Tuesday, September 25, 2012


This summer, I had the privilege of attending the Racquet Up Detroit end of season banquet. I was rather stunned when I entered the dining hall that evening at the amount of people that there were. Considering that the program has roughly 40 kids, there must been over 200 present. And that’s where the true success of Racquet Up Detroit lies. It’s not only changing and influencing the lives of the kids themselves, it is making a substantial difference in their families lives too.

The food for the event was cooked and bought in by the families. More than enough to go around. Speeches were made, thank yous were sincere, important donors and volunteers highly praised, but the function centered on the kids themselves for their achievements and advancements over the past year - not just with their squash but also with their academics. The awards ceremony was the highlight. It felt a little like the Oscars where they announce the nominees, then present the winner with their trophy. It was incredible to see the excitement in the kids as they were recognized and rewarded for their efforts and the proud look of their family members. Creating wonderful memories, that not too long ago, would have been unthinkable.

Racquet Up Detroit is only 2 years old, but it has clearly significantly changed the lives of many already. The man behind the accomplishment is way to humble to take most of the credit – but he definitely deserves it nonetheless. Even though I have already interviewed him in the “Meet a Member” series, he warrants a second round.


TSJ: Two years in. There are no doubt many highlights during this short time at Racquet Up Detroit, but I am going to ask you to pick the one that stands out the most to you and describe it to us.

Well, we won the Midwest Challenge this year against Chicago and Cleveland, and we have had many inspiring personal and academic success stories, but I think the big highlight for me was our Year-end Party last year.  It's our annual potluck dinner and awards ceremony and it brings together our students, their families, friends, and teachers, our volunteers, donors, community partners, etc., nearly 200 people all in one room to celebrate the accomplishments of the year. We give out awards for attendance, academic performance, squash, fitness, and character, and have a moving slide show which showcases all the fun we had.  There is so much goodwill and positive energy in the room, making it a great way to end the school year.  I get a little emotional at this event each year...

 TSJ: Academics are an enormous part of the program. Is it more important than the squash and tell us about the staff you have looking after this side of RUD.

We focus on three primary things at Racquet Up:  Education, Health, and Character.  I can't tell you that one is more important than the others, and in fact they all work together.  Squash promotes health, but it also promotes academic attainment (to play squash in college, you have to get in to a good school!) and character development.  We have a holistic approach which aims to support kids in all aspects of their lives.

That said, yes, academics are a major focus of our program.  We have a literacy component which promotes our kids' reading, writing, and speaking skills, and we also help them with their homework and do academic skill-building activities.  They know when they sign up for the program that they will be spending a lot of time learning in the classroom.  We are very fortunate to have a great Academic Coordinator, Patrick Morris--he's a recent University of Michigan grad with a passion for Detroit and helping kids become all they can be.  He has been with us from day one, and is doing an incredible job. Check out some of the student writing Patrick has helped inspire:  http://racquetup.org/read/
Connie Loh, our Program Coordinator, moved here from Texas last year and quickly took on a leadership role at Racquet Up, supporting Patrick in the classroom and me on the courts.  Combine these two outstanding staff with over 50 volunteers (including many DAC members), and we've got the kids covered! 

TSJ: You have made a home at the Northwest Activities Center. We recently met to discuss improvements to the facilities. Please tell us what the current plans are short and long term.

The Northwest Activities Center (NWAC) is a great home for us.  It is located in the heart of the community, within blocks of our two partner schools, and walking distance from many of our students' homes.  The facility was a major squash club when it was the Jewish Community Center in Detroit, and we have helped breathe some new life into the courts where there were not many squash balls bouncing when we got here 2 years ago.  

This summer, thanks to Mick, and Rob Barr, we were able to execute a plan to spruce up the courts.  We sanded the floors, re-painted the lines, and even added some really cool Racquet Up tin magnets to each court (thanks Mick and Rob!).  It was a great example of what we can achieve for the benefit of kids when we all put our heads together.  The kids could not believe their eyes when we revealed the spiffy new courts last week.

We hope to make NWAC our home for many years to come.  There are plenty of courts there to serve our current team of kids, and probably some more in the future with a few more upgrades to the existing courts.  With 40 kids in our program (all certified squash fanatics now), the courts are hopping, and we have our hands full, but stay tuned! 

