Non-profit organization uses squash to shape poor children into college achievers

San Diego-This is an unlikely pairing and an unlikely success story.

For the past 15 years, the San Diego-based non-profit Access Youth Academy has combined academic and squash games to send underprivileged students to some of the country’s most prestigious universities, including Princeton University, Cornell University and the University of California Berkeley.

Now they have opened a new 21,000 square foot academic and athletic community center in southeast San Diego, after they had operated in a space in La Jolla Pres School for more than a decade.

Renato Paiva, a former Harvard squash coach and academy executive director, said teaching the sport to students in grade seven and above will help turn these students into college textbooks.

“Traditionally, squash is a sport on Wall Street, or you can see it in movies, it has nothing to do with academics,” Paiva said. “But our plan combines the two. Our students spend half of their time in class to achieve better grades and engage in academic work, and half of their time to train squash.

He continued: “We are looking for a combination of students and athletes, not one of them. The result is to get them into the best universities and play college squash, which is common in our plans.

But why squash? Paiva said the sport taught “determination and courage.”

“Squash is a very physical sport,” he said. “Once you close the door behind you, only you and I are playing this game. It can be very difficult, but it is also very smart. Unlike other sports, if you are a basketball player and you are tall, you have an advantage. In squash, your size and size don’t matter. If you think about it, you have a greater chance of winning.”

The college conducts a trial training for students every year, and the course in May this year has just ended. Usually in these courses, Paiva says that coaches are looking for “the most suitable person”, not athletic ability or good grades.

Once the student enrolled, he said it was a journey of 12 years with the college.

“We look forward to children who want to fight for their future,” he said.

More information about the college is available online Visit

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