By Barrett Neale
Boston has the SquashBusters Derby, New York has the StreetSquash Cup and now Baltimore has the SquashWise Rally.
SquashWise is one of nine programs in the National Urban Squash and Education Association, which offer squash lessons and academic tutoring. SquashWise has been working with Baltimore students since 2008, and held its first rally this year, which executive director Abby Markoe modeled after the SquashBusters and StreetSquash fundraisers. There was a 12-team squash tournament May 6, preceded by months of fundraising.
"Squash was secondary when we asked captains to build their teams," Markoe said. "What we were looking for was team captains who were interested in fundraising, knew our mission or wanted to get more involved in our mission, and then also could communicate the message well to their team members and their network and their peers and their colleagues."
Each team committed to raising a minimum of $5,000. Markoe said she hadn't expected to raise more than $75,000 during the first year of the event, but once she had collected all the pledges, the total was more than $158,000.
"It astounded us in this first year how successful the fundraising was," Markoe said. "But what this really showed to us is that the community is invested in SquashWise. We're hoping that they'll continue to have fun and invest in this thing."
Markoe said she intended to make the rally an annual event, and she expected to raise even more money in the future. StreetSquash in Harlem, N.Y., raised about $50,000 during its first year, Markoe said, but raised almost $600,000 last month for the fourth annual StreetSquash Cup.
Markoe went to last year's StreetSquash Cup and said she began planning the SquashWise Rally in September 2011, putting together a rally committee and identifying which people would serve as captains. The rally committee set the date in January, Markoe said, to ensure maximum attendance. Each team was made up of a captain, 4-6 amateur players, a squash professional and a student from the SquashWise program.
"The captain made up his or her own team of donors," Markoe said, "and then we assigned the pros and we assigned the students. The pros were also part of the fundraising competition, because the top five teams as of a particular cutoff date, they got to pick their pro. So if they wanted to be a really competitive team, then they would pick one of the highest-ranking pros that we had on the roster. The rest of the teams, the pros were assigned."
The winning team was TITAL: Take it to Another Level, which raised $31,100. The team co-captains were Martin Knott, who spearheaded the fundraising, and his brother Owen, the treasurer of SquashWise and a member of the board of directors.
"I think the key component in fundraising is No. 1, you have to have a great cause," Martin Knott said. "Then, you've got to give people reason to raise money. I think SquashWise did a great job of getting together some tremendous gifts and prizes for the winning teams, which helped motivate people."
The prizes included stays at vacation homes, squash gear and lessons, gift certificates for dinner at local restaurants, and tickets to sports games and theater performances.
"I did a weekly update for all the captains so that they could then distribute the information to their teams," Markoe said. "The success of this was based on the fact that we found people who are competitive, and they don't want to be shown up."
The deadline for fundraising was 1 p.m. May 5, the day before the rally. Knott said the captains played some Jedi mind tricks with one another, which led him to make a last-minute fundraising push and put his team in first place.
"A friend of mine, I was out for his 40th birthday," Knott said. "He said, 'Oh, my team's at $28,000,' and I was at like $25,000 that night. … I woke up [the next] morning and raised another $5,000, which put us over the top by just a couple thousand dollars. The funny part is, my friend was just kidding me. His team wasn't even close to that. I think he knew I could go raise more money, which worked out great for SquashWise."
Once the fundraising was complete, the teams came together for the tournament. It was held at Meadow Mill, the facility sponsor, with a barbecue from P.I.G.S., the catering sponsor, and snacks from Graul's Market. Other sponsors were BB&T, the presenting sponsor; Brown Advisory, a supporting sponsor; and Bare Hills Racquet and Fitness Club, Maryland Capital Management, RBC Wealth Management and T. Rowe Price, which served as team sponsors.
There were singles and doubles rounds in the tournament, with players of relatively similar skill levels playing against each other. Markoe created three divisions -- A, B and C -- based on teams' skill levels, and the winner was the team that had the most points at the end of the day.
"On the day of the event, everyone really refocused back to our students and their successes," Markoe said. "That to me was even more valuable than the money that we raised. ... It was competing up until the very last minute, and then having fun that day and engaging with our kids."
Knott said he was impressed when he found out how much money the teams had raised collectively, and thought the rally committee had done a good job with all the planning, particularly for a first-year event. He said he planned to participate -- and hoped to win -- again next year, to continue his support of the SquashWise organization.
"I think that the squash community in Baltimore is a pretty tight-knit, small community, but really active, and has really come around this organization," he said. "You were friends with everybody there. The rally itself wasn't really anything I think anybody was competing in. We were all just happy to be there and happy to be interacting with the kids that are in the program and the parents of the kids that are in the program.
"That was, I think, where the rally got all of its momentum from. … Seeing the kids and how well they're playing squash and their parents there supporting them -- it's the result of the program. You have kids that are doing better in school and staying fit, and that's important."
The SquashWise program begins in sixth grade, with students continuing each year until their senior years of high school. One SquashWise student is a rising junior, but the majority of the 40 students currently in the program are entering the seventh through 10th grades.
Markoe said the program could serve up to 65 students next year, partly because of the money raised from this rally. It's possible that the program would accept younger students -- starting somewhere between third and fifth grade -- for the 2012-13 school year.
"We're looking for a kindergarten-through-eighth grade school," Markoe said, "so we can have continuity with the students in that school as they move through toward eighth grade and then assist them with their high school transition, which is something we've become very strong at."
Markoe said she wanted to expand to younger years to make the program long term and intensive, which would help students academically and athletically. Other NUSEA programs start in elementary school, which gives them an edge in squash tournaments.
"Our sixth-graders, who just stepped foot on the court a few months before, are getting their butts kicked by younger kids," Markoe said, "and it's frustrating for them. They're the same age, but they've been playing a lot different amounts of time, so we're going to become much more competitive with squash as we grow this program in the younger years."
To donate to Baltimore SquashWise, go to baltimoresquashwise.org/partners/donate. Learn more about joining the SquashWise team as a volunteer (tutors and mentors do not need to be squash players) at baltimoresquashwise.org/content/volunteer.
More Front Row:
• First SquashWise Rally Brings In Big Bucks
• Soccer Champs Slate 30-Year Anniversary
• Ex-Terp Ace Francis Honors His Hometown
• Liberto Slugs Homers For Designated Hitters
• Swing For The Fences, But Don't Forget Heels
• Keeping Pools Clean Is Not An Easy Task
Issue 174: June 2012