TSJ: You are dying of starvation. What is the one food that you would rather die than have to eat to survive?

I like living quite a bit, so there's not much I wouldn't eat.  Maybe raw beef...?

TSJ: Is RUD looking at expanding – i.e. getting more kids into the program? If so, how do you plan on accommodating them all?

See above...but hopefully we'll be in a position to expand within the next couple years.  We think the Northwest Activities Center will be able to accommodate growth, but we'll also need more staff, and... of course... more money.  DAC members have been central to this effort, and will continue to be as we think about growing.

TSJ: What’s the one item in Derek Aguirre’s __________ that you can’t do without?
a.      Fridge:          fresh fruits and vegetables
b.      Wardrobe:     Racquet Up t-shirt
c.       DVD collection:   The Wire (seasons 1-5)
d.      CD collection:      Elliott Smith's Figure 8
e.       Office drawer:     Pilot G2 pen
f.        Pocket:       Palm smartphone (don't laugh...no iPhone, no Droid)

TSJ: Tell us about some of the extracurricular activities that the RUD kids and their families have become involved in.

We volunteer in the community (Greening of Detroit and Gleaners Food Bank), visit colleges (you name it...we've been there), attend cultural events (Alvin Ailey at the Detroit Opera, DIA), watch the Motor City Open and Pro Squash Tour events, and travel to competitions from Birmingham and Cleveland to New York City and Massachusetts.  We have our own mini-bus, so we hit the road a lot.  Seeing the world outside one's neighborhood is a big part of youth development.

TSJ: What would you be doing now if you were not involved in RUD?

This is a crazy question for me, because I really love what I do, but I would probably be trying to start a small business here in Detroit.  There is a truly supportive climate for entrepreneurs right now in the city--I think it would be very exciting and meaningful to be hustling to start something here.   

TSJ: I know these kids look up to you as a mentor / hero / savior. (As much as you won’t admit to it!) How much time outside of the program itself do you spend with them?

This is the fun part--I really enjoy spending time with them, so it doesn't feel like work.  It's easy to call up a few eager players to set up an impromptu squash round robin at the Center, or even to give me a hand with a project in the office, or wash my car (kidding!). I don't keep track of hours, which is probably a good thing.
TSJ: What was the kid’s reaction to the PST tournament? Better, worse, or the same level of enthusiasm as with the PSA events they also witness?

The kids loved both events.  This is the cool thing about squash for kids--you can have close access to the top players in the game. They were totally inspired and in awe.  But they did like the AC/DC playing between matches at the PST, and the no-let rules kept the matches moving along, which is nice for 6th graders.  We'll be back for sure this year!

TSJ: Word association. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say…
a.      Olympics:     trampolining but not squash???
b.      Detroit Tigers:  keep hope alive
c.       Twilight movies:  haven't seen them
d.      Lady Gaga:     nada
e.       “Conduct Warning!, Mr. Aguirre”:   hope the kids aren't watching
f.        Alien invasion:  teach them squash

TSJ: And the final question to make you squirm, just a tad: What was the worst thing you did at home that got you in trouble with your parents and what was the consequence?

Man, I'm so boring.  Let's see...  I locked my keys in my car while it was still running and they had to bring me an extra set of keys.  In the middle of the night.  Twice.  Consequence:  sleepy, grumpy parents.  Not much of a rebel here.

Once again, I thank Derek for his time and answers. RUD is a fantastic program for our city. And Derek is the perfect man for the job. To find out more about the ‘Racquet Up Detroit’ feel free to contact Derek at derek@racquetup.org  or call 313-600-9593 and go to the website www.racquetup.org . This wonderful program needs all the support it can get through sponsorship, donations, and volunteer help.

Monday, September 24, 2012


As the DAC squash season kicks off, so does the PST’s (Pro Squash Tour’s). We now have a vested interest in the PST since running their end of season championship in May as we have signed on to host their major event - the World Championship - for at least the next 3 years. So I thought it would be the perfect time to pass on what PST has been doing over the summer to prepare for the year – and it wasn’t sitting on the beach sipping cocktails.

