Article by Kristi Maroc, photography by Julieanne Harris.
“Imagine the First Lady of the United States, the Secretary of Health and Human Services and two dozen prominent mayors from across the U.S. walking into your house of business…then throw in a few dozen Secret Service, White House staffers, media and nearly 350 local VIP’s and guests. It’s easy to get ahead of yourself!”
That was the experience of Stephen Gregg, Executive Director of SquashSmarts, an afterschool program in Philadelphia that combines the sport of squash with academic tutoring and mentoring of under-served, urban youth to develop self-esteem and discipline through academic, athletic and personal achievement.
“SquashSmarts’ business is helping kids. So when the White House and the Philadelphia Mayor’s office call to give you three-days-notice that Mrs. Obama would like to use your facility to promote her national youth initiative, our team was ecstatic.”
First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama visited SquashSmarts to promote her Let’s Move! health and fitness youth initiative. Let’s Move provides urban youth with innovative, low cost, and space-efficient ways to get active and stay fit, and the program’s message echoes SquashSmarts mission to keep kids in shape in school and on track for a healthy life.
SquashSmarts is a member of the National Urban Squash and Education Association (NUSEA), which oversees community-based urban squash and education programs across the United States. NUSEA is U.S. SQUASH’s official charity, and a portion of proceeds from the U.S. Open Squash Championships, hosted in Philadelphia, also benefit Urban Squash organizations.
Mr. Gregg spent a few moments briefing Mrs. Obama, the Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and Philadelphia’s Mayor Michael Nutter on the benefits of squash and the national urban squash and education movement.
“Mrs. Obama commented to me that she first encountered squash while attending Princeton as an undergraduate, not unlike how many people might come across our game,” said Mr. Gregg.
“Getting to personally meet the First Lady was a humbling experience. It made me acutely aware of how enormous youth development is in this country, and how well aligned SquashSmarts’ mission is with Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative.
“It reinforced for me how favorably SquashSmarts and the NUSEA programs stack up in terms our effectiveness in altering the course of young people’s lives,” he said.
“The SquashSmarts boys and girls loved the experience. Our staff did a great job preparing them., telling them what to expect, how to imagine a big crowd, how to work through nerves – not unlike a big squash match.
“SquashSmarts team members Belkis, Jesus, Kayla, Makeedah, Najee, Ibrahim and Ishmael were truly the stars of the show. They worked beautifully together and behaved so naturally in front of the First Lady, VIPs and TV cameras.
“It was a proud moment for our staff to watch so many of our kids shine,” said Mr. Gregg.
“SquashSmarts was honored to be chosen by the First Lady and Mayor’s office to host this special event and we hope to build on this special relationship for the benefit of our kids and our sport
“On Thursday morning, after the First Lady and the VIPs were gone, our SquashSmarts students walked into the center with their heads held a little higher. It was our best practice of the summer.
NBC10-Philadelphia’s TV Coverage