Beyond Walls Urban Squash Twin Cities


I am currently a senior at St. Paul Central High School, where I played boys’ varsity soccer for three years. While attending school, I am also serving in Minnesota Army National Guard.

I discovered Beyond Walls Urban Squash through Pajaa Lee, who go by Tracy. Every day, she would talk to me about how much opportunities Beyond Walls has and how great the program is. Tracy and I have been a fried since December 2013. With strong friendship, she willing to be my cultural broker and communicated with Beyond Walls directors to give me permission to participate and observe their program, the athletic students, and staffs where it is located in the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Recreation and Wellness Center.

From inexperienced and what I heard about Beyond Walls, I assumed that Beyond Walls have a lot of time and put squash above all.

History of Squash

In the early eighteenth century, prisoners at the Fleet, London’s infamous debtor’s jail, created an outdoor ball game called racquets: hitting a ball against a wall. This happened when debtors took their exercise by hitting a ball against walls with rackets and so started the game of Rackets. Rackets progressed to Harrow and other select English schools about 1820 and it was from this source that the sport of Squash developed.

General View of the Belvidere racket ground, Tentonville, London

Squash was invented in Harrow school around 1830, when the students discovered that a punctured Rackets ball, which “squashed” on impact with the wall and produced a game with a greater variety of shots. The variant proved popular and in 1864. The first four Squash courts were constructed at the school and Squash was officially founded as a sport in its own right.

“The Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes” written by the Duke of Beaufort contains the first records of squash, which appeared in 1890 in the English book . In 1901, there were courts in schools and universities in England and some also in private houses.

As Squash developed so did its administrative structure. The first discrete national associations to be formed where the United States Squash Rackets Association in 1907 and the Canadian Squash Rackets Association in 1911. In England, the game was regulated by a Squash sub-committee of the Tennis and Rackets Association from 1908 until it gained full status as the Squash Rackets Association in 1928.

The standard size of a Squash court, 32 feet by 21 feet, much smaller that the court for Rackets which measures 60 feet by 30 feet was inspired by the Bath Club in London. The sport continued to be played up to 15 points.

Squash In America

In the 19th century the game increased in popularity with various schools, clubs and even private citizens building squash courts, but with no set dimensions. The first squash court in the United States appeared at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire.

In 1878, James P. Conover, the Headmaster of St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, USA, experienced the game with Racquet Court Cub while studying in Columbia. In 1882, he went back to visit the game in Montreal. He thought it would be a perfect sport for his boys, so he decided that St. Paul’s should have a court. He hired a contractor to build new Squash complex and its twenty-one feet wide courts. It was finished in January 1883.

Although the International ball was harder and bouncier than it is now, it was not convenient to the cold courts in New Hampshire where the temperature often below freezing point during play. A harder rubber ball was developed and found to be more suited to slightly narrower courts, leading to the eighteen and a half feet court, nineteen feet court and other experimental widths.

It was not until 1924 that the court specifications were codified, at which time it was decided to standardize on the eighteen and a half feet width and a seventeen inch. By 1929, official court plans were being sold by the U.S.A. Squash Racket Association and the hardball game was brought into controlled growth.


A day in Beyond Walls…

Every Monday and Wednesday evening, I parked my rusty white 2007 Toyota Sienna in the idle parking lot of Washington Technology Magnet School. A blue van would come up and park in front of me. I step inside and will be welcomed by a diverse group of teenagers with warm handshakes, and lightened smiles. The blue van is Beyond Walls only transportation for participants who needs a ride. The driver, Mark, was always quiet and focused on the road.

When they arrive at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Recreation and Wellness Center the students are welcomed by Samantha, who goes by Sammy — the academic director. She greets them with, “how is your day today?” Inside the building, students will have to pass the security entrance, up one floor and down two floors to a room filled with books, supplies, games, and lockers, which is Beyond Walls’s classroom.

The students will set their backpacks and other belongings down by tables and chairs, head to the restrooms to change, then they would come back and unpack their squash goggles, shoes, and rackets. Some store their shoes and goggles in their mini lockers that are about 10x10 inches, and some store it in their Beyond walls squash racket bag. They each leave the classroom one by one as they finish changing and unpacking to go up one floor, where the squash courts are located. There they are greeted by their squash coach Arturo, and some volunteers, Rob and Phil — the boards of Beyond Walls.

After everyone has settled down on the bleachers in front of the courts, Arturo goes over the agenda of how squash will run for the day. He also, reminds the students about their IPS (Ideal Performance State). He challenges them to name out all the characteristics that you must have in order to be in your IPS: focused, challenged, relaxed, energized, positive, and ready for fun. After Arturo makes the announcements, he divides the students up to pairs of 2–3 based on their skill level. However, they all perform the same drill and play the same condition games. For the newest players, Arturo assigns them to their own court with Rob or Phil and work on their serves and returns (learning how to serve and return are the first steps to being able to play a squash game).

