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Stories of Impact

Learning Initiatives

Racquet Up Engages Detroit Youth in Academics through the Sport of Squash

“Joining Racquet Up was an opportunity that changed my life. This program not only helped me physically, mentally, and academically, but also prepared me for college.”

Tramara Lee-Williams, Racquet Up alumni, graduate from Albion College

Detroit, MI (May 2023)Derek Aguirre, Executive Director of Racquet Up Detroit (RUD), has a picture hanging on his office wall that means a lot to him. It’s 2010 and he’s standing with a class of 5th graders in the MacDowell Elementary School gymnasium. He remembers trying to convince them to try out for Racquet Up Detroit – a new afterschool program in the neighborhood that combines squash with academics. SquashBusters began in Boston in 1996 and its successful youth development formula spread to more than 20 member programs across the country, including Racquet Up Detroit. “I remember the kids looking up at me thinking, “Who is this guy?” he says, with a laugh.

Little did he know that two of the children in the picture, Aaron and Starnisha, would become inaugural members of RUD and active participants for the next 13 years. Both Aaron and Starnisha excelled at school and became squash superstars. Aaron even won a national championship. They both took their talents all the way to St. Lawrence University, a college known for its excellent squash teams. Starnisha played for four years on the varsity squash team at St. Lawrence and now works in banking at First Independence Bank in Detroit. Aaron is a St. Lawrence senior and is currently the captain of the squash team. He was recently elected by the student body to be a delegate to the board of trustees of the university.

These are just a few of the amazing stories that serve as the foundation of Racquet Up Detroit. The organization uses the sport of squash as a vehicle to engage, support and inspire children, all while providing academic support.

Racquet Up Detroit students celebrate their graduation. Photo courtesy of RUD.Download a high-resolution version of this photo.

In the 13 years since its inception, Racquet Up Detroit has grown into a game-changing community organization. Having begun with 40 students, Racquet Up Detroit now works with 140 young people from public schools in Northwest Detroit. Youth join in 5th grade and are supported through graduation from high school and college. Over many years in the program, students are provided with significant academic support, world-class coaching in the sport of squash, and a wide range of character-building exposure activities. Students commit to attending at least three hours a day for three days a week, including equal parts academic enrichment and health and fitness activities.

The Walters Family Foundation offered  support to Racquet Up Detroit for an endowment challenge to support Racquet Up’s ongoing operations and programming and also for the construction of Racquet Up’s ground-breaking new 19,000-foot squash facility. The dedicated space was a dream many years in the making. Racquet Up Detroit now has a permanent, world-class, education and youth development center that enables more youth to enroll and provides an established neighborhood portal to college and careers for decades to come.

“Out-of-school programming is one of the areas where we can really have an impact on educational achievement. That's one of the reasons we built the facility – so we can serve more kids,” says Aguirre. “Having funders like the Walters Family Foundation behind us makes it possible.”


Racquet Up students can now play squash in a state-of-the-art facility in Northwest Detroit. Photo courtesy of RUD and Jason KeenDownload a high-resolution version of this photo.