Rakey Drammeh was attending 7th grade at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Harlem when she first heard of the sport of squash. The staff from Street Squash was there to invite kids to participate in a new afterschool program that combined playing the game with tutoring assistance in pursuit of academic excellence.
At first Drammeh was put off by the idea but her father encouraged her to give it a try. She accepted her first racquet and safety glasses and embarked on a journey that not only taught her to love the game but took her from a B- minus average to nearly straight A’s.
Now, 6 years later, she is sophomore at Bates College in Maine where she majors in environmental studies. She has returned to the squash court to play with other alumni from the program. She credits the program with helping her improve as a student and helping her make lots of new friends.
Though the program began in Harlem, it has since spread to other urban centers such as Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Diego. In each city, the goal is still to drive academic excellence. High school level students in the program can even get assistance with SAT preparations.
The National Urban Squash Education Association claims that 93 percent of its urban squash graduates have gone on from the program to earn college degrees. To its credit, every student that has participated has graduated from high school. Of those graduates that choose to go on to college, 85 percent are on track to graduate on time. That speaks volumes for the success of the program.
The Street Squash program was started in 1999 by George Polsky, who used to play squash in his day at Harvard. Admittedly, getting kids excited about squash initially wasn’t easy. The first year saw only 28 participants where today the Harlem program has 150. Some of these kids go on to play squash on their college teams. Now that’s rewarding.