The Access Youth Academy Community Center, located in San Diego, CA, formally opened during a ceremony on Saturday, July 17, headlined by Dr. Shirley N. Weber, California Secretary of State, and Todd Gloria, San Diego Mayor. The facility is the first US Squash Community Affiliate on the west coast, and will embrace the community squash model by operating broad public access, scholastic squash, and memberships in concert with its Squash & Education Alliance after-school program.
The 21,000 sq. ft complex features seven singles courts and one hardball doubles court, two classrooms and additional instructional space housed in two wings. The north wing includes a unique row of open air courts that open up into a central courtyard.
Ten years ago, Access Youth Academy founder Renato Paiva approached Secretary Weber about building a facility in San Diego.
“I listened very carefully to what I was being told, about how you can teach this sport, how you can engage inner city kids and what would happen to them afterwards: they became scholars, they embraced the sport and themselves and developed the confidence to move forward,” Weber told the crowd. “I wasn’t that interested in squash, but I sure was interested in academic excellence. If this is the train we take and the road we travel, let us travel together.”
While Saturday marked the formal opening of the center, the courts have been busy for weeks. The center has hosted squash camps in partnership with San Diego county, introducing thirty kids to the sport each week. When fully operational this year, Access Youth Academy plans to expose thousands of new player from the San Diego community to the sport annually.
“I look at this as an investment into young people and their futures,” Weber said. “I live just up the street. It’s amazing to know you’re here, that you planned to be here, that you didn’t just come here with a bungalow, you came here with a building made of steel and concrete that says we are here to stay, we are going to be a light in this community, we’re going to uplift these children, and we’re going to demonstrate to the world what happens when a community cares about its children.”
Mayor Gloria praised the center for realizing the vision of a city that serves its communities, and presented a certificate of recognition to Access Youth Academy.
“As you can see from the scuff marks on the walls, it’s already fulfilling its promise of engaging young people,” Gloria said. “But there are going to be a lot more scuff marks on those walls soon because each one of those represents a child that was here meaningfully engaged, enriching their lives and setting them onto a path that probably nobody else in their family had done. I was the first person in my family to go to college, I realize how transformative that is. It doesn’t happen on its own, it starts somewhere, and it’s going to start right here for so many of our kids in San Diego.”
The center will host its first accredited tournament this weekend, the San Diego International Gold, and will resume regular after school programing next month.
“Building the center was not easy, it took ten years of fundraising and finding a location, but the magic starts now,” Paiva said. “What can we do with it now that it’s built? That’s what we’ll be working on day in, day out to deliver high quality services for our students and members, and hosting the best events possible. The building itself is gorgeous and unique, but it’s what happens inside the building that really matters. The tremendous support from our civic leaders and US Squash in a non traditional market means so much to our board, myself and most importantly the students. We invite the entire U.S. squash community to visit us in San Diego.”
The center plans to host monthly parties with free squash, food trucks, and music open to the community. Four schools have partnered to train in the facility with increasing interest from academic institutions. The membership structure includes sponsored memberships available to local families.
“The Access Youth Academy facility and model is the future of the sport–where the entire community is welcome, and squash activity helps drive and fund the give-back mission related to the narrow and deep wrap-around services offered to support those who need it most to succeed,” said Kevin Klipstein, US Squash President & CEO. “Blair Sadler, Greg Scherman, and Renato Paiva, the AYA Board and their core, loyal donors all deserve a huge amount of credit for making this a reality in San Diego. They have built a community squash center that will serve as a model nationally.”