In the small, rural town that is Coventry, Connecticut, an estate dedicated to horses and equestrians is nothing out of the ordinary. But squash? That’s something many people do not often hear about.
Just a short 15-minute drive off-campus, you will find yourself at the gate of the Connecticut Equestrian Center. Driving through the acres of barns, horses and houses, you will come across a large, gray barn with two squash courts inside.
This is the Connecticut Squash Center.
Richard von Hirschberg, a native of South Africa, owns and runs this squash facility on the same piece of property his wife controls her equestrian business, as well as the property they call home.
For the past two and a half years, von Hirschberg’s $270,000 facility, which includes bathrooms with showers, limited gym equipment and a kitchenette, has provided those who live in the area with the closest access to what von Hirschberg calls “a crazy good game.”
“In 40 minutes you’ll come off dripping with sweat,” von Hirschberg said of the sport that a Forbes’ study concluded as the best for getting and staying fit.
Squash plays similarly to racquetball, but with a lot more player movement. The game carries the same sort of “club” style that comes with sports like golf and polo and offers the ability to meet and connect with some pretty successful people. UConn physics professor Carlos Trallero, said he’s met CEOs and those of similar statures in his years of playing squash with people from all parts of the world.
For a sport that ussquash.com says has grown 66 percent in the US since 2010, with 185 countries playing worldwide, von Hirschberg does not get a lot of foot traffic. Even though he primarily had the two courts built to host friends and tournaments, he would like more local people to come play or even try it for the first time.
“It’s a sport for everybody. It’s never too late to pick it up,” Brendan McClintick, the facility’s head coach, said.
“If somebody’s looking for some way to get in shape that’s more interesting than going to the gym and sitting on a bike for half an hour, this is an interesting, new, kind of engaging way,” McClintick added. “You can lose weight, you can stay in shape and you can learn something new.”
Gyms are a great source for staying fit, like the Recreation Center at UConn. Though the current gym replaced the only two squash courts it had with the current rock wall, the new gym that’s set to open next semester initially had plans for a pair of squash courts. Those courts are no longer in the plans.
“So, it’s sad. I actually contacted the people in charge of the recreation centers here [UConn] and the answer was a very strong ‘No. We won’t have that here,’” Trallero said.
Trallero, who has played squash since he was at Stony Brook University for graduate school, offered the same phrase as von Hirschberg when asked about the university’s plans for the recreation center.
“I think UConn is pretty short-sighted actually,” von Hirschberg said.
UConn is geographically located in a prime area of the nation for squash, with programs like Yale, Harvard and Trinity all within driving distance. The Trinity Bantams are the pinnacle of collegiate and US squash with 17 national championships, including a run of 13 straight. Though they were the 2019 runner-up, Trinity was recently ranked in the top-10 dynasties of all-time by ESPN.
Trallero, who claims von Hirschberg’s courts are better than Trinity’s, said the university would only need to change a back glass panel and un-polish the floors to convert a racquetball court into a suitable squash court. Even then, there would be limited access, especially with the prospect of a club team needing the facility to practice, an avoidable problem thanks to Connecticut Squash Center.
“The good thing too is a lot of the other facilities that have more courts, they’ve got varsity teams, JV teams. They have full teams that are using the courts, so a lot of the issues with those places is they run into are scheduling problems,” McClintick said.
“There’s no team that’s gonna come every day at four o’clock and use the courts. It’s open,” he added.
The courts are open virtually all the time. The Squash Center’s fliers promote a 24/7 court availability (for members) and McClintick said he’s played on the courts at midnight, though that may be subject to change if von Hirschberg’s, and Trallero’s, dream were to come true.
“I would love to have a team to represent this place,” von Hirschberg said.
“If the quantity is there, and we have enough people, it would be a dream come true to have a UConn squash team,” Trallero said.
In order to create a team, the facility needs players. To help with that, and the wallets of college students, von Hirschberg is offering UConn students and faculty a $50 discount off his usual $350 annual membership fee. McClintick is also offering his lessons at a discounted rate, $60 instead of $75 for an hour lesson.
Whether a team is created or not, von Hirschberg’s courts are closer to campus than those at Trinity, allowing local residents to experience a sport they may not have otherwise been able to. The greater the numbers of people playing the game at Connecticut Squash Center, the greater the entire environment will become.
“I would like to let people know that we have the squash courts so close by,” Trallero said. “I would like to have a bunch of people showing up there so that we have a critical mass that you can go pretty much any day and play with somebody there.”
Connecticut Squash Center is located at 220 Talcott Hill Rd., Coventry, Connecticut, and can be contacted via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or over the phone ((781) 856-1293).
Kevin Arnold is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.