Delaware’s First State Squash Opens New Facility

Delaware Governor John Carney (front row, second to left) with the First State Squash Board of Directors

Earlier this week First State Squash opened its spectacular six-court facility. An array of Delaware politicians joined FSS board members, staff, parents, friends and team members to formally inaugurate the after-school youth enrichment program’s new home in Wilmington’s Riverfront District. Honored guests included Governor John Carney, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, state Senator Darius Brown, state Representatives Franklin Cooke, Sherry Dorsey Walker and Stephanie Bolden, and City Councilwoman Michelle Harlee.

Christine Schiltz, the chair of the board of First State Squash, welcomed an overflow crowd to the courtside ribbon cutting, thanking everyone for supporting the program: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to open a facility that will serve thousands of Wilmingtonians.” Then Solomon and Aubrey, two longtime team members, spoke movingly about their experiences in FSS and how the program has changed their lives.

“It’s important our children and families in our state’s largest city have a safe place to grow and learn after school and out of school,” said Governor Carney in his keynote address. “This investment in First State Squash, made possible by the Delaware congressional delegation through the American Rescue Plan Act, offers athletic, academic and enrichment opportunities. Through squash, they make learning and developing fun. That is key to a program like this.”

Mayor Purzycki, Executive Meyer and Representative Dorsey Walker eloquently echoed the governor’s comments, before First State Squash Executive Director Owen Butler concluded the ceremony.

“Our students are excited to play on their own courts and have a safe space to learn and tackle their high school and college aspirations,” Butler said. “We are proud to be part of the ongoing investment in Wilmington’s Riverfront community, in a location that is central to our partner schools and central to our team members’ communities.”

First State Squash enrolled its first students in 2016, using classrooms, two hardball squash courts and three racquetball courts at Central YMCA in downtown Wilmington. In 2021 it purchased the former Reflex Squash & Fitness Club. A Wilmington squash player and parent, Kevin Abrams, had built Reflex in 2005, but in recent years the club had closed. The now-renovated 28,000 square-foot building has six squash courts, including one four-wall glass court, as well as two light-filled classrooms, changing spaces, locker rooms and offices.

Now in its seventh season, FSS serves fifth through ninth grade students, all of whom attend—or previously attended—Wilmington’s public and charter Title I middle schools. In February First State Squash became the twentieth member program of the Squash + Education Alliance, the national network of nonprofit squash organizations offering year-round, long-term support to young people. With the opening of its new facility and four full-time staff members, Butler said that the program looks to eventually expand its core programming, going from sixty-five students to more than a hundred. In addition, the facility is already the home for Tower Hill School’s high school squash team and more scholastic and junior squash will emerge, as well as adult squash. “We hope to become a multi-purpose facility,” said Butler, “offering a full-range of programming that will increase access to squash for Wilmington’s diverse and vibrant communities.”