Firstly, let’s cover the players. After all, they are ones we spend money on to watch and get to socialize with. On a sad note, John White is no longer part of the PST tour. I am personally miserable about this because John was always one of my favorite players to watch all time (even when he was on the PSA) with his power, unorthodox shot selection, and pure entertainment value. A great personality on court, and just as delightful off it, he will be sorely missed at the DAC next year.

The reason behind his absence lies with the ban the PSA (Professional Squash Association) still have in place. As I have previously written about, the PSA do not allow any member of their association to participate in any PST event. The ban is ridiculous enough, but the PSA have managed to take it one step further. They have also forbidden non-PSA members associated with PST from competing in their tournaments too. John White is the head squash professional at Drexel University. Drexel University is set to host the US Open in October – a major PSA event. John would be expected to play in the event as a ‘local’, meaning that even though he is not a PSA member, he could enter the qualification draw. However, his association with PST prevented him from doing so. It would be difficult for someone of his caliber – understandably – to host such a prestigious tournament in his own club and not be able to play in it. Hence, his forwarded a statement to PSA announcing his ‘retirement’ from PST in order to be allowed in the draw. 

Now, as far as I can see, there is nothing stopping John from jumping straight back onto the PST tour straight after the US Open, except for the fact that Drexel will be hosting the event until 2014. John can’t exactly ‘retire’ annually from PST – even the PSA will see through that scam.

But all is not lost. As one big draw card falls, another takes its place. Recently, PST signed on Frenchman Thierry Lincou. Don’t know him? You should. Lincou was ranked inside the top 10 for over 10 years straight, reaching world number 1 in January and February of 2004 and for the entire 2005. He won 11 French National titles and the World Open in 2004. He makes his PST debut in Cleveland in October, where once again I hope that I will not be his first victim.
Joining Lincou is another Frenchie – now Italian – Stephane Galifi. His highest PSA ranking was 40 back in 2005. I have seen Galifi play, and he is an amazingly smooth and gifted athlete. His signing has not come without controversy, however. Galifi no longer plays on the PSA not due to the PST ban, but because of breaking the rules. The drug rule. Twice now, he has been caught with marijuana in his system. Even though it is not a performance enhancing drug, it is still an illegal one and it bought him a 2 year suspension from PSA. As much as PST promotes good behavior amongst its players, promotes professionalism within the ranks, this signing does come across as little strange. Galifi is a very affable fellow. But is PST (who do not drug test their players) endorsing this kind of conduct? It has sparked a heated exchange on the squash forums. Joe McManus’ response to the contentious issue: “One of my roles with Pro Squash Tour is to ensure each player enters the court with a fair opportunity to compete.  PST rules of conduct on court are the strictest in the world and will continue to be so.” Is there a ‘hidden’ warning in there somewhere? Either way, PSA’s loss is PST’s gain on this one – a top quality squash player virtually was handed to them.

Stephane Galifi with the winners trohpy at the
Atlanta Open in 2005
There is also one other signing to be announced, but who it is still remains a mystery. All I can say is the lad is from New Zealand, and he is scheduled to also play in Cleveland. I will presume he’s accomplished, but not stronger than Lincou... there aren’t many of those walking the earth anyway.

The other important measuring stick to see if the PST tour is growing is the amount of tournaments and money on offer. Joe McManus is pushing hard to expand the tour internationally. He did spend time in Europe over the summer and although there aren’t any tournaments yet listed in that part of the world, word has it there is a good chance an event or two could pop up sometime this year. Last season, there were 17 events through the USA, this year, there are already 23 tournaments listed on the calendar, and 6 of those will be in Asia – three in Vietnam, one in Taiwan, one in the Philippines, and the other in Thailand. The winner of the Asian circuit will earn a berth in the World Championship in May 2013 – right here at the DAC. Joe McManus predicts there will be close to 30 tournaments by season’s end.

On top of that, PST will be launching Pro Squash TV at the event in Cleveland in October. It will be a free service, and you will be able to watch matches on www.prosquashtv.com – not at every PST event but at selected major ones (including ours). It promises to have archive footage and special features (whatever they may be). It should be a significant step up from last year’s internet coverage which will only increase the exposure of the players and sponsors.

