Detroit – On a frigid, 14-degree morning in Northwest Detroit, squash is in season. The racquet sport of squash, that is.
A year after Racquet Up planted the seed of its 18,000-square foot youth development center on West Outer Drive, the facility opened Friday with a ribbon-cutting. The gorgeous, glass-rimmed building is the Midwest’s biggest squash facility and will serve as an after-school incubator for some 200 youth to learn the skills of the game and life beyond.
“This is a special day for Detroit,” said Mayor Mike Duggan in front of a large crowd of parents, donors, and teachers outside the facility. “A lot has been taken away from this neighborhood, especially its youth.”
Duggan knows whereof he speaks having spent his youth at Catholic Central college preparatory school which once stood right across the street from Racquet Up. The school left Detroit nearly 20 years ago, following its students to Novi. Racquet Up – along with five nearby partner schools – has filled the void in recent years, training a new generation of youth.
Racquet Up started 11 years ago in the Northwest Activities Center south of Eight Mile. Its new, world-class home at 6530 West Outer Drive is just a mile west near Renaissance High School. It will serve as the hub for the organization’s youth development program with a focus on educational attainment, physical fitness, wellness, and college prep.
Squash is the hook when kids begin in the 5th grade, but it is accompanied by intensive educational and personal support to buttress high school learning and prepare students for the rigors of college. A free program, Racquet Up has taken its Detroit students across North America, including squash tournaments in San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, and Toronto.
The facility opening was coordinated with the Motor City Open squash tournament in Bloomfield Hills featuring eight of the world’s Top 20 pro players from countries including New Zealand, Egypt, England, and France. American #1 (and World #35) Todd Harrity and French World #33 Lucas Serme wowed the crowd with a special exhibition of squash on the new courts.
Racquet Up, which mirrors squash-driven programs in other major cities including Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Diego, has built a pipeline from surrounding schools FLICS Academy, Schulze Academy, MacDowell Preparatory Academy, Detroit Achievement Academy, and University Yes Academy.
“Racquet Up has been an inspiration to my life,” said Antwan Ramsey, 19, who entered the program at age six and now mentors at the school. “It has gone from creating a team to being a family.”
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He attends Wayne County Community College – typical of Racquet Up’ promise to help graduate 100% of its students from high school and into college. That success began with the program’s first, full-term graduating class in 2018 (starting in 2010 as 5th graders). The success rate was repeated in 2019, 2020 and 2021 classes. In addition to tournament road trips, students travel for college tours.
“This is a huge day, we’re here to celebrate the future,” said Racquet Up Executive Director Derek Aguirre. “Our new facility will be a game-changer for kids, and it could not be more timely as we all try to move forward from the pandemic. From our new, permanent home, we will provide support to thousands of youth and their families over the decades to come.”
In addition to its eight squash courts, Racquet Up includes three state-of-the-art classrooms and a career center. Its courts will also be available to the public, opening to a new generation a racquets sport popular across the globe. The center plans top-drawer squash events as well with an eye on national junior tournaments.
The facility will allow the youth program to double its current enrollment and provide more court access. In so doing it will expand its partnership to more area schools.
The facility project has drawn support from a broad range of individual, corporate, and foundation donors including The Shelden Fund, A.A. Van Elslander Foundation, McGregor Fund, A. Alfred Taubman Foundation, William Davidson Foundation, and Kresge Foundation.
“Racquet Up has been such a life experience,” said Antwan’s mother Tanya Ramsey, who has put six of her children through the program. “Since Derek Aguirre first came to our doorstep, he promised there would be a new center someday. I’m glad to be here to see the dream come true.”
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at [email protected] or Twitter @HenryEPayne.