By Mark Squibb/March 3, 2022
The squash courts at the CBS Recreation Centre, better known as the swimming pool, are getting an upgrade.
The Canadian Inclusivity Squash Program, which calls the Rec Centre, home, has been approved for $59,200 in funding through the federal Canada Healthy Communities Initiative.
Eric Hart, who brought inclusive squash to the centre and is now president and head coach of the Canada Inclusivity Squash Program, admitted he had been sitting on the funding secret since December and was glad to finally share the good news.
“It’s terrible living for a couple of months with duct tape across your mouth,” he joked. “That’s essentially how it felt.”
The money will go towards installing a new, glass squash court wall, widening the doors to the squash court from 30 inches to 42 inches, remodeling the layout of the facility, and purchasing seven sports wheelchairs and 30 face shields.
“They gave us everything we asked for,” said Harte. “I just felt in awe when we got the message back, saying everything you want, here’s a cheque for it all. I was disappointed I didn’t ask for more.”
The club, formed by Hart in 2019, is the first official inclusive squash program in North America, and was followed shortly after by a Toronto Club, with whom the Newfoundland Program shared its model. Other Ontario clubs have since formed, and other jurisdictions are considering following suit too.
Hart asked Lolly Gillen, Squash Canada’s International Delegate, to partner with him in forming the club, for which there was little precedent.
“I asked her to be my partner, simply because I knew she could bring things to the table that I couldn’t, and that she had contacts that I don’t,” said Hart. “She’s always Squash Canada’s delegate to the World Squash Federation. And she made inquiries to the National Squash Federation, looking for best practices about how they turn squash programs to teach squash to people with intellectual disabilities. She never got one. The best she got back was, ‘We thought about doing it, but we never went down that road. Once you develop a model, could you share it with us?’”
Hart said he knew from the beginning the club would have to offer wheelchair squash to be considered truly accessible.
He made contact with wheelchair squash coaches in the UK and the Netherlands, as there were no such programs in Canada.
“I think, if we get it on the go here, it will not only be the first wheelchair squash program in Canada, but it could be the first wheelchair squash program in North America,” said Hart. “Let’s get it started.”
Though ready to push forward, Hart said there are still challenges ahead.
“It’s been a long road, and I must say, when we got this grant, it made me realize that we actually have a real chance at doing this,” he said. “And there’s going to be some real challenges ahead. One of the biggest ones is that we’ve got to get people out.”
Hart said he intends to make the program “unified,” which means that able-bodied players play with players with mobility disabilities, a common practice in sports such as wheelchair basketball and sledge hockey.
“To get it off the ground, and to get it going, we got to have both,” he said.
A number of other guests spoke including Avalon MP Ken McDonald, CBS Mayor Darrin Bent, ParaSport NL President Margaret Tibbo, Squash NL President Jeff Tulk, and representatives form the CBS Lion’s Club.
“Physical activity is something that should be available to everyone, and making our facilities better for that access is something that we are very proud to be able to do,” said Bent, who applauded volunteers, like Hart, who work for the betterment of the community.
“The Town of CBS is really putting a key focus on trying to get a community centre for indoor stuff, so with your success maybe you could help us with that, because you seem to get what you want, and get what we need,” he joked to Hart.
Tibbo, who has seen para athletes such as Liam Hickey grow and excel over her almost 40 years of involvement with parasports, spoke highly of the club’s potential.
“You can stand back, and you can watch the magic, or you can volunteer to help make the magic happen,” said Tibbo. “Eric is a magic maker, and a difference maker, and thanks to the vision he had, and with the support from Squash NL and Squash Canada, and others, and certainly with this funding from the Healthy Communities initiative, I can see magic happening.”