Courtside Collisions

in Features
Osuman Imoro, 14, looks on as Joby Davis, 15, slices a backhand at Yale’s Brady Squash Center. Photo by Caroline Lester.

Osuman Imoro’s opponent was examining the blood streaking down his left elbow when Osuman stepped into the right-hand server’s box of the squash court and struck a loping serve. In the third game of this best-of-three match, Osuman, 14, was spent, his skinny chest pulsing with heavy breaths he would prefer you didn’t notice. Restless and self-effacing by nature, Osuman asserted himself on the court, searching his opponent’s wearied steps for a lapse and responding with returns as graceful as they were unforgiving. Osuman’s earlier shot, a low, lining dagger driven inches off the floor, had drawn blood; his competitor, Mason Corbett, skinned his elbow diving onto the wooden floor after it. Now Osuman rushed to line up the next point before Mason could recover. Mason reached backwards for the return, and they rallied for a bit until Osuman suddenly caught a lazy ball on his racquet. He thrashed it off the court’s side wall at such an angle that it ricocheted into the front wall, and then towards the back left corner of the court. Mason, whose riskless shots were a lawyer’s answer to Osuman’s frenetic flow, pursued it with labored steps, but the ball beat him and now he was heading towards the wall too quickly to pull up. Mason crumpled into the corner, on the floor for the second time, while Osuman leapt in anticipation of a return into the court’s center, a place that equals power in a sport that prizes positioning.

For much of that December morning, Osuman and his team, Squash Haven, looked out of place in the Kneisel Squash Center at Hopkins School, an elite New Haven preparatory school. Squash teams from private high schools warmed up on five of the center’s six glass-walled courts, their players sporting wavy hair and bright bandanas. A team from a school called Kingswood-Oxford, wearing dragon-themed uniforms, completed drills on a court named for David Swensen, a Hopkins graduate and Yale’s Chief Investment Officer. An elegantly outfitted mother toting coffee in one hand and a copy of the New York Times in the other arrived to hand her son two new squash racquets wrapped in plastic.

Gathered in their own four-walled court were four black and three Hispanic boys from Squash Haven, a program that teaches select low-income students from New Haven public schools how to play squash. Their sweatshirts didn’t have brand names. Instead of drills, they practiced trick shots. Later, with the team on its way to a third place finish, one Squash Haven student studied the tournament’s “ladder,” or rankings list, with a green afro pick. From a distance, he seemed to be rearranging the tournament’s hierarchy.

As Mason and Osuman began their match, one of Mason’s Kingswood-Oxford teammates seemed to echo the thoughts of many in the room when he asked about Osuman, “Do you know who that kid is?” In a sport confined in America largely to white, wealthy Northeasterners, Squash Haven’s poor black and Hispanic players are outsiders. Like a growing number of urban squash programs nationwide, Squash Haven counts on the sport’s association with money and prestige to connect its students to elite colleges and high-paying jobs. But old barriers are slow to come down. Does the collision between squash clubs and public housing—between Mason, who took daily summer lessons at the Hartford Golf Club, and Osuman, whose Ghanaian parents have never seen him play—really make opportunities multiply?

As we watched Osuman, Derek Lawrence, a fifteen-year-old Squash Haven player, told me that members of the squash community expect him to be on a basketball court. “It feels good to puzzle them a little bit.” In the match’s pivotal third game, Osuman was puzzling them. Squash, a sport in which two bodies jostle for position in a tight, four-walled space, rewards players who capture the court’s center, and penalizes those who unfairly manipulate the court space. If one player interferes with the other’s path to the ball, it’s called a let, and the point is replayed. If one player interferes with the other’s direct swing on the ball, it’s called a stroke, and the person whose shot was blocked wins a point. Osuman lorded over the court’s center, striking winners that hit three walls before they landed at Mason’s tired feet. Mason searched for a reassuring nod from his parents and coaches. Osuman, who doesn’t let his parents attend matches because they make him nervous, kept his eyes locked on the game’s action. His slim, lithe body darted around the court with less grace but more exuberance than his opponent’s. On match point, Osuman flicked an unexpected shot into the court’s left corner. Mason retrieved it, but stumbled back to the center of the court late, and found himself in the path of the approaching ball. Osuman wound up to swing, then suddenly had to pull back to avoid hitting Mason. It was a stroke. Match point to Osuman. In a building built with the money of Greg Kneisel, a Goldman Sachs executive, on a court whose glass walls wished its occupants happiness and good fortune in Latin (“QUOD FELIX FAUSTUMQUE SIT”), the boy out of a Hartford golf club was disqualified for getting in the way of an inner-city boy from Ghana.

