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Courting Higher Learning: Athletics + Academics = Success

Image: Aaliyah Galloway, 12, left, and Melliah Santos, 12, laugh as they play squash at the Lenfest Center
Aaliyah Galloway, 12, left, and Melliah Santos, 12, laugh as they play squash at the Lenfest Center, in Philadelphia. Matt Rourke / AP

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.

-- AP

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Image: Ramon Belliard, 10, puts his shoes on at the Lenfest Center
Ramon Belliard, 10, puts his shoes on at the Lenfest Center, in Philadelphia. The rough-and-tumble Hunting Park section of Philadelphia is an unusual location for professional squash courts. But it's the perfect place for SquashSmarts, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping inner-city kids physically and academically fit through squash instruction and mentoring. Matt Rourke / AP
Image: Melliah Santos, 12, right, works on her academics with Drexel University volunteer Aakarsh Malhotra
Melliah Santos, 12, right, works on her academics with Drexel University volunteer Aakarsh Malhotra before she practices squash at the Lenfest Center. Matt Rourke / AP
Image: Youths get their things from lockers before squash practice at the Lenfest Center
Youths get their things from lockers before squash practice at the Lenfest Center, in Philadelphia. Matt Rourke / AP