Darien squash players look to grow the game regionally

It is no secret that Darien is a sports-crazy town. Nationally ranked teams at Darien High School, youth sports programs with enormous rates of participation, and now a brand new set of state of the art stadium lights. Typically sports like football, lacrosse, hockey, field hockey, or volleyball are the first sports to come to mind when thinking about Darien. But a group of students at DHS are trying to grow another sport: squash. And their goal is much more lofty than simply raising participation levels in Darien.

The goal is to raise participation levels in communities all across the region, starting specifically with Darien, Norwalk, and Stamford.

“Initially, I came up with an idea to focus on squash in the Darien-Stamford-Norwalk area. My goal was to participate in fund- raising, where I would raise money to help underprivileged people play squash. For example, I would ask for donations of money, sports clothing, squash gear like rackets, shoes, squash balls, squash glasses, wristbands, or spare squash grips,” said Albert Nguyen, one of the originators of the idea of this urban squash league.

More than just finding gear, the goal includes the creation of a network so that squash players can find others to play with.

“I also wanted to make my organization so that people could email me or any other member of the current squash team for a simple hit, lesson or practice session. As long as anyone wanted a hit, he/she would be welcome. It would be any day of the week that we would be available at where this would be posted on emails or social media,” said Nguyen.

Nguyen would find that a teammate of his, Sophia Cortellesi, had already gotten the ball rolling on the idea to start a squash organization. “Sophia had gone to a community center in Stamford and brought a couple of kids to play at the Sportsplex in Stamford on Saturdays. She has also started the initiative of providing a STEM oriented program to her squash activities,” said Nguyen. Nguyen also credits the Darien Depot for helping him come up with the idea.

“Without Janice and the support of Darien Depot, I would not have been able to start my plan to make squash more popular in the Darien community,” said Nguyen.

Cortellesi explained that the inspiration came following a match between Darien and Squash Haven.

“I was inspired by what the organization was doing for the kids, and the impact squash was having on their lives, and I wanted to reproduce their success in my own community. I then shared my ideas with my squash coach Kumail Mehmood and friend Taylor Richards, and we started to build the program,” said Cortellesi. Nguyen described the work done by Squash Haven as “truly unbelievable.”

Now, the new organization is looking to grow. Thanks to generosity from coach Kumail Mehmood, the group uses SportsPlex in Stamford.

“We play at Sportsplex in Stamford on Saturday afternoon. Kumail Mehmood generously donates courts and equipment to run our program,” said Cortellesi. Cortellesi added that Mehmood and the rest of the SportsPlex staff have been an instrumental part of setting up and building this program.

“The joining of their two ideas has been a strong match. “We have merged to make our organization truly functional, I would focus more heavily on fundraising, as well as adding in my idea of not just Saturdays, but possibly every day being a possibility for anyone to play squash with the Darien High School Squash Team,” said Nguyen.

As they grow, both Nguyen and Cortellesi said that they’d love to get more help from others in the community who love squash.

“People who love squash can come and help us teach the kids on Saturdays. We are helping squash grow by creating awareness and love for the sport in the underserved communities,” said Cortellesi. Nguyen added that he plans on placing a donation box outside The Depot for people in the community to donate equipment and supplies.

Nguyen said he hopes that other people are able to have the same sensation he had when he first picked up a racket. “When I played it, I can say it was one of the most memorable things I had ever done,” said Nguyen.

Nguyen encouraged anyone who was interested in getting involved or learning more to reach out via email at albertnguyen12@gmail.com or contacting Cortellesi at sgcortellesi@gmail.com about her Saturday sessions.

“I hope to enhance the game of squash in our community,” said Nguyen.