For longtime Calvert coach and physical education teacher Mary Alice Lears, squash is the perfect sport for a Calvert student.
It’s dynamic and fast-paced while relying on strategy and critical thinking. Players have to anticipate their opponents’ moves in mere seconds, often without seeing them, and coordinate with their partner if they are playing doubles. They have to analyze different angles and take decisive action while staying adaptable.
It’s like playing chess, Coach Lears says, and it combines the quick thinking and strong athletics gained through a Calvert education.
“The way that Calvert children are raised through the Calvert Way just makes students think a little bit more critically and a little deeper and quicker,” she said. “They really excel at the game.”
A former nationally ranked player, Coach Lears brought squash to Calvert in the early days of the Middle School, when small class sizes made team sports a challenge. Back then, when the graduating class had just over a dozen members, physical education classes would travel off campus for indoor rock-climbing or bowling, activities that suited individuals and small groups.
In 2005, Coach Lears changed the game by taking students off campus to a local athletic club, where they learned to play singles and doubles squash. Then an in-class activity, the sport proved to be wildly popular with students, and the School founded its extracurricular team the following year.
Coached by Lears and Tenth Age teacher Susie Silberstein, the program flourished over the next two years, and the team took its first trip to Yale University to compete in the Middle School National Championships in early 2009. Now a treasured tradition, the Yale trip marks a huge achievement for the Mighty Bees, and it sticks with them long after they graduate.
“It’s one of the best feelings in the world to go down to Meadow Mill when the high schoolers are getting ready to go to Yale, and they’ll tell me how much fun they had when they were at Calvert and went to Yale,” Coach Lears said. “It’s a really fond memory for them.”
While COVID-19 has temporarily interrupted normal operations, dedicated Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Grade students typically commute to Meadow Mill three times per week for 7:00 A.M. practice. Usually, Calvert Fifth Graders are also invited to experience squash, though competitive play does not begin until later grades.
Instead, Fifth Grade players participate in an intramural program designed to teach the basics of squash and good sportsmanship. Like strategy, fair play is a hallmark of the sport – and every Calvert player learns to respect and appreciate their opponents’ abilities, especially when they lead to defeat.
“I think the kids take that and become better sports in life, because that’s what they’ve learned on the courts,” Coach Lears said.
In 2011, former Calvert parent Deb Long joined the squash coaching team after getting a phone call from Coach Lears, her friend and former teammate. Deb’s oldest son, Will ’14, had just joined the squash team himself, and her younger son, Sam ’17, followed when he entered Sixth Grade.
While the pair never played on the same team at Calvert, the experience helped them grow into well-rounded people and athletes.
“Playing squash as part of the Calvert team was really pivotal to both of my boys,” Deb said. "Despite the top-notch education they received at Calvert, their experience with squash both as a team and as individuals is their greatest Middle School take away."
Now a student at Duke University, Will ’14 continued playing squash through high school and has had the opportunity to travel with Duke’s club team. Sam ’17 joined Woodberry Forest’s varsity team straight out of Calvert.
Like the Long boys, many Mighty Bees have gone on to play in high school, college, and beyond.
David Cromwell ’08 played for Middlebury College and later professionally, eventually claiming the No. 161 world ranking. He now coaches the Middlebury team. Michael East ’09 played for Princeton, and younger brother Charlie ’15 represents Dartmouth. Their sister, Caroline, also played when she attended Calvert. Alastair Cho ’15 picked up a racket in Sixth Grade and joined the Princeton team as a freshman – and Calvert’s program remains incredibly popular among students.
Eighth Grader Perry Hart ’21 has played squash for almost a decade, while newcomer Nina Tobin ’21 has only played for a few weeks. So far, Nina says, she has learned that waking up for morning practice is worth it because she gets to play squash with her friends. Perry says that the sport has taught her to be resilient.
“My favorite thing about squash is the competitiveness of it,” Perry said.
Both girls plan to continue playing next year.
“Of all the sports that I’ve coached here – and I’ve coached many – squash has been the sport that I have enjoyed tremendously because the kids have enjoyed it so much,” Coach Lears said. “To see them fall in love with a sport is really heartwarming.”
Going forward, Calvert’s squash program will find a new home in the School’s first-ever dedicated athletic building, the upcoming Luetkemeyer Athletic Center.
This spacious facility will house a large convertible field and feature 10 brand-new squash courts with a spectator viewing area. These on-campus courts will empower countless future players to hone their skills and expand their prowess, setting the stage for decades of honorable play.
“For a child to have something that they leave Calvert knowing they can play for the rest of their life and be healthy, that’s what being a physical education teacher is all about,” Coach Lears said.