The Arlen Specter US Squash Center reached a milestone on the road to its completion last week, with members of Team USA, SquashSmarts and the junior squash community able to step on court for the first time during a ‘beta-test week’ focused on safely providing a pre-opening look, and collecting valuable feedback on the facility as preparations are made for the season ahead.
US Squash anticipates the Specter Center – which has been made possible in partnership with Drexel University and is located in the heart of Drexel’s campus and Philadelphia’s burgeoning University City – will gradually ramp up activity during a pre-opening phase over the summer. Memberships are planned to go on sale in June, bringing together enthusiasts from every walk of life to enjoy the sport as the world’s largest community squash center comes to life as the new home of US Squash.
As part of the beta-test week, three members of Team USA–Amanda Sobhy, Olivia Blatchford Clyne and Chris Hanson–were able to hit on court for the first time Friday, April 23. The Specter Center will provide Team USA with world-class training facilities, instruction and support services.
“We’ve been reading and hearing about the Center being built for quite a long time now and to step on that court was surreal in the sense that it felt like it was our home now,” said Olivia Blatchford Clyne, world No. 12. “I felt like I moved into a new house, I was so excited. It’s clear in the atmosphere at the center that everyone is ecstatic about the capabilities and potential for the center. I loved being out there, we’ve had a fantastic first week of training. Adam Hamill has been fantastic running sessions for us. It’s almost intimidating a bit with so much expectation and excitement for the programming, but after seeing it I’m so excited and encouraged or the growth of US Squash. It was completely surreal.”
The Specter Center hosted the first competitive event at the facility, April 24-25, in the form of a ratings-based junior tournament. Ratings-based tournaments combine junior players across ages and genders based on level of play; currently these competitions are occuring across the country as part of the first stage of the return to competition and rankings which will occur through the spring and summer. 190 players participated in the event, which was held under strict safety and capacity guidelines.
“We were excited to host the first competitive event at the Specter Center, albeit a small pre-opening event,” said Kim Clearkin, US Squash Vice President of Programs and Events. “It provided our staff with important experience and feedback on how we will be able to use this amazing facility to create exceptional event experiences for the squash community. We thank the players, parents and coaches for making the first event at the Specter Center memorable for everyone.”
On Wednesday, April 28, a group of SquashSmarts students visited the nearly-complete Specter Center for the first time. The students enjoyed a session on court before checking out the Learning & Innovation center, which will serve as a new hub for the squash & education organization to expand its core programs in addition to its existing facility at the Lenfest Center in North Philadelphia.
“Going into the Specter Center that day was special for a few reasons,” said Quinetta Bowden, a SquashSmarts graduate and current SquashSmarts Academic Director. “I had been in the space a handful of times before but this was different. It was the first time I got to be in the space with the students that we serve. I always tell people that I came back to work at SquashSmarts to be there for the next generation of students like my sixth grade self. To be able to present this group of students with an innovative learning space that they deserve felt like a dream come true. Having been a part of SquashSmarts before we had a dedicated classroom space, we had only dreamed of having a place to call home. I look forward to bringing more Alumni and new students into the space and sharing these experiences with them.”
The SquashSmarts Learning & Innovation Center features two classrooms, lockers and office space. SquashSmarts will work closely with US Squash in the delivery of community programming including expansion of school programs and workforce development to train the next generation of young people for careers in sport, education, and youth development.
“It feels we are reaching the crest of our first hill as the Specter Center construction nears completion,” said Ned Edwards, Arlen Specter US Squash Center Executive Director. “In front of us is the entire array of programming ranging from brand new players to the world’s finest–and everyone in between and all together. Now it gets really exciting!”