PORTLAND – Because it opened just five months ago, you might say that Portland Community Squash is in its infancy. The way things are shaping up, PCS appears to be something of a prodigy.

Initially, executive directer/co-founder/board president Barrett Takesian said, the hope was for the nonprofit to have 200 members by the end of 2017. That goal has already been reached, with members ranging in age from 11 to 90, so Takesian is naturally pleased. He noted that the club continues to welcome new members. But he is more interested in discussing PCS’s mission, motto (“we use walls to break through walls”) and raison d’être:

“We use squash as a hook to build community,” he said. “It’s a lifelong sport, and a connection point that brings people together. People of diverse backgrounds, as we are striving to do. The majority of our students qualify for a full scholarship here.

“We have a strong focus on youth. We want to become one of the most successful programs in Maine that is teaching character development and academic success and mentorship, and is building a safe, positive culture.”

In those endeavors, which Takesian explained are inspired by urban squash education programs in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and Boston, PCS has made rapid progress. Youth programs are offered on three levels.

First is “a pipeline, in partnership with Learning Works,” that exposes fourth and fifth-graders to squash with once-a-week court time. Then, sixth-graders and older students can join the junior squash league and participate in fall, winter or spring seasons, with two weekly group practices, a match on weekends, and hour-long sessions focusing on wellness, fitness, nutrition, and yoga.

The next level – PCS’s signature program – is Rally Portland, for which a first class of 20 students will be accepted this fall. The program is primarily designed to support first-generation college students.

“It’s an annual commitment, and designed to attract our most committed students,” Takesian said. “Kids will work with our director of education. It includes three sessions – not only squash (training) but also academics, fitness, community service, and weekend travel for matches and college visits.”

During a recent afternoon visit to the Noyes Street facility (formerly a synagogue, and purchased by PCS after a $1.5 million capital campaign) coach Paul French was conducting on-court drills with a group of elementary-school girls. More students kept arriving, as Takesian was busy squiring van loads from schools. A day later, he headed to fund-raisers in New York and Boston.

He would rather be teaching squash “all day long,” he said. At PCS that’s handled by coaches French and Marilu Fortson, and in a “natural mentorship” system that sees students helped by their older peers, and adults coached by more senior members.

Southwest Harbor native Takesian, 27, played squash at Milton Academy, and captained the team at Bowdoin, where he majored in economics and environmental studies. He is (“I guess”) one narrow grade below professional status but added “my body is not built to compete at that level. I spent most of my college career in an ice bath.”

He pointed out that squash is repositioning itself to achieve a more diverse player base. “We represent a new direction for the sport, which has traditionally been pretty white and ‘elite,’ in the United States, although it enjoys much broader access elsewhere. It’s played in 185 countries.”

And he is looking well beyond Portland Community Squash’s early achievements.

“The fun story will come in five years, when we start sending Rally Portland kids to college,” Takesian said. “Check in then, and we’ll be able to talk about real success.”

To learn more about Portland Community Squash, including volunteer opportunities and free weekly clinics, please visit www.pcsquash.com; and see PCS’s profile on Facebook.

 

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