All this adds up to a bigger and better event for the DAC come May 2013. A higher quality of squash plus higher a quality of coverage. You have all heard the buzz about the event we held this year, and membership support is vital. Without it, the tournament simply wouldn’t happen. Although sponsorship levels have not yet been finalized, please contact me if you are interested in sponsoring for either for 1 year, 2 years or even all 3. Be a part of this magic and making the DAC the focus of the squash world and the growing PST tour.

Friday, September 21, 2012


Blitz Tournament – Friday, October 12

Want a quickie? Something that will just take a moment of your precious time, give you immense pleasure to boot, and if your form is good enough, a nice little reward at the end? You do? Then I’m happy to accommodate your deepest desires! Grab your squash racquet, shoot me an e-mail and enter the Blitz Tournament on October 12!

All that is required of you is roughly 2 to 2 and a half hours, the willingness to scuttle around a squash court for a few games against opponents who you may have never competed against before, and a craving for downing a few brewskis in between. (You are not obliged to blitz the brewskis!) Not too much to ask now, is it?

And for those who think that they are not good enough to compete, the handicaps handed out to the stronger players do make it rather difficult for them. Only one top seeded player has won this tournament in nine attempts.

So how does it work? Well, in short, you’ll be placed in a group of 4 or 5, play a round robin of one game to 15 points, the top 2 winners of each group move on to a knock-out draw where the top 3 place getters receive a prize. Seem simple enough? Click on the poster for a slightly more detailed explanation.

Now, even though the games go fairly quickly in this event – hence the name – we can only accommodate a maximum of 40 players. Otherwise the Blitz Tournament will turn into an all-nighter. But we do require a minimum of 16 to make it worth the effort to run it at all. Get your name in to me no later than Wednesday, October 10. Quickly. Come on… what are you waiting for? It’s the perfect warm-up to a Friday night on the town to get blitzed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Cross Border Challenge – September 15

Not since the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team pulled off the most miraculous victory in the history of sports – dubbed the “miracle on ice” – has a triumph been so extraordinary. I’m sure Hollywood will be scrambling to get the story on film to share with the world. It will go in the archives as one for the ages, only to be talked about with admiration for decades to come. People will be asking, “Where were you when the DAC won the Cross Border ?”…  Okay, okay, maybe I’m exaggerating just a little, but for the first time ever, we actually beat the Windsor team on their home courts!

For a task deemed impossible by the bookmakers, it wasn’t enough to dampen the spirits of our 17 combatants, many of whom were rookies not only in the Cross Border, but also playing in Windsor. Maybe that’s the ticket – recruit players that don’t know any better and rely on the ‘ignorance is bliss’ formula!

The day started out splendidly. Paul Huth and Andy Combs set the tone both storming to 3-0 wins, which was quickly followed up by Elliot Shafer clinching his match 3-1. Windsor then came back with a couple victories of their own as Peter Ryan held off Chuck Doyle 3-1 and their A doubles team won a marathon 5 setter which is nothing surprising considering our doubles record against anyone outside of the DAC walls.

Trevor Charles and Andrew Spohn
Brittany Paquette extended the DAC advantage beating up on her poor opponent 3-0, while Andrew Spohn survived a tough 3-1 to give us a 5 match to 2 lead. We then had the opportunity to really bring the hammer down on them as our next two players found themselves battling well into the 5th game. Bruce VandeVusse was tackling his familiar opponent – Dave Porter. These two go back and forth, generally swapping 3-2 victories. It was Dave getting the upper hand on this occasion as he took the final game, after fighting off Bruce’s comeback from 2-0 down. On the court next door, Greg Rivard was doing all he could to stay upright in his 5th game against Adam Pole. Fitness was hurting Greg this far into the match as his knees were wobbling and his body simply couldn’t keep up anymore. He went down valiantly 11-6 and suddenly Windsor had closed the gap 5 matches to 4.
Dave Porter and Bruce VandeVusse