**


Nikki Hilgert, a Squash Haven teacher, looks on as students read their poetry in Payne Whitney’s Kiphuth Trophy Room. Photo by Caroline Lester.

The program that brought Osuman to Hopkins on that December afternoon, Squash Haven, offers after-school tutoring and squash instruction to seventy-nine fourth to eleventh graders from New Haven. The students, mostly black and Hispanic and evenly split between boys and girls, gather every afternoon with a group of coaches and tutors to train in squash, get help on their homework, and try more advanced reading and writing exercises. In the short term, the program promises athletic and academic enrichment. In the long term, it reaches for more ambitious targets: admission for its students to boarding schools and elite universities, and access to rungs of the socioeconomic ladder that might otherwise seem out of reach.

This unusual education takes place at Payne Whitney Gymnasium, Yale’s nine-story Gothic cathedral to athletic extravagance. The gym features 21,000 square feet of workout space, two large swimming pools, and Squash Haven’s office—a converted closet space, now painted in shining green. Squash Haven students practice in the seven million dollar Brady Squash Center, one of the world’s preeminent squash facilities, whose fifteen courts include the only exhibition court in the U.S. with four glass walls. The Squash Haven team meets in a room tucked at the end of a long hallway in the Brady Center that doubles as the U.S. Squash Hall of Fame. Students work on poetry assignments in a carpeted trophy room displaying worn footballs from 1902 and a statue of a discus thrower. One afternoon, I found fourth-graders sitting on the edge of the room’s stately leather chairs as they snacked on clementines and prepared for a vocabulary bee.

Julie Greenwood, Squash Haven’s executive director, explained that the program’s goal is to give students access to elite schools and squash tournaments from which they’ve traditionally been excluded, and to help them develop tools to succeed there. If students raise their grades and get good at squash, the thinking goes, they might join a squash team at a prestigious university. At the very least, they’ll build the skills to expand their worlds beyond struggling public schools and desperate city streets.

Yet squash seemed to be a sport that protected a thin slice of wealthy, white, privilege from lower classes. Codes of clothing and manners insulated private school families from plucky outsiders. Non-marking squash shoes, two racquets, and a pair of goggles total $390. Access to a squash court alone costs around $3,060, the yearly price of membership at the New Haven Lawn Club. The most ambitious training programs offer lessons from top pros, summer training camps in Europe and Asia, and help navigating college squash recruitment at yearly costs of between $25,000 and $40,000. Is this really the right backdrop against which to be teaching kids from New Haven how to raise their grades, transcend broken homes, and trust people?

Paul Assaiante, head coach of the perpetually top-ranked Trinity College squash team, had similar concerns when urban squash programs like Squash Haven were first developing. Assaiante grew up in a poor community in the Bronx, and knew from experience how strange and inaccessible squash seemed from the outside. “Why would you choose squash?” he asked of these programs. “When the students’ time is done—let’s say they don’t get into college—they would never join a private club or see squash again. Squash seemed like an unlikely partner. Why not basketball or soccer?”

Assaiante’s concern, it seemed, was twofold. Building a bridge from New Haven public schools to Payne Whitney was a project with extraordinary possibility. But it also threatened to leave students whose futures didn’t include squash or college feeling like a rug had been pulled out from under them. Assaiante also worried that urban squash programs had doomed their messages of learning and self-improvement by connecting them to a sport to which its students would likely lose access after high school. Tutoring and support programs everywhere struggle with the need to make their lessons applicable across environments. Why risk further marginalizing those lessons by attaching them to a context as foreign as squash?

