Pittsburgh’s Steel City Squash Executive Director
Brad Young caught the “urban squash bug” after his volunteer session at StreetSquash Harlem in 2009. Six years later, in January 2015, Young launched Steel City Squash with eight participants, and now serves 35 students in 4th-8th grades. Steel City Squash runs sessions at the University of Pittsburgh, where they have access to two classrooms, four squash courts, and office space.
As the program continues to grow, Steel City Squash is aiming to create a larger presence in the communities that it serves, spending more time engaging the stakeholders from those communities. “There is a big disparity between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in Pittsburgh. Steel City Squash is really well situated to bridge that gap and provide opportunities. A lot of other programs in Pittsburgh don’t work between the two communities, but we are uniquely positioned to do just that.”
Young had his start in urban squash in 2009, when he moved to New York City to pursue a graduate degree at Columbia University. Knowing that Young had grown up playing squash at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia and later at Denison University, a friend of his suggested he check out StreetSquash Harlem. His first week in New York, Young took the train to 116th Street, and fell in love with the community immediately.
Blown away by what he saw at StreetSquash, Young was eager to become involved in the program. He applied for a part-time academic tutor position, and recalls working one-on-one with Mawa Ballo, Connecticut College ‘18, who was in eighth grade at the time. Young and Ballo chatted about her experience in the program while they worked on math homework, and he recalls leaving the session thinking, “That was awesome – I love this.”
For the first several weeks of Young’s employment, neither staff nor students knew that he had a background in squash. A former teacher, Young’s interest in academics kept him in the classroom during after-school sessions. One afternoon, a squash director offered to teach Young the game, and was surprised to learn that Young had extensive experience in the sport. From that point on, Young floated throughout different aspects of the program.
For two years, Young worked part-time at StreetSquash, taking on roles as a summer camp counselor and a college prep assistant, in addition to his work in academic and squash sessions. “I really fell in love with all facets in the program and just kept on raising my hand for more,” he recounts. In 2011, Young was offered a full-time role as the Director of Alumni Outreach. Young didn’t hesitate: “I was so excited about StreetSquash that I jumped at that opportunity.”
From 2012-2013, Young took on bigger leadership roles, becoming the team leader of the College Access and Success Program, and beginning to work on development projects alongside Executive Director George Polsky. Young began writing grants, and worked on the StreetSquash Cup, an annual fundraiser for the program. Young also managed the Young Leadership Committee, engaging young professionals and working to cultivate that group.
In 2013 NUSEA began working on a program in Pittsburgh. “Pittsburgh was a city I always was drawn to, but I didn’t know why,” Young recalls. In 2014, Young applied for the Executive Director role, and, upon being invited for an interview, jumped into the car with his wife and one-month-old daughter, and drove to Pennsylvania. Young met with Talbott Simonds, along with others from the Hillman Foundation, who were instrumental in creating what would become Steel City Squash. The visit made a strong impression on him, “We fell in love with the city and the people – it just felt really comfortable. I became more aggressive in pursuing the position, and was offered the job in late June.” Young relocated with his family, said his goodbyes to StreetSquash, and began working at Steel City Squash that September.
Three years later, Young is still at the helm of Steel City Squash, and is enjoying the process of growing the program. The organization has its sights set on expanding to 100 students in the next three to five years. The city has proved to be a great home for Steel City Squash. “Pittsburgh is such a wonderful city. There is a lot of press out there right now about how great Pittsburgh is, and it’s true.” As the program continues to grow, Steel City Squash is aiming to create a larger presence in the communities that it serves, spending more time engaging the stakeholders from those communities. “There is a big disparity between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in Pittsburgh. Steel City Squash is really well situated to bridge that gap and provide opportunities. A lot of other programs in Pittsburgh don’t work between the two communities, but we are uniquely positioned to do just that.”