Dent Wilkens, who served most recently as US Squash’s Chief Marketing Officer, left the organization this summer after 15 years of service to the sport. Wilkens accepted the Executive Director role at the newly formed Rochester Community Squash (RCS) with the goal of building a new broadly accessible squash facility in the upstate New York city.
Wilkens’ journey from national to local tells the story of the sport’s development over the last two decades. At US Squash, Wilkens’ roles varied widely since starting in 2008 as a program manager and only its 6th full time employee at the time, ranging from a deep involvement in programs, events, partnerships and communications.
Fifteen Years Ago
US Squash was a very different organization in 2008—in Wilkens’ first week, the US Squash website went dark, and there was effectively no online presence or program support. Over the coming months he and other staff worked behind the scenes to lay the groundwork for what has become a robust suite of infrastructure to support the sport. US Squash’s site now attracts 2 million visits annually, and hundreds of tournament directors, league organizers, teaching pros, District volunteers, program managers and coaches use US Squash’s technology every day to grow squash across the country.
Living in Philadelphia at the time, Wilkens commuted to New York City regularly, later establishing a US Squash office back in Philadelphia as the organization grew. Initially hired as part of a small team to support areas as varied as junior development, events, communications, coach and referee certifications, there are few departments he didn’t establish, drive, lead or support.
With this breadth of knowledge, ultimately serving as the organization’s Chief Marketing Officer, Wilkens was able to anticipate needs and fill them with the voice of US Squash. His role was far from limited, however. He served as Vice President – North America of the Pan American Squash Federation, represented US Squash at numerous U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee conferences and led the organization’s signature U.S. Open for a time.
Having supported the college squash relationship for nearly a decade, it only made sense for Wilkens to serve as a temporary executive director of the newly merged women’s and men’s College Squash Association for a year until a full-time commissioner was hired.
As a member of the core team internally, Wilkens also led several of the most important aspects of the design and construction of the Arlen Specter US Squash Center, including the squash experience, technology integration, and the center’s look and feel.
Wilkens moved back to Rochester, NY—the hometown of both he and his wife, Alisha—prior the pandemic, and it seemed likely that he would ultimately seek other opportunities. That came in the form of RCS.
In contrast to the significant growth of squash nationwide, participation in the sport has declined in Rochester in recent decades due to a decrease in court capacity and programs. Enter the creation of RCS, a newly-formed 501(c)(3) non-profit that aims to leverage sport as a uniting force and provide a new platform of opportunity for the area.
RCS came together earlier this year, and its board engaged Wilkens as an early advisor on the project. After a search process for its first Executive Director, Wilkens was selected to lead the organization.
“I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work at US Squash alongside an exceptional group of colleagues and partners, especially during a time of accelerating momentum for the sport,” said Wilkens. “RCS now allows me to shift from the national perspective down to the grassroots level, working with a city that means a lot to me and my family.”
At its core, RCS’s vision is to be a vibrant community center that brings together players and families from diverse backgrounds, using squash as a hook while providing robust wrap-around education services and support to local youth. RCS will borrow from proven models of other highly successful programs, including many from the national Community Squash movement, and Squash & Education Alliance programs.
“RCS is an investment in Rochester, and in the belief that everyone deserves diverse opportunities and the chance to thrive,” continued Wilkens. “We can learn a lot from the numerous programs and individuals leading the way around the country, and I’m excited to see what we will accomplish working together as a community.”
While only in the early stages of its development, RCS is searching for a location and aims to run pilot programming with future partners in the summer of 2024. Once up-and-running, RCS will form several local public school teams alongside its education and mentoring programs, host adult clinics and leagues, and deliver broader squash and wellness programming for all ages and backgrounds.
Wilkens’ impact on the sport nationally will be felt for decades, and perhaps most profoundly for the work he has yet to do in taking RCS from a vision to a reality.
Fellow Rochesterian, and current US Squash President and CEO, Kevin Klipstein added, “Rochester has such a deep history in squash so there is a strong foundation to build on. To have Dent move on leaves a big gap in US Squash, and I wouldn’t have liked him leaving for any other opportunity other than this one. Community squash centers, making the sport broadly available to a diverse community, with local school involvement, are the future of the sport. We’re fortunate to have Dent serving in such an important role on the vanguard of this movement.”