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Above: Aaliyah Galloway, 12, left, and Melliah Santos, 12, laugh as they play squash at the Lenfest Center, in Philadelphia.
Inner cities are not typical havens for squash, which is similar to racquetball but is often considered a niche sport for the elite. Yet SquashSmarts, an after-school program in Philadelphia, is among 15 clubs nationwide using the game to help underprivileged students through exercise and academic support.
SquashSmarts serves about 120 students from fifth through 12th grade, furnishing all necessary uniforms, equipment, snacks and academic space. Private donors and foundations provide nearly all of the club's annual $570,000 budget, executive director Stephen Gregg said.
SquashSmarts tracks participants' cardiovascular fitness, grade-point averages and college placements. In a district with a high dropout rate, all those who stayed in the club for seven years have graduated on time and been accepted to college, Gregg said.