Osuman may have been an equal of his private school opponents on the court, but he was still treated differently on the sidelines. After his win, his opponent Mason walked over to the area where Squash Haven players had gathered, waiting to congratulate Osuman. Weary-eyed and embarrassed, he leaned towards someone in the group and muttered, “Nice game, man.” But Osuman was not in the group. The black kid Mason congratulated, Moubarak Ouro-Aguy, was not the black kid with whom Mason had spent thirty minutes on the court. “I think he can’t see after this game or something,” Moubarak joked later—but not lightly.

**

If the squash community’s obvious privilege can sometimes clash with New Haven students’ more immediate needs, the unfamiliarity of its surroundings also seems to help students imagine themselves anew. Moubarak’s sister, Rafi Ouro-Aguy, 16, arrived in America from Togo five years ago with her dad, sister, and two brothers. Last year her dad lost his job at a gas station after back surgery, and the family makes do without a car or phone. When I asked Rafi what made her want to play squash, she remembered the first time she saw Moubarak at Squash Haven. “I saw him on the court and I was like, ‘Who is this? I don’t even recognize him,’” she said. “That’s what I like about squash. When you’re playing squash, you’re a different person.” Where I saw an imposing class divide, Rafi recognized a blank slate. Squash offered her hope in part because it existed so far outside the typical boundaries of her experience. “You don’t get the feeling of the player transforming into another person with other sports,” she told me.

Moubarak looked different to Rafi in part because of the squash court’s bright lights and glossy walls. But the sport’s emotional landscape, just as foreign as its physical, contributed to Moubarak’s transformation. As Rafi tells it, “My brother was a pretty quiet person. But here, everyone was cheering for him and I was like, ‘Oh my god. That’s so much love he’s getting. I want some of that.’” Rafi said nowhere else at school or in her community could she count on that kind of support.

Rafi recognized that squash was a game mostly populated by white people, but said it wasn’t a new experience to feel excluded. What mattered was whether or not she was given a chance to correct the imbalance. “Squash is squash,” she explained. “It’s not a different game for different colors.”

Despite its barriers, it’s a game that can give the strong-willed a shot at unseating squash nobility. On March 15, the Brady Squash Center hosted the U.S. Junior National Championships for the top thirty-two players in each age group. Malaysian, South African, and Egyptian pros counseled their pupils and recruited new clients. Scouts from Brown and Princeton strolled the hallways; Yale’s coach made a girl’s nervous face glow when he told her he’d liked watching her play. This wasn’t a tournament for the merely proficient. This was where the upper crust came to get crowned. And Osuman Imoro was not only participating—he was also being honored as the under-15 most improved player for his explosive rise from no. 231 to no. 23 in the national rankings. “It feels like I’m proving myself,” he told me.

Osuman lost quickly in the tournament’s first round, but continued to the consolation bracket the next day, where he faced Ryan Murray, the sixth-ranked fourteen-year-old. The thought of Ryan’s older brother, a dominant Harvard squash recruit, worried John DeWitt, Squash Haven’s coach. “Osuman’s never played a kid like this,” he said before the match. Sure enough, Osuman couldn’t get a shot past his fitter opponent, faltering at the end of long rallies. Osuman lost the first game, 11-4.

Down 6-8 in the second game of the best-of-five match, Osuman slipped pursuing a drop shot, then unexpectedly rose and hit a cruel cross-court winner on his next shot. Suddenly Osuman became the aggressor. He rushed to line up serves and hit winners even as he stumbled. He fought to a 16-14 win, and won the next game 11-7. Ryan looked perturbed. Osuman, perpetually mismatched in yellow Asics shoes, blue shorts, and a black shirt, wore an expression of quiet resolve; when I asked him later what had been going through his mind, he said only that he “was trying not to think too much.” In the last game, Osuman shouted proudly as he surged to a 7-4 lead. He didn’t allow his opponent another point, winning 11-4.

After the match, Ryan left the court, leaned his hand against a wall, and started to cry. His coach patted him on the cheek, and soon his mom and sister joined. Osuman’s supporters were almost as shocked. “I can’t believe he beat that kid,” DeWitt said to no one in particular. Forgetting his usual reticence, he continued emphatically: “That was real. That was real.”

