Every college campus has its big secrets. Here at Clark University there are places that even veteran students may be unfamiliar with. For example, look at the basement level of Kneller Athletic Center. Not everybody visits here on a regular basis. When walking down the tight, winding flights of stairs, a new visitor may wonder what is hiding in the dark corners of this old building.
But the basement of Kneller is not nearly as mysterious as it may seem. Here there are four racquetball courts and two squash courts, and the students and faculty actually use them frequently.
Just ask Professor Mark Miller, who teaches courses in the Political Science Department but is also the Chair of the Faculty Athletic Board. Miller has played racquetball since his days in law school, and he is eager to pass on his expertise on the sport to any students that are looking to learn.
“Racquetball is a game that people can play without too much experience,” Miller said. “What’s more important is that players are roughly equal in skill. People can have a good time without much background.”
Squash, meanwhile, also has a considerable turnout. While participants would have played in another building in the early days, they moved to their new location after Kneller was built. In the 1980s the school’s student squash club was coached by Professor Stan Gerber from the Sociology Department. On some days it was so busy that participants would show up early to guarantee their playing time. Although the sport was popular in its heyday, eventually the group stopped their meetings due to an overall loss in interest and participation.
Fortunately, in 2018, student Ravi Rao, ‘21, revived the club on Clark’s campus. The new squash club began with just nine participants and has since grown to a size of 25 regular participants. They practice four days a week to give everyone a chance to play, and they are now competing in the CSA (College Squash Association).
The squash courts are built in the American (or hardball) style. This means they use a specific set of dimensions, such as the court being 18.5 feet wide, and the short line being 10 feet from the back wall. However, the Clark Squash Club is currently working towards having the courts redesigned to international (or softball) style. In this case the court is 21 feet wide, and the short line is 14 feet from the back wall.
Students and faculty are thrilled that Rao has helped in bringing back organized squash. Katie Morrison, the Athletics Department Secretary and Facilities Scheduler, sees the facilities as a place where people can try something new and have fun without a great deal of preparation.
“These courts are a great way to get involved in a sport that doesn’t require a team,” Morrison said. “They bring in students who otherwise wouldn’t know about Kneller, and they help get them moving.”
In addition to serving their original purpose, the various courts throughout Kneller are also useful for offering backup indoor space. Sometimes a team may need to move locations when their usual spot isn’t available. Or, they may need to hold practice in a place that is safe from the elements. This is all too common in New England, where unpredictable weather can put a sudden end to outdoor practice plans. Anybody from badminton players to the dance team can be seen using the racquetball courts, which shows how versatile these facilities can be. Upstairs, the gym floor is a popular location for students and staff to organize games of pickleball.
With the potential for upgraded courts, the future for squash and racquetball at Clark is bright. No matter their skill level, students are encouraged to stop by the (not-so-scary) Kneller basement, whether to play a match or simply watch others compete. Anyone interested in joining the Clark Squash Club can contact Ravi Rao at [email protected]
Special thanks to Jeff Himmelberger, Wayne Gray, Fred Greenaway, and Daeg Brenner for providing stories of the history of squash at Clark University.