Cayman Islands squash is in the process of organising a world class tournament that will attract the best female squash players in the world and the best male players from the Caribbean here in early May.
The event will be an annual tournament, culminating in the World Open in 2013.
Although the Cayman Open is an exciting and ambitious event, it is the plans for the junior squash that has the most to offer.
The backbone of the Cayman Open tournament is to offer free squash to any Cayman Youth from 2010 onwards.
There are also grand plans over the next five to 10 years to help Cayman’s best young squash players secure scholarships to the best colleges in the US.
South Sound Squash Club had five US colleges use their facilities for sports holidays over the past eight weeks.
It is common for these Ivy League schools to offer scholarships for the best players.
While the teams were visiting Cayman they played matches against our best players, and despite the college players being older, Cayman’s finest were considerably stronger. This wasn’t a surprise to many in the local squash community.
Jeff Broderick represented Cayman in squash at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and is now Chairman of the Cayman Islands National Squash Association.
‘I know our playera are far superior to most college players,’ said Broderick. ‘I would have been surprised if they did lose as their squash is getting to such a high standard.’
Merta Day is heavily involved in the squash club and is a high level player. Her daughter Chantelle is one of Cayman’s best players and was also a member of the 2006 Commonwealth Games Team.
She is also not surprised to see how well Cayman’s players did.
‘I saw the effort our players put into training over the past three years,’ Day said. ‘Specifically since SSSC and CINSA employed a few squash pros to coach youth players. I could see the natural raw talent and felt that they would hold their own for sure against those colleges.’
Cayman is having great success in the Caribbean. Over the past two years Cayman has produced three Caribbean Junior Champions. Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad are amongst the stronger Caribbean squash countries at the moment.
Guyana’s Nicolette Fernandes achieved a world ranking of 28 in 2007, but has since been sidelined with injury. She is back on court again and already excited about attending the Cayman Open.
Jamaica has produced a lot of strong players recently. Chris Binnie was the 2007 Under 19 Caribbean Champion.
His squash success has helped him secure a position at a prestigious US college, playing for Trinity College. Binnie’s achievements are a good example for Cayman’s top players to follow, like Cameron Stafford the current Under-17 Caribbean Champion.
‘Cameron is a very talented player who works very hard at his game,’ said former Cayman Club Champion Pat McCallum.
‘He has matured and takes the sport seriously. This attitude combined with his commitment to squash should enable him to secure a scholarship and even go further with the sport.’
The US colleges that recently visited Cayman were impressed with the standard of squash they saw from locals.
‘Two of the college coaches approached me to discuss options for recruiting our players,’ said squash coach Dan Kneipp.
‘And one of our top boys has had a few offers from different colleges. This is one of the great benefits of our squash programme and something that we aim to really focus on over the next few years.’
Stuart LeGassick is the head squash coach for Ivy League college Brown University. In January he brought his team here.
‘It is remarkable how capable the Cayman players are,’ he said. ‘For such a small island to have such strong players was surprising. They know the game inside and out and are very skilful.
‘Our team watched both junior and senior players display a high standard of squash at South Sound Squash Club.’
LeGassick is supportive of Cayman’s plan to focus on American college scholarships for our best squash players.
‘US Universities and Colleges accept players from all over the world to play squash on their teams,’ he said.
‘If there are junior players in the Cayman Islands who are interested in studying in the US at a world renowned university then squash can open the door to that.
‘College squash coaches are able to influence admissions in favour of strong players – especially if their academics are solid. The majority of squash playing colleges in the US offer a means test on a player’s family income and if a player comes from a financially disadvantaged background then the university will assist in financial aid for that player.’
Janet Sairsingh is one of Cayman’s past champions that would have benefited greatly if she had had this opportunity.
‘Cost was an issue for my family as I am a twin and we both wanted to go to college at the same time,’ she said.
‘A squash scholarship would have been great serving two goals being education and taking my squash game to another level.’
McCallum, Sairsingh, Broderick and Marlene West have all won Club Championships, National Squash Championships or Caribbean Squash Championships.
They’re regularly seen at the South Sound Club with their own children, introducing them to the sport that they have gained so much from.
They all believe that the Cayman Open has a lot to offer the local community, particularly with its extensive plan for helping Cayman youth.
‘We’ve got a wealth of resources here in coaches and facilities,’ said West. ‘We just need financial support to foster these programs for success. Investment in our youth, in our future can never be over rated, it’s a necessity.’
Broderick believes that the key is promoting the juniors and increasing numbers.
McCallum agrees. ‘Playing squash is a lot of fun and very social sport,’ she said. ‘Young players get to hang out with their friends, play more squash and this improves their game effortlessly. With more junior players the level of local squash will only continue to improve.’
Merta Day said: ‘I would advise parents to encourage their children to do the best they can academically, and to take up extracurricular activities such as music and sports like squash so that they become a well rounded individual.
‘Do not spare the rod and spoil the child. Teach them that nothing comes easily so they should always strive to do their best.’
The Cayman Open junior programme aims to offer free squash to hundreds of new players.
‘The junior programme is the key part of the Cayman Open tournament that we’re doing,’ added Kneipp.
‘It’s great that we’re getting US colleges involved and that we can bring down sports tourists, and it’s great that we’ll get Sky TV and Tennis Channel coverage, and that we’ll have the best players in the world and the best players in the Caribbean.
‘But the most important part of the Cayman Open is how it will allow us to offer free squash to any Cayman youth, give our youth some valuable direction and discipline and put a programme in place that will focus on helping Cayman’s youth get access to the best colleges in the States.’
Squash aims to produce a lot more champions in the future, with the 2009 Cayman Open being the starting point.