Barrett Takesian, executive director of Portland Community Squash, talks to students before practice last week. The organization’s Rally Portland program is the latest member of the Squash Education and Alliance. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND – It has been more than five years coming, but the dream Barrett Takesian had when he and others started the Portland Squash League has come to fruition.

Takesian, the executive director of Portland Community Squash, said when the organization started in 2013, the goal was to develop a Squash Education and Alliance affiliated program to use squash to provide academic and social skills support for teens and young adults.

That happened this summer when Portland Community Squash’s Rally Portland became the latest program to be affiliated with Squash Education and Alliance, a network of 25 youth programs across the country that, according to the organization, “combine squash, academics, mentoring, travel, college support and career readiness.”

Takesian said Portland is the smallest market to have an SEA-affiliated program. The accreditation, he said, will provide additional services, such as access to international tournaments and subsidies in top summer school programs.

“What we are really excited about is, in a small market we were able to reach the highest standards that had only been possible before in much larger cities,” Takesian said Sept. 18, prior to youth squash practice at the center’s 66 Noyes St. location, the former home of the Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue.

Rally Portland, now in its third year, has 30 participants from Portland Schools this school year, but Takesian hopes to expand it to 50. The program, like others in the SEA system, provides instruction, but also includes weekend tournaments, community service trips and college campus visits, along with social and emotional and academic tracking and long-term mentoring.

Last year through the program, students visited the campuses of Middlebury, Dartmouth, Bates and Williams colleges, did volunteer work for Maine Audubon, Portland Gear Hub, Maine Coast Heritage and the Yellow Tulip Project, played in middle school and high school tournaments and took enrichment trips around greater Portland.

According to surveys of Rally Portland participants, the program has helped them focus on post-secondary education and challenged them to reach their full potential. Takesian said participants have shown improvements in academic motivation, critical thinking and relationship with their peers.

“We are able to do all this because we have a sport kids love. Our attendance last year was 93 percent. You need that hook to retain kids and provide these wrap-around services that change lives,” Takesian said.

Rally Portland participants Gloria Sebit and Salma Mohamed, both seventh graders at Lyman Moore Middle School, have found a home at Portland Community Squash.

“I really like squash and the people here,” said Mohamed, who has been playing since she was in third grade. “The staff members are really nice.”

Hamdi Ukash, an eighth grader at Lincoln Middle School, said she enjoys having a mentor to work with and the travel and field trips the Rally Portland provides.

Takesian doesn’t intend to stop with the SEA accreditation.

“We want to become the best college pathway program in Maine by 2023,” he said.

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