But after a 3-0 victory by Manny Tancer and a Frank Giglio 3-1 triumph, the DAC were just one win away from clinching (and defending) the Cross Border Trophy. It came from the most unlikely source: the doubles court. Bob Garvey and Shail Arora entered the arena of death against Marcie Porter and Teresa Ashworth, a couple of fine ladies who have been known to beat up on our doubles players without mercy but with considerable regularity. Our lads hung in the match very well, and kept composure under pressure all the way through to the 5th game and took the (unlikely) win. Their picture should be on front of ESPN the magazine. It would also be on the blog here, but my camera ran out of battery just as I was taking the shot.
Paul Huth and Elliot Shafer
Rubbing salt into Windsor’s fatal wounds, Paul Ward escaped with a 3-2 win, and then on the comeback of the day, Derek Aguirre came back from 2-0 down against Doug Fields to scrape a 12-10 in the 5th win. The DAC ended up taking the coveted title 10 matches to 5. It is our 4th Cross Border victory, the first back-to-back, and as I mentioned above, the first on foreign soil (or wood).

So as I wait for the endorsement deal offers to come flooding in, I proudly display the trophy in its rightful place – my office. It will stay there at least until April when the next one is scheduled (if we can squeeze it onto the calendar) and we go for an unprecedented three-peat.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Probably one of the most recognized quips in squash is Hashim’s “keep eye on ball”. Even the documentary they made of the man carried it as the title. Not watching the ball at all times is a very common error to make, especially if you have a tennis or racquetball background. You hamper your reaction time, which in turn makes you have to rush to the ball, giving you little time to get into a good position to strike, which limits your options, lowers your consistency… the reasons go on and on.

The problem occurs when the ball is behind the player. You have to make sure you turn your head – not your body (or hips) – and focus on the ball with both eyes. Not just out of the corner of one eye. Keep your weight forward and racquet up and you should be able to react a lot faster to your opponent’s shot. I am sure many of you have heard me shout “watch the ball!” countless times during a lesson – so much so that it probably keeps you up at night. Hashim also has some basic footwork tips here that I am sure would be rather helpful too!

To see all the blog articles on Hashim, go to: Hashim Khan

Monday, September 10, 2012


Do you remember your first ever competitive squash match? I do. And it was 35 years ago. Not for the physical agony of running around a court – because I was 6 years old and getting tired isn’t an issue at that age – but for the life-long mental scarring it incurred. I remember the venue, the court, and the day of the week, and the nerves. I also remember my opponent had on a white shirt with blue trims. Funny how certain things stick in your mind in times of mortal peril. I lost that day 9-0; 9-0; 9-0. It was a junior travel league match and I was clearly out of my depth. It was also the only time I have ever been bageled three games in a row. The Squash Poet relays his experience here, although he obviously wasn’t a young child, or in peak physical condition.

Watching the pros it looks uncomplicated
But that could be because I was intoxicated
A step or two with a lunge and a swing
How hard can it be to hit that black thing?
So a friend of mine bet me over a beer
That an old man with arthritis would hand me my rear
I won’t have an issue, I’ll be quickly succeeding…
…Holy crap! Who would have thought it’s entirely misleading!

The Squash Poet

“My First Match”

It can’t be that hard
When it looks so damn easy
I’m a fat tub of lard
And running makes me queasy.

But smacking a black ball
With a racquet light and long
Seems an elementary call…
…How could I have been so wrong?!

The court appeared bigger
Standing on the inside
Do I have enough vigor
To last the whole ride?

Five minutes had passed by
I felt so fainthearted
The lack of oxygen supply
And the match hadn’t even started!

The first rally of the game
I think I ran a marathon
Apart from shattering the frame
I couldn’t possibly go on!

Ignoring all health signs
And the pain that kept increasing
I’m sure I wrecked my spine
Is that blood me pores are releasing?

I also then found out
Muscles I never thought I had
Without a shadow of a doubt
I thought I needed a body-bag.

As if it couldn’t get any worse
The pain actually started to spread
I put in a call for a hearse
I was sure I’d soon be dead.
My knees began to swell
Followed by my ankles and my hips
So this is living hell?
Crap, my shoulder joint just ripped!

I even have a pain
In a muscle in my crotch
But I have to be insane
Because I loved the game so much!

I’m ashamed – it’s no farce
But the truth must be told
My opponent handed me my ass
And he was 80 years old!

I can’t believe I’m addicted
Despite the agonizing pain
It’s a sickness self-inflicted
I’ll do it tomorrow again!

The Squash Poet

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