The name of the game

Our explainer story on the game of squash, including some insight from Temple student Jordan Antonelli, will bring you up to speed on the rules and how the game is growing in the Philadelphia area.

By Evan Tonrey

The sound of ricocheting rubber echoes through the halls of Temple’s Independence Blue Cross Rec Center as Jordan Antonelli and Gavin Tulone trade blows during an intense squash match. 

Antonelli the teacher and Tulone the student are at a clear mismatch, yet the joy it brings to spread the knowledge of the game means more to Antonelli than the need for a competitive circuit. 

Hailing from London in the 1830s, this mysterious game is beginning to gain traction in the Philadelphia area, and players want the public to become familiar with the game they love dearly. 

Squash is a fast-paced racquet sport that sees opponents face off in a small room usually made of glass for viewing purposes. Played with tailor-made rackets that differ in size and shape from regular racquetball or tennis rackets, players take turns hitting the small rubber ball into the designated zone on the wall directly in front of them. 

The objective is to be the first player to reach a set number of points. 

Points are scored when the opposing player is unable to return the volley or the ball bounces twice before reaching the athlete’s racket. The ball can hit any of the four walls in the playing chamber, but the ball must hit the front wall, above the lowest line on the wall known as the tin. Failure to do so will result in a point for the opposing player. 

There are two ways to keep score in squash –  Point-A-Rally scoring and English scoring. Point-A-Rally has become the more common and improved means of tallying scores. After earning a point, the same player serves and begins a rally. The first player to reach 11 points and win by two is deemed the winner. This scoring system has become the standard for competitive squash across the globe as it allows for games to come to an end quicker. 

English scoring, however, is the far more traditional means of playing squash. In this version, if the player who scores did not serve, they do not receive the point but receive the next serve. For a point to be registered, the server must win the point. In this style, the first to nine points wins the game.

For casual players like Antonelli, the game is about blowing off steam and finding a rhythm. 

“I like to just go into the court and smack the ball around,” Antonelli said. “Whether I’m teaching a friend or playing with someone who knows the game well, I think it’s fun to get some of that stress out.”

While Antonelli has never belonged to a squash club, he’s played the game since he came to college, learning from upperclassmen he watched play for hours while working at the IBC gym at Temple.

“Those guys always looked like they were having a blast,” Antonelli said, “and I wanted to give it a try. I don’t know if I’d be good enough to play competitively, but I definitely think more people should give it a try and learn how to play.”

For Drexel student Kalhan Ganjoo, the game means a little more than just a way to decompress. 

“When I started playing, it was just to bond with my floormates who had known the game for years,” Ganjoo said, “but I learned to love the game and now have a drive to be better than my friends.” 

As a varsity tennis player at Pennsbury High School, Ganjoo was familiar with the concept of racket sports. When he first stepped on the squash court, he found the game to be challenging on both the body and the mind. 

“There’s a lot of running involved for such a small court,” he explained, “and you have to really work to perfect hitting the ball in various directions to get the proper bounces. This kind of thing takes years to perfect, and even though I have only just begun down this path, I want to be great.”

Squash is developing a presence in the college scene for students in Philadelphia, and it is also creeping its way into its suburbs.

Fairless Hills LA Fitness employee Chris Clark only started working at his local gym a few months ago. Despite his short time there, he acknowledged that the squash courts are only empty when the gym closes. 

“It feels like half the new sign-ups we get are just so they can use the racketball area,” Clark said. “It sounds crazy, but the people at this gym love that game. Something about it just clings to them. Brings us business though, so I don’t complain.”

Regardless of the level of skill or dedication to the long-eluded sport of squash, it is apparent that the London-born game is beginning to gain traction in Philadelphia. From college students looking for fun to former athletes looking to pick up a new sport, or even suburban folk looking for a new hobby, squash offers something for everyone, and that could be why it’s growing in popularity in the area.

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