After a little over an hour of squash practice, the University of Minnesota tutors who work for Beyond Walls come up to walk the students down to the classroom. Students are once again welcomed at their classroom door by Sammy with, “how was squash today?” Before Sammy gets started with announcements and let them begin their homework, she fits in about 10–15 minutes of yoga/stretching to help the students relax their mind and body in order to release some stress, and/or to help them focus better.

Students roughly begin their homework around 5:15–5:20pm. As they begin to take out their homework, tutors walk around asking them, “what do you have to work on today? Math? Biology? History?” eventually, almost every student will have a tutor helping them with their work if needed. If a student does not have any work to do, Beyond Walls has some activities available for them such as, reading a new book off their bookshelf, putting together a 1,000 piece puzzle, or other games they can play with a tutor.

Before the students’ 30–35 minutes of homework time is up, Sammy always shouts out a 5-minute warning until clean up time. Once the time is up, she brings the students and tutors together in a big circle around the tables and asks, “does anyone have an end of the day shout out?” After each shoutout is given, instead of clapping uncontrollably they follow a ritual. The person who just gave the shout will say at the end of their shout out, “one, two, three — *CLAP*” After “three” everyone claps to make a giant “clap” noise for the shoutout.


Samantha (Sammy):

Q: How long have you been involved in Beyond Walls?

A: I have worked here about a year and three months. I started late January of 2015.

Q: Why/how did you become involved with Beyond Walls? Was it your choice, or did someone convince you?

A: I wanted to try a nonprofit area so I went to the MN Counsel of nonprofits website and I essentially picked out a dozen positions and Beyond Walls was one of them. I was looking for roles that had dual direct services with students and also an administrative aspect to it. Beyond Walls interviewed me and I liked the idea of combining athletic with the academic support. I also liked the community service portion and that we are part of a National Organization (NUSEA). I wanted to work with students who are underserved and under-resourced. Under engaged especially in the college arena. It had just kind of fit all my criteria.

Q: What about Beyond Walls makes you so committed?

A: They’re fantastic. Especially the students who have been in the program for so many years. They really start to see the benefits of the physical and mental success that you can find in a program like this. And also the commodity, family feeling that you can get. They are exciting young people with a lot of potential in them. They bring a great deal of perspective that I really enjoy. It’s where I find the most joy.

Q: What does Beyond Walls symbolize to you?

A: To me Beyond Walls symbolizes the connection and energy between education and creating cool people. So again, since we have this physical component, we have the academic component, we engage the students in their community, they travel, so they have leadership opportunities. It’s sort of a holistic approach. Beyond Walls symbolizes that we are nurturing and helping create and guide students to the best one of themselves.


Q: How long have you been involved in Beyond Walls?

A: Since September 2015. About eight months now.

Q: Why/how did you become involved with Beyond Walls? Was it your choice, or did someone convince you?

A: I’ve been involved in the squash community in Twin Cities for twenty years and I’ve always loved the program. Especially in the national level. Since Beyond walls started I’ve been trying to get involved, and there was a chance for me to get on board this year. That’s where I didn’t even think twice about it. It was my choice, absolutely. We approached each other, it was a mutual approach.

Q: What about Beyond Walls makes you so committed?

A: I love the principles of it. I love the fact that I can be a leader and teach these kids pretty much a healthy way of life. I love squash And I love teaching the skills. My first goal in this program before I came on board is to make National Champion, but know that is not about it. It’s about being a good mentor and teaching them to be healthy for the rest of their lives.

Primary Goals:

Short term: The players to be independent on the court and to understand the game before they learn technique and advanced skills.

Long term: They players to continue playing squash, to stay active whether playing soccer or walking. But hoping they keep on playing squash.

Secondary goals: Win tournaments and to move up skill levels.


Q: How long have you been involved in Beyond Walls?

A: Since the beginning. I help started, which is about six years ago.

Q: Why/how did you become involved with Beyond Walls? Was it your choice, or did someone convince you?

A: The idea of bringing kids together to play squash and focus on their academics persuaded me. I think god was pushing me towards this direction.

Q: What about Beyond Walls makes you so committed?

A: I enjoy giving back. I’ve had a fortunate business career. I’m in the position of paying it forward to the next generation and help however you can. It’s a unique nonprofit program. There’s other programs that do similar things but no other program I’m aware of is in depth as we are as what we do. To see our kids three hours three each three days of the week, and not all of them get to come all those times due to personal reasons, but on average we are seeing our kids nine hours every week. There’s no other nonprofit program that does that. And I think that’s why our program is so successful of changing the directory of what these kids think they are capable of.

Three things boards must have:

Write a check to the organization (expected to contribute to an annual base for our cause. they amount is up to you, however, there is a minimum).

