community service to expose inner-city kids to a world beyond their neighborhoods.

MetroSquash launched in 2005 with 10 5th graders from one South Side elementary school.  The program has expanded as the original students aged: moving from middle school, to high school and recently to college.  The goal is to help students excel at school and squash, to make a best fit choice for high school and then college with significant support at each step along the pathway. 

Today MetroSquash serves over 400 students through out of school and summer programming.  Its successes are impressive:

  • 100% high school graduation and 100% college acceptance/enrollment since 2013.
  • Average SSAT scores improved by 64 points for 8th grade students due to Prep Sessions.
  • 7 Students have gained acceptance to boarding school over the last 5 years.
  • 88% of MetroSquash college students are on track to graduate
  • Over 62 College acceptances for the graduating high school Class of 2016.
  • $2 million Financial Aid and scholarships earned by our college students.
  • 60 U.S. Cities MetroSquash students have traveled to for squash tournaments, college and boarding school tours, and cultural outings.
  • 6 Countries MetroSquash students have traveled to for squash tournaments, cultural outings, college and boarding school tours.

The program initially met at UChicago’s Crown Field House for squash and a building down the street for tutoring.  In 2013 a campaign to build a freestanding facility went public and MetroSquash raised $8 million from 400 donors. Almost all the support came from Chicago; 100% of the MetroSquash families contributed. 

In May, 2015 MetroSquash opened the doors to its own 21,000 sq. ft. building - the MetroSquash Academic & Squash Center located at 61st Street & Cottage Grove Avenue in Woodlawn. The new facility has four classrooms, locker rooms and a parent lounge. There are eight squash courts—seven singles courts and one doubles court—making it the largest facility in Chicago and one of the largest squash facilities outside the east coast.

Executive Director David Kay has run the program since 2005; he joined within a year of the organization's founding.   Programming runs seven days a week and students commit to participating a minimum of eight hours a week, split evenly between squash and academics.  MetroSquash also offers summer programs and external opportunities for competitive play and travel.

MetroSquash has been innovative in many ways including its use of an active auxiliary board of younger friends of the program that hold a variety of events like ice skating and bowling. It is the beneficiary of the Windy City Open, one of the oldest and largest pro events in the country and of a pro-am doubles tournament. Above all, it was the first urban program to actively be involved in running a major professional tournament, the spectacular 2010 MetroSquash U.S. Open held in Millennium Park in downtown Chicago.

If interested IVCA members want to get involved, what are the options?

We are always looking for mentors, volunteers to tutor and to teach squash and, of course, we always need financial supporters.

Click here for a full list of board members.