Osuman’s wasn’t just a feel-good win. It was a signal that he could compete with anybody. Christi Elligers, a firm, freckled woman who serves as Squash Haven’s academic director, told me those wins teach students not to assent to a power structure that ranks people by inherited wealth and privilege. “I’m bringing something to the table and I’m going to be able to beat your ass,” she imagined her students thinking. Elligers was raised in a working-class home by a single mother and had never heard of squash before she joined Squash Haven. “A kid like Osuman walks in with his head high because he can. They might have a monetary advantage on him, but they got nothing when they step on the court.”

Squash Haven students are also making strides off the court. Eighty-three percent of the program’s high school students have reached the New Haven Promise scholarship’s benchmarks—a B average, forty hours of community service, and ninety percent attendance—guaranteeing them at least partial funding for college; only ten percent of students city-wide meet those marks. Six team members were admitted to private day and boarding schools on scholarships and with Squash Haven financial support; four are on the honor roll. One of those students, Ashley Sanchez, 15, started her freshman year at Westover, an all-girls boarding school in Middlebury, feeling homesick and unprepared. “It was like a new world.” She worried what her squash teammates thought of her; they’d all gone to private schools before and didn’t struggle in classes like she did. But during the transition, Ashley said Squash Haven was “like a second home.” Greenwood and Elligers took her out for dinner on an unannounced visit and told her she needed to get her act together. Ashley has raised her grades and was recently elected a “Spirithead,” or leader of the school’s spirit week.

Elligers said simply welcoming students to Yale can lend affirmation to their more quotidian achievements. Just like beating an elite squash player encodes bigger, hidden victories than the squash win alone, hanging ‘A’ exams on the wall of a classroom in Payne Whitney carries more significance than an exam posted at another after-school program. It’s a stamp of recognition from an institution that might otherwise be seen as off-limits. Elligers said, “We’re building kids who aren’t afraid of the world.”

**

Yale’s temple to athletic excess is hardly the most unfamiliar place Squash Haven students spend time. They frequently stay overnight at the homes of Squash Haven supporters during out-of-town tournaments. Maryellen Feeley, a Squash Haven board member from Greenwich, took players on their first boat rides on the Long Island Sound when they visited her home. “They end up in towns that they didn’t know existed, seeing houses of a size they didn’t know existed,” Elligers told me. “They say Green-wich.”

Bringing New Haven students to visit elegant mansions can seem an unlikely learning experience. Elligers said Squash Haven staff is aware that the trips might look to students like implicit arguments for fancy cars and two-parent homes. “The danger of the model is that there’s a huge disparity between the served and the servers.” Students might idolize the lifestyles they observe, forgetting that traditional family structures and upper-class consumption habits don’t need to be part of their future plans. Greenwood recognized the hazards of combining Squash Haven’s lessons with exposure to upper-class settings. “I hope the message that our kids get is not that this needs to be my world, but more that I am getting the skills to choose where I want to build my life.”

Carlos Briones, 11, realized his homestay family living near Wesleyan was rich when he went into the home’s garage. “They had mad Nerf guns. Buckets of ammo.” When I asked him if his visit taught him anything, he parroted the simplified version of Squash Haven’s mission—“If I work hard and study, I can one day be like them”—but offered a sweeter vision of what “like them” might mean: “I could buy the people around me nice stuff.”

Kingsley Amoako, 17, was part of the Bronx urban squash program City Squash before entering Canterbury School, a private boarding school in Connecticut where he is the top-ranked singles player. He stayed overnight with City Squash supporters during a recent tournament at Wesleyan and was stunned by his luck: the father was an alumnus of St. Lawrence, the school to which Kingsley was in the process of applying, and also worked at Goldman Sachs. He told Kingsley, who hopes to work on Wall Street, that he would help him get an internship at the firm if he got into St. Lawrence.

