The National Squash Academy
There was once a time when you could walk into an old airplane hanger and sit down on one of the second-hand leather couches and watch. You could observe a multibillionaire hanging out, talking, sharing insightful knowledge, and playing squash with, some random 14-year-old kid. They weren’t playing because of some charity event, but because they simply wanted to hit a little rubber ball against a wall, because it’s fun and a hell of a workout. There was no exclusivity here, there was no poor and rich, and that random 14-year-old kid was me, and I relish all of my experience from the National Squash Academy.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but what was happening was far from normal. I was constantly around people who I had no business being around. People like Gary Waite (10 time doubles world champion), Jonathon Power (former World Champion), Mitch Goldhar (Multibillionaire and owner of Smart Centres), and the myriad of other incredible people who walked through those hanger doors. It wasn’t because I was special, I was simply a member of the National Squash Academy. And if you spent enough time at the NSA you would get to know all of these people.
“To change the future of squash while embracing its past” Mission statement from the National Squash Academy
Ever since the man Hashim Khan picked up a racquet and got on a plane to try his hand at the World Squash Championship in England, Squash has changed. Hashim Khan showed up without any shoes. These people never stepped foot on a court without a sweater vest, and he didn’t even own a pair of court shoes. So they lent him a pair of shoes, and he won the tournament… this was back in 1951.
Hashim Khan on the right
After Hashim, thanks to his likable and humble character, Hashim opened the doors of squash for all the classes. The game began to spread throughout the classes in England and became hugely popular in the middle east. Squash transitioned from being an exclusive sport for the rich, to accommodating the poor, and eventually, in many places like Toronto, it became an equalizer where anybody could play with anybody. The National Squash Academy was an attempt to take this one step further, and it succeeded.
The squash community in Toronto came together to found the Urban Squash Toronto program, which ran out of the NSA. The UST program recruits kids from the Jane-Finch corridor who want a chance at a good education, and who want to learn our great game. The program teaches them how to work hard, and how to compete in every situation. These are lessons which the National Squash Academy taught me, and the UST program continues to teach kids every day.
The NSA may have closed down in February of 2016, but the essence of it’s mission lives on through the squash community in Toronto and through the Urban Squash program. There are many people who want Squash to be as inclusive as possible, and I am sure there will be more clubs just like the NSA. I hope I can make a difference by passing on the invaluable lessons which my time at the NSA taught me. I hope that one day an Urban Squash student will make a splash in the Squash world and that old airplane hanger will come alive again.
I walked into NSA hanger, which is now the Urban Squash hanger, and there is still 4 courts left and a thriving atmosphere. There was a tournament going on for the UST kids and other Urban Squash programs in the USA. I talked to one of the Urban Squash employees who ensured me they were renewing the lease in September, and they were going to be around for awhile.
“The National Squash Academy is Canada’s first and only facility dedicated to growing the sport from the ground up” Mission statement from the NSA.
I believe the NSA succeeded in their mission, and the UST program is the evidence. Maybe one day the hanger will be built up again, with an even greater understanding of why it was founded, because this time it will be built through the opportunity given to a few fortunate children.