When you think about high school sports, your brain likely conjures the usual: football, basketball, baseball—all the sports that for decades have served as the backdrop for inspiring movies about ragtag teenagers beating the odds. The last sport you’d probably think of is squash.
Squash is a game played with rackets on a walled-in indoor court. Players take turns hitting a hollow rubber ball onto the walls in a way that the opponent can’t return, like tennis played inside of a cube. Mission Squash is a Houston organization that uses this obscure sport as a tool for closing the achievement gap for under-served students.
“No normal child is like, ‘Please let me do an extra hour of math and English after school every day!’” joked Maggie Trendell, Director of Program Operations at Mission Squash. “Squash is really just the vehicle that hooks kids into wanting to stay after school and be able to get the intervention and support that they need.”
According to Mission Squash’s data, most of their student participants join the program performing two years behind grade level in school. Students participate in the program for seven years, from sixth to 12th grade, and when they aren’t playing squash, they are working one-on-one with tutors and completing quarterly academic testing. Mission Squash staff communicate regularly with teachers to identify scholars’ problem areas and stay abreast of their academic development.
And, of course, there’s squash.
In 2014, Mission Squash acquired funds to build out the auxiliary gym at Hogg Middle School into three squash courts and a classroom for the program’s use. This year, eight high school Mission Squash scholars who have maintained at least a 3.0 GPA competed in the high school Squash Nationals Tournament in Philadelphia on Feb. 9. Mission Squash competed against teams from all over the country, largely private school teams or teams from much larger urban squash programs, a far cry from extracurricular squash-playing in an auxiliary middle school gym.
But like everything in the Mission Squash program, the journey to the tournament isn’t just about squash. Many Mission Squash scholars don’t have many opportunities to travel outside of Texas, and the program maximizes their time spent traveling for squash tournaments to take high school students to tour out of state colleges and universities. 100% of Mission Squash scholars apply to four-year institutions after graduation, and the program prepares them by providing financial aid and scholarship support, SAT/ACT test preparation classes, high school internships, and more.
The Mission Squash team came in second place in the Squash Nationals, a massive feat for a team from such humble beginnings competing against larger programs with greater resources. This second-place victory is proof that no matter who they oppose, Mission Squash has readied their scholars to beat the odds, in squash and in life.