Greenwood is a toned, sprightly woman who traded her job as head squash coach at Williams College to lead Squash Haven. She explained: “The opportunities that I know about as someone who went to a good liberal arts college and grew up in a nice suburb are far different than the opportunities that our kids and families are able to access.” But connections alone don’t bridge the gap. Some Squash Haven students’ families can’t speak English and don’t have Internet access or a car. “Access is not simply about telling someone, ‘Here’s an opportunity. Okay, go for it,’” Greenwood said. She works to anticipate the points at which families might lose out on opportunities because of circumstantial barriers. Then Greenwood and her staff guide families through them, helping students access applications and taking them on school visits for interviews.

The least visible barriers can be the most disruptive. Greenwood cited “the cultural capital in knowing what kind of questions to ask on a school tour, the cultural differences in how kids are socialized to advocate for themselves and ask questions of authority,” as factors that silently undermine underprivileged families. Squash Haven teachers aren’t shy about pressing upon their students manners that serve as indicators of social and educational status to the outside world. Students were eager to look me in the eye and introduce themselves formally when we spoke. That’s because the program asks them to shake the hand of and make eye contact with every Yale student volunteer they encounter.

Squash’s seemingly stale rules seem to cultivate a kind of respectful comportment. Players are expected to incriminate themselves if they commit a violation on court, like hitting a ball on a double bounce. They also stay at their court after they compete to serve as referees for the next match, calling violations like lets and strokes for their peers. Jon Zonis, a lawyer and squash player whose family organizes yearly Squash Haven fundraisers, said the sport’s demands on poise and fitness teach players to find resolve in moments of vulnerability. “It’s so much about staying level and staying calm. Being confined in that little box with people behind the glass looking at you and being the master of your own destiny—it teaches you about being on your own.”

**

The first plans for the game that would become squash were drawn up not at a boarding school but at the Fleet, a London debtor’s prison, where prisoners designed a three-walled game that involved a hard ball and bat-like racquets. It was a crude sport that rewarded brute strength. When the sport, called racquets, arrived at England’s iconic Harrow School in the mid-1800s, weak-armed schoolboys gave it a makeover, using a squishy ball and back wall to encourage creativity and finesse. The redesigned sport, squash, soon spread to colonized populations in India, Pakistan, and Egypt. Now, the colonized have largely overtaken the colonizers. Six of the top ten ranked players in the world are from Egypt, where the sport is popular among the middle and lower classes.

Like youth squash, American collegiate squash was once the domain of white, wealthy families. But an influx of global talent has transformed the collegiate landscape. Many of the top teams’ rosters are made up of athletes from Asia and the Middle East. Paul Assaiante, whose dominant Trinity College roster often doesn’t feature a single American, said the rise in overseas recruiting upset Greenwich families that invested a lot in squash. “It created a bit of a kerfuffle,” he said. “‘Why is Johnny being denied the number one spot because you’re opening the door to a kid from Malaysia?’”

Urban squash programs are responsible for a similar demographic revolution in youth squash. Assaiante calls the advent of urban squash “by far the greatest change in the world of U.S. squash in the last ten years.” He said that just as American tennis has improved as the sport spread to black athletes, urban squash promises to make the U.S. more competitive internationally. “Some of these urban squash kids are brilliant athletes.” After the Junior Championships, Osuman became the country’s no. 21-ranked under-fifteen player. Many urban squash players who go to boarding schools, like Kingsley, are quickly recognized as the best players on their teams.

But just as Assaiante’s stars endured taunts for taking spots on teams from Americans, Squash Haven players sometimes absorb insults at junior tournaments. Greenwood told me about a time last year when some of her students had “a hugely nasty experience” at a tournament at Wesleyan. As usual, players were refereeing their peers’ matches. In this match, a Squash Haven player had seemed to interfere with his opponent, but the Squash Haven student who was refereeing chose not to call the play a let. Parents from an opposing team exploded. Greenwood said they didn’t seem angry about a simple missed call. The parents seemed angry that an outsider to their sport had gotten in their kid’s way. One parent followed a Squash Haven player out of the center and verbally assaulted at him in a hallway. Another wrote to the tournament director that she would never again let her children play in a tournament with Squash Haven kids.

Elligers said her students are familiar with barriers to opportunity in a