Save UC Berkeley Squash!

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The UCB Recreational Sports Facility (RSF) recently decided... 

  • at the end of this month (end of next week) to permanently eliminate one high-quality upstairs squash court (#3) and replace it with a fitness studio (https://recsports.berkeley.edu/fitness-studio/ and
  • to terminate support for league squash, ending a 50-year tradition of reciprocity with Bay Area club teams (in a personal email from the RSF Customer Service Center).

We, the undersigned strongly oppose these decisions, since better alternatives exist. For locating the fitness studio, for example:

  • replacing one of the underused racquetball courts,
  • moving an existing workout room downstairs to make room for the new studio, 
  • replacing the nearly unusable court #10,
  • adding a new squash court downstairs (SquashDrive might help with costs).

Squash in high demand

Technically, all of the upstairs courts are multi-use; people have been seen to skip rope, practice dance routines, stretch, play squash, handball, and racquetball on any court. And while the squash and racquetball courts are often empty during most working hours, there can be heavy contention for squash courts in the early evenings and during popular weekend hours. There seems to be far less demand for the racquetball courts.

The RSF keeps hourly court participation data that we are confident will confirm our own experience that the demand for squash is consistently much higher than for racquetball and handball combined. In an era of data-driven decision making, this would be an easy decision to defend. Here is an idea of demand based on our own “courts-in-use” data in June 2018. In all cases it was squash being played on the squash courts, and either racquetball or handball on racquetball courts.

06.03 at 08:50:  4 squash courts, 1 racquetball court

06.03 at 09:10:  3+ squash courts, 1 racquetball court (“+” means we didn’t check downstairs)

06.04 at 07:30:  2 squash courts, 0 racquetball courts

06.04 at 18:15:  1+ squash courts, 1 racquetball court (“+” means we didn’t check downstairs)

06.05 at 07:30:  2 squash courts, 0 racquetball courts

06.06 at 07:30:  1 squash court, 0 racquetball courts

06.07 at 07:30:  3 squash courts, 0 racquetball courts

06.08 at 07:30:  2 squash courts, 1 racquetball court

06.11 at 18:45:  5 squash courts, 2 racquetball courts

06.21 at 20:30:  3+ squash courts, 0 racquetball courts

 

Upstairs/downstairs

On the main floor of the RSF there are 3 squash courts and 4 handball/racquetball courts. Visiting players’ first impression is that the 3 upstairs squash courts are the worst in the Bay Area – non-standard size, heavily used, and generally in poor repair, with holes in the walls, warped floorboards, peeling paint, and missing or broken door knobs. Many squash players are surprised to learn – because they’re so well hidden and inconveniently located – that there are actually 3 more squash courts downstairs “in the dungeon” that are in even worse shape, with gutters in the floors (courts 11 and 12) and a buckling front wall (court 10) and no drinking fountains. Here’s one RSF member’s view:

“Yes, you may very well have renovated whatever dank, moldy, flood-prone courts there are several flights down in the basement but no one, and I mean no one, wants to go down there to check. Two flights down into the darkness, they're totally cut off from the rest of the facility and the rest of the world – in case of an earthquake or similar catastrophe.”

It’s an amazingly strong sign of the demand that the 3 squash courts downstairs are used heavily by SquashDrive during the daytime and are often fully booked in the evenings, especially considering that many of us refuse to play downstairs. We are tired of being “assessed” as having 6 squash courts, when, frankly, all of them are substandard and dilapidated.

League squash – students and community

For 50 years, the student-oriented squash club has had a strong connection with local community squash leagues. In the 1960s – 1990s, it was the main source of competition for the undergraduate teams. Since then student participation has waned somewhat, but there have been students on the league teams every year since 1968. In the meantime, RSF revenue depends on community members, many of whom only use the RSF for squash, and the undergrad squash team has benefited from competition and fundraising with members of the community. The RSF no longer serves only the students, but many paying community members as well.

The RSF plan to terminate support for league squash is not only sad, but tarnishes the university and the RSF, making it the only area club that doesn’t extend the basic courtesy of waiving guest fees for non-members on the few nights per year when we would host a visiting team of 4 players. We don’t have a problem with the RSF stopping the practice of making court reservations and event passes, but to give the team captain a small number of simple, dated guest passes is a very small ask.

Squash is growing and so could Cal fundraising

Squash is growing rapidly, especially in California, where for the first 20 years of the squash club's existence, Berkeley had the only collegiate squash team west of the Mississippi. Today four Bay Area kids are ranked in the top ten nationally (https://www.ussquash.com/rankings/ in the under 15 category. Would they want to play at Cal? Not with our courts, especially when they will likely be offered squash scholarships at top squash schools, such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Stanford. Squash is a sport played by the wealthiest people in America, and creating a welcoming squash community couldn’t hurt future donations. This is not a time to be cutting back on squash facilities at Cal, in fact it’s a time to be renovating at least the three somewhat usable courts on the first floor and not destroying one of them.

Thousands of students have learned squash on UC Berkeley courts, and there is a long tradition of intercollegiate competition here. As the best public university in the world, UC Berkeley is committed to accessibility and diversity. Squash courts are still very rare in the East Bay, and one club that recently eliminated a squash court (Club Sport Fremont) is now reinstating it due to public demand.

We call for the decisions to eliminate Court 3 and squash league to be put on hold and properly reviewed by the Recreational Sports Board of Governors with ample opportunity for students, faculty, staff and community members to provide input.



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