On the car ride home from attending the US Squash Women & Girls Summit in September, Rhea Howard told her mother that she wanted to start Radnor High School’s first all girls squash program. Now, only a few moths later, the newly-formed Radnor High School girls varsity team will compete in its first High School Nationals.
Inspired by the call at the summit to increase women’s participation in squash by 300% to reach parity, Howard took it on herself to help grow the game in her own community at her public high school.
Radnor’s squash program has fielded a coed team three times at High School Nationals, but none since 2015, with the team’s four girls playing on the JV squad last season. Last fall, Howard and her teammates drummed up support from other interested students until they had a consistent eight girls on the team. The Radnor program received a US Squash Scholastic Grant this season to support the expansion, helping them add a girls-focused coach in former Drexel player Rose Lawrence along with covering other operational costs.
“For me, squash has been such a crucial part of my life, I love playing more than anything else,” Howard said. “What resonated with me the most at the Women & Girls Summit was when I heard the women’s squash game has to be grown by 300% to match the amount of male players. This really inspired me and made me think about Radnor’s team. Last year, out of the fifteen boys on our team, six boys competitively played in squash tournaments. Out of the four girls on our team, I was the only one who had even participated in a squash tournament. I want to encourage these girls to play, not so they can be the best players, but so they can fall in love with the sport like I have.”
The Radnor High School squash program started in 2010 when the Clothier family recognized that several squash players in the area already attended the school including their son, Wick. The Radnor Athletic Director approached Paul Wright about leading the program, who learned squash in a gym class during his time attending Penn State. Radnor received US Squash Scholastic Grants in 2010 and 2011 to help establish the program, and were integral in sending the program to its first High School Nationals in those years.
Radnor High School established a partnership with Scozzie Squash and Fairmount Athletic Club to serve as their home courts, and recently moved to the Episcopal Academy Squash Club.
Coach Wright, who became a US Squash Level 1 Certified Coach early in his tenure, credits the Conestoga squash program as a model for Radnor’s expansion and serving as mentors over the past decade. Conestoga, led by Cam Hopkins, was another Philadelphia-area public school program who partnered with a private club for courts in Berwyn Squash & Fitness, and started with coed teams that later grew into separate girls and boys teams with additional coaching support.
“Rhea being able to help us reach critical mass to have enough young women to field a girls team is a great opportunity for Radnor,” Wright said. “The girls have been really excited this season and none of them have even played in Nationals before. I think once they experience Nationals for the first time they’ll be even more enthusiastic about the sport. My goal is to build a team. I want these young women to be comfortable together, to play the sport in the right way with sportsmanship, fair refereeing, on court play and fitness. As someone who didn’t know the sport until college and now has the opportunity to play on Saturday mornings, I love the thought of building squash as a lifetime sport for all of my athletes. I’m more concerned this year with getting the girls feeling like they’re part of a unit, and Coach Rose coming on board has been a huge addition to that. The girls have vastly different skill levels and that’s one of the beautiful things about team squash, everybody has a match and plays a part from top to bottom. I’m excited for Nationals for them, but my goal will be to make sure they know what it means to be a team and take care of each other.”