By Alexandra Boillot, director of placement at CitySquash
In early September, while most high school seniors were getting ready to make their case to college admissions officers, Andreina Benedith was on her way to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to make a different sort of pitch to the International Olympic Committee. In July, Benedith learned that she had been chosen to be part of a six-person team that included five-time world champion Sarah Fitz-Gerald and world No. 1 Ramy Ashour that was to make the presentation to the IOC on behalf of squash’s bid to get into the 2020 Olympics. Although wrestling beat out squash and softball/ baseball, it was the experience of a lifetime for this young woman from the Bronx.
Benedith grew up in a Spanish-speaking household as the oldest of three children. Both of her parents are from Honduras, a country that Benedith has only visited once. In the fall of fourth grade, a visitor came to her school and invited everyone in her class to try out for CitySquash, one of the fifteen urban squash programs across the country that combine squash instruction with academic enrichment and support. Like her classmates, Benedith did not know anything about this strange new sport, but she showed special promise as a player and weeks later made the team. She earned good grades, developed quickly as a player, and three years later won a full scholarship to the Brooks School in North Andover, MA. At Brooks, Benedith’s success continued: she has played No. 1 for Brooks’ squash team since her freshman year, was awarded Independent School League All-League honors both her sophomore and junior years, received ISL Honorable Mention her freshman year, and blossomed into a strong student. Through it all, she has remained part of CitySquash and won two national urban squash titles. “Squash has made me a better person,” she says, “because it’s taught me that success is reachable no matter where you come from.”
This is a lesson that Benedith finds time to pass on. Last year, SquashBusters Lawrence—a satellite program of the original urban program in Boston—launched at Brooks and neighboring Phillips Academy to serve the students of Lawrence, MA. When Benedith is out of season, she works five days a week on court with the Lawrence students helping them learn the sport she loves. ”I enjoy working with SquashBusters Lawrence because they remind me of myself when I was younger, and I am an older version of them. I just happen to come from a different city,” Benedith says. “Many people have helped me achieve my goals, so I would love to help them. I feel like I can be a role model to them and will always be here if they need a helping hand.” She is especially interested in helping those students who might be interested in applying to and attending a private high school as she has done through CitySquash.
Aware of the special role the sport has played in her life, Benedith was thrilled to have the chance to speak on behalf of squash in Buenos Aires. In addition to Ashour and Fitz-Gerald, the other presenters there with Benedith were Pan-American Junior Champion Diego Elias, WSF Chief Executive Andrew Shelley and WSF President N Ramachandran. Benedith said the whole week was an “eye-opening experience [as] I got to see the political side of sports.” Arriving in Buenos Aires early Wednesday morning, Benedith and her team had four days to perfect their presentation before delivering it to the IOC on Sunday, September 8. They ran through the presentation several times, visited the venue to get comfortable with the event space, and had a press conference on Friday afternoon. In a break from the meetings and press conferences, “Ramy had an exhibition match, and I got front row seats and got to see how he lives in the squash world. People adore him. He had screaming fans as soon as he walked through the door. It was amazing getting to see him play. He is very talented.”
During the preparations, the WSF decided that Benedith’s portion of the presentation, originally to be given in English, should be given in Spanish. “It seemed fitting since Diego and I both come from Spanish-speaking families and we were in Buenos Aires, where the native language is Spanish. Diego and I did our presentation together as a conversation. I think we put together a great presentation that was well-organized and highlighted the low cost and the gender equality of the sport. The presentation was very intense because I knew it was our final shot to convince the IOC to let squash into the Olympics, and I was nervous, but I knew that I had a good team around me.”
“Even though I was disappointed with the result, we are looking forward in a positive direction, and it was a great experience for me. I wouldn’t trade it for the world because I learned that it takes hard work and persistence to get what you want.” Benedith now heads back to the Brooks School to start her senior year where she will continue working on her squash game and the squash games of her Lawrence pupils. She plans to keep playing “the game that [she] knows and loves” in college and hopes that “we have another shot to get in [to the Olympics] before [her] squash career is over.”