Believe 110% in what we do (inner city education is a huge need, community service, and teaching them a game of squash is for perseverance, discipline, building traits to allow them to be successful so they can take those traits to any aspect of life).

Bring some sort of expertise from your career path (asking people for money to help do something for the community, calculating expenses and revenues, marketing, development, lawyer..etc).

Q: What are the general rules/guidelines for Beyond Walls?

A: Beyond Walls partner with a school that at least seventy percent of the kids have free-reduced meal. This rule is to lift up people that don’t have the same income that other people may have.

Q: What are the requirements to participate in Beyond Walls?

A: First you turn in a interested/permission slip signed by your parent. Then we evaluate the student on three things: attitude, attendance, and effort. We want them here 80% of the time. Are they showing a good attitude when they come and if they are trying when they are on the court. If they do those three things, then they are eligible to travel to the tournaments in Amherst or Williams College.


sweet spot: the center of the racquet head where maximum power and control is generated.

Shout-outs: end of the day highlights of students and staffs’ performance

Types of shots

  • Straight drive: The ball is hit parallel and close to a side wall to travel deep to the back of the court.
  • Boast: The ball is played off a side wall at an angle, or the back wall, before hitting the front wall.
  • Volley: The ball is hit before it touches the floor, usually directly to the front wall
  • Drop shot: The ball is hit gently against the front wall, to fall softly to the floor in the front corner.
  • Lob: The ball is hit softly and high on the front wall and with a high arc, so that it falls in a back corner of the court.
  • Cross Court: The ball is hit against the front wall at an angle such that the ball lands on the opposite side of the court to the striker.
  • Kill: The ball is hit hard and low on the front wall so that it travels no farther than half court.
  • Nick : The ball is hit such that after striking the front wall the ball connects with the junction between the side wall and the floor. The result is the ball either bouncing minimally or ‘rolling’ out of the nick, ending the rally.
  • Philadelphia (or corkscrew): A shot played diagonally upwards into the front corner hitting the front wall first and then the side wall. The ball then lobs over the court with significant spin.


The basic rules of squash are fairly simple. First, the winner of the toss gets to choose which side they want to serve from and alternates sides until they lose a point. The toss is typically done by spinning the racquet, with one player guessing whether the racquet will land up or down based on the direction of the logo at the end of the grip. The ball can hit any number of walls but must eventually hit the front wall before bouncing on the floor. A rally ends when one of the following occurs:

•The ball bounces twice
•The ball hits the tin
•The ball is hit outside the out lines
•Interference resulting in a stroke. For example, point to the obstructed player.


Different types of rackets

Weight: Due to the speed of the game a lighter racket is ideal for most players. Rackets range from 110 grams to 200 grams. The lighter your racket, the quicker you can react to play the ball. On the contrary, a slightly heavier racquet may give you more power. Lighter Rackets are used by players looking for superior touch and control. Heavier rackets are used by players who like to drive the ball into the back of the court.

Balance: A racket can be balanced in several different ways. There are an even balance, head heavy, and head light. The balance of the racket plays into similar features as the weight of the racket. If you prefer a light racket and the weight is distributed to the head, it will be more difficult to prepare for your backswing. Players looking to maneuver the ball and go short often, need a racket that is head light meaning low in weight. Head heavy means more of the weight is shifted toward the head of your frame. Head light means more of the weight is down toward the handle of your racket.

Racket Strings: Similar to the racket shape, the strings used, the strings tension and stringing pattern depend on personal preference. Higher tension strings increase control while looser strings increase the amount of power generated. Thicker strings are more durable and enhance power and thinner strings increase your control, or feel, of the ball.


Beyond Walls is a nonprofit after-school organization that brings urban kids together to play the sport squash while helping them with their academics. The program’s core is the sport itself, however, its ideal goal is to not only raise the students to become an expert and hopefully someday a professional at the sport but to help them stay on track on their way to college. They are taking urban kids in to help them explore outside of their comfort zone and community — traveling to compete in different states. The tournaments they travel to are usually hosted at a college they can tour. By doing so, Beyond Walls is changing the students’ mind that the path to college is possible for them. In addition, Beyond Walls is raising the students to become leaders. Not just leaders of Beyond Walls but of the bigger program they are a part of, National Urban Squash Education Association (NUSEA). NUSEA is made up of 18 programs across the country, and Beyond Walls is just one of the many. Beyond Walls goal is to inspire “confidence and academic excellence with urban youth as life-long learners and active leaders — both on, and off, the court.”


Zug, J. (2003). Squash: A history of the game. New York: Scribner.

Zug, J. (2010). The History of Squash in 8½ Chapters. Retrieved May 03, 2016, from½-chapters

Wallbutton, T. (2010). 140 years of squash. Retrieved May 03, 2016, from

Johnson, P. (2011, December 7). How squash developed from a prisoners’ racket and ball game. Retrieved May 03, 2016, from

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