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Never say die Nelson Squash Club flourishing once again

Brendan Quinn
By Brendan Quinn
November 2nd, 2016

The Nelson Squash Club has had a tumultuous history, but a renovated facility above the Royal Inn and a best in the province pro are helping to move the organization in the right direction.

The club itself has been around, in one form or another, since 1984 when courts were built at the Royal Hotel.

Until recently, a series of events including multiple changes in ownership and location made it difficult for the organization to find growth and success.

Despite this rocky road, several long-time members of the club persevered and in 2011 they got together and formed a Board of Directors and changed the club from being privately owned to a non-profit organization.

“2011 was a watershed moment in the history of the club, it went from being a privately owned to a non-profit organization,” said Pat Hodgson, President of the Nelson Squash Club.

“When the last private operator decided to fold up their tent the club members decided ‘maybe it’s time to be run as a non-profit’.”

Hodgson said that this drastic shift in ownership was a result of a dramatic increase in rent that caused the private operator to leave once they realized they would not be able to “make a go of it”.

The Nelson Squash club tried to find other sites to help rebuild the sport — the Civic Centre Theatre and joining forces with the Nelson Curling Club to turn two sheets of ice into new courts.

However, both ideas were, well, squashed.

Two years ago, the Baker Street location changed hands once again, and was returned to the previous owner after a mortgage foreclosure.

Hodgson said that this was good news for the club, as the returning property owner was much more “squash friendly”.

The Board decided that the time was ripe to seize the opportunity and begin transforming the club into the clean and cozy atmosphere it is today.

“He [the owner of the building] wanted to get us back in here and spoke to a couple of our long-time members,” Hodgson said.

“Between three members they raised over $30,000 in less than a week towards renovating the lounge and refurbishing the courts.”

“Those members got together, raised this money, and came to the board and said ‘we think the landlord wants us back, it needs a lot of work but we raised enough money to do it and here ya go’.”

Of course, these shiny new digs also made the Board realize that perhaps they needed to find someone to help steer the club in the right direction, and thus began the search for a new manager — preferably someone who also knew their way around a squash court.

“We decided we needed to find a manager. What’s that person going to look like? We’ve never really had one before, or never been in a position of having to manage one at the board level,” Hodgson said.

“We sort of caught on to the idea that what we’d really like was maybe a ski bum. Maybe a Kiwi, Aussie, or Brit; someone who wants to be here in Nelson and have a job through the winter that doesn’t require them to be here during the day.”

The board posted the job on multiple websites, including the Professional Squash Association, and were astounded with the responses.

“We had well over 20 applicants from all over the world, many playing professionally or acting in the capacity of a squash pro,” Hodgson said.

During this process the Board realized that, despite being a local club with a small membership, what they were the offering was more lucrative than most of the bigger, more established Squash Clubs.

“We went through this hiring pro cess and did Skype interviews with four candidates. What we learned through that process is that most squash pros aren’t paid a lot of money by their facility, by their club. They earn their living by teaching,” Hodgson said.

“We were actually going to be paying more than an assistant pro is earning at the Mayfair club in Toronto, which is a high-end club with 6000 members and he would be making more per hour here. That was a real eye opener for us.”

Enter Sarfaraz Ahmed; a 26-year-old professional squash player from Vancouver who recently won a match that made him the best player in the province.

“[Sarfaraz] started here on the 15th of September and we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of women players and junior players, which were a couple of areas that were really suffering during those down years,” Hodgson said.

“What [Sarfaraz] has really given us now is the ability to take raw player, a beginner player, and show them how to progress. Show them how the game is supposed to be played and develop some of those fundamentals and give them an opportunity to learn and see their progress and get excited about the game, and it’s been going great so far,”

Ahmed’s story in and of itself is interesting. Born in Kenya, Ahmed moved to Canada when he was 11-years-old. After spending several years in Saskatchewan, Ahmed moved to Vancouver when he was 18 and moved to Nelson a little over a month ago.

Ahmed began playing squash with his father, and fell in love with the game.

He told The Nelson Daily that he had always wanted to play professionally and is fortunate that it all worked out that way.

Now Ahmed has a chance to enjoy the sport while building up a membership that had dipped under 25 players during the down years to more than 80 today.

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