Squash­Busters, an after-​​school youth enrich­ment pro­gram located on North­eastern University’s campus, marked its 15th anniver­sary with the annual Squash­Busters Derby that included spir­ited squash matches and a cel­e­bra­tion of stu­dent achieve­ments and the program’s success.

Since Squash­Busters began in 1996, nearly all of the 300 par­tic­i­pating urban youths have grad­u­ated middle and high school, with 90 per­cent going on to col­lege. Squash­Buster stu­dents start the pro­gram in sixth grade and con­tinue through high school. Youths not only learn the game of squash, but also receive hands-​​on aca­d­emic help and per­form com­mu­nity service.

At the event, North­eastern was among the com­mu­nity part­ners hon­ored for its long­standing sup­port of the pro­gram. Peter Roby, Northeastern’s director of ath­letics and a member of the Squash­Busters board of direc­tors, said the pro­gram levels the playing field for many local youths to suc­ceed aca­d­e­m­i­cally and attend col­lege. It also helps them learn more about them­selves, and how to play a sport that is for­eign to many inner-​​city chil­dren, he said.

It’s a source of pride for us at North­eastern, and it’s cer­tainly a source of pride for everyone asso­ci­ated with Squash­Busters,” said Roby, who accepted an award on the University’s behalf.

The fifth-​​annual Squash­Busters Derby, held on May 7 at the Badger & Rosen Squash­Busters Center, cor­re­sponded with the run­ning of the Ken­tucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

The eight derby teams were each com­prised of a pro­fes­sional squash player, ama­teur players and Squash­Buster youths. The first leg of the Squash­Busters Derby was held in the months prior to the event, as teams worked to raise money and sup­port for the pro­gram. On the day of the derby, the teams com­peted in round-​​robin matches, with players facing off one-​​on-​​one depending on their skill level.

Among the vis­i­tors in atten­dance were men don­ning suits and women in stylish dresses and fancy hats — mir­roring the crowd gath­ered for the Ken­tucky Derby, which was shown live on a big screen.

Squash­Busters moved to Northeastern’s campus in 2003 with the com­ple­tion of the state-​​of-​​the-​​art Badger & Rosen Squash­Busters Center. Greg Zaff, founder of Squash­Busters, said this part­ner­ship played a piv­otal role in the program’s suc­cess, and has sparked the growth of other urban squash pro­grams for youth nationwide.

North­eastern gave us a shot, and we suc­ceeded because of North­eastern,” he said.

Ming Tsai, an award-​​winning chef and long­time squash player, served up Asian sloppy joes at the derby. Tsai, a member of the Squash­Busters advi­sory board, said, “I’ve seen what this pro­gram does for these kids. It changes their lives.”