Scott Redpath is the program director of SquashSmarts located at the Lenfest Center on 10th and Pike Streets. Since graduating from St. Lawrence University in 2009, the Philly native has been mentoring students both in the United States and overseas. Redpath was stationed in Romania through the United States Peace Corps where he taught English as a foreign language and also worked as an advisor for the University of Southern Maine’s TRIO Upward Bound program, helping at-risk students with academics, career and college choices.
In August of 2015, he decided to return to his roots, bringing both his teaching techniques and squash skills to Hunting Park.
How did you get started with the program SquashSmarts?
My first interaction here was as an intern back when I was in college. As I was studying education at the time, I wanted to see what this environment could create for academic opportunities for students.
I worked for a similar program in Boston, SquashBusters, as a squash coach after my time in the Peace Corps and then continued into Maine where I worked as a college-access counselor for students in 9th-12th grade. Then, I ultimately came back into the Philadelphia area and landed here with the intention of continuing servicing students in the environment of urban squash.
You worked at the University of Southern Maine’s TRIO Upward Bound program where you advised at-risk high school students. You also taught English as a foreign language in Romania through the United States Peace Corps. How have these experiences fostered your mentorship at SquashSmarts?
With each experience, I try to just be genuine in accessing my personal investment into what I’m doing and also by listening to what is being shared with me. As a mentor, it’s really important to listen. I try to lead by example in my own space.
Part of my leadership style is acting in the way I intend others to act, carrying themselves professionally, as well as building close relationships. There’s sort of a fine line between those, but it’s definitely achievable – it’s a natural thing that I’ve been able to consistently provide for these students.
How have you noticed this program positively impacting students – not just athletically, but socially and academically?
We work a lot on, what we call, the Five Pillars of Programming – academic support, squash instruction, fitness and nutrition, leadership, and personal achievement. Students being a part of our program naturally get a chance to socialize with different students from different parts of the city. So socially, I think the students are constantly being challenged to accept one another in new ways.
The students that stay with our program from the beginning to end, 6th grade to 12th grade, have 100 percent acceptance rates into college. We don’t push students to go to college unless they say that they’re interested. We are supportive of students who want to find a career immediately after school, helping them find internships and potential positions.
As someone who has been playing squash for many years, how does this somewhat novel sport act as an effective approach in advising students, as opposed to a more common pastime, like football?
Squash offers a dynamic experience to any student athlete in that – it’s really an individual sport. It’s one person playing against another. It makes you really rely heavily on your own mental strengths and your own physical strengths – and that takes practice.
Kids have a lot going on in their lives that causes questions to come up or changes to happen pretty quickly. In the squash world, you’re learning how to handle yourself by going through these different experiences of losing a point or losing a match or, maybe, winning a match.
Beyond the individual aspect of the sport, we emphasize the aspects that are team-related and team-oriented. That dynamic – to support an individual on court with an entire team is a really unique feeling of community.
Out of all the neighborhoods that SquashSmarts could have been established, why was Hunting Park selected?
Our mission from the beginning has been to work with underserved students, and when we looked at the community schools in this area, there were very few out-of-school programs offered to students beyond the regular school day. We thought we could have an impact on helping schools that were underperforming in the district as a whole. We wanted to create a window of opportunity to students who didn’t necessarily have it at the time. And Hunting Park happened to be where the place landed by both availability and need.
As the program director, what is your perspective on SquashSmart?
The windows of opportunity that we can create are pretty unique in that – unfortunately, squash, historically, has been an elitist sport. It’s something that’s not often found in inner cities. So, what this program really does is looking to diversify not only the sport but socioeconomic groups that are divided in some way or form.
The students that we work with can continually see themselves as more valued members of the community and of any community. We empower students by creating a safe space for them to have conversations they’re not getting at home or at school. Those conversations will hopefully hold enough weight to continually remind students that we believe in them and that we see the amazing potential that they have every day.
-Text and images by Ashley Portillo and Grace Maiorano.