Written by Abby Wojcik
Title Image: Jessica Elizabeth Photography
Students today are under intense pressure to do well in school, be involved in as much as possible and be the best at what they do. As this pressure extends from high school and college to younger grades and ages, 716 Squash is here to combat some of that unnecessary stress by helping students in a unique way.
716 Squash follows a proven model of success that combines academic tutoring and squash as a long term and intensive approach to youth development. It starts with kids ages 9 to 11 and keeps working with them through age 24, providing academic, health, wellness and social support.
Originally, it was founded by professional squash player Greg Zaff who felt the sport had been historically inaccessible. He launched SquashBusters in Boston in 1995, as a way of making squash accessible to the larger population while serving overlooked students. Zaff found that squash helped him get jobs and make connections. With the Squash and Education Alliance, those opportunities are being lended to portions of the population who haven’t been able to access it before.
Executive Director and Buffalo native Hope Lynch has been with 716 Squash since its foundation roughly one year ago. She has the unique skills of being able to coach squash, while being particularly passionate about youth and social justice.
“It’s been an incredible year,” Lynch said. “I was lucky in that people here are so passionate about their city and so determined, that once something gets started, to not let it fail.”
The biggest supporter of 716 Squash is the Ralph Wilson Foundation, which recently put out a report called The State of Play: Western New York about how kids are not getting equal access to sports, physical activity, and exercise.
“So much of the population has really been priced out of organized sports and athletics,” Lynch explained. “There’s a lot more pressure on being the best and being competitive from a super young age, which kinda takes some of the fun away. We’re trying to combine all of that in one space in a fun after school setting, where our kids are feeling supported in all aspects of their life.”
716 Squash aims to address all these different challenges in Buffalo public schools by providing them with one-on-one attention, small group-focused tutoring and daily exercise. This personalized attention from sports coaches and tutors is unusual for kids unless they are paying for it, but because 716 Squash is free, kids are getting this valuable attention without barriers.
“They pay us with their effort and their hard work and their kindness to one another,” Lynch said.
Right now, 716 Squash partners with West Hertel Academy and West Buffalo Charter School.
“They were really eager to get more options and opportunities for their kids, for athletics, for academics, for the after school time,” Lynch said. “I think that our kids love being here and it shows in our attendance rate, which has been about 94 percent. So, they’re not missing any days. They’re coming and they’re staying.”
April 27 is the organization’s next fundraiser – Rally for 716 Squash. Their goal is to raise $75,000 and as of now, they’ve reached $50,000. It will be a two day competition between six teams trying to raise the most money and beat each other at squash.
“Part of the reason to have sort of a peer to peer fundraiser was to spread the word because we are new and not everybody has heard of squash,” Lynch stated.
“So, it’s spreading the work that we’re not just a squash organization. We’re a long-term and intensive approach to youth development that’s providing holistic wraparound support to our kids and families.”
They are always looking for volunteers on the squash court, in the classroom or in any way that one might be able to lend a hand and provide. They’ve had people donate their time to offer a cooking class, yoga instructions, and mindfulness lectures. They’ve also taken field trips to art museums, community farms and architecture firms courtesy of generous donors.
716 Squash is providing kids with more than tutoring and a gym. They are mentors, encouraging friends and an invaluable resource. As they move forward into their second year in Buffalo, they hope to keep helping and providing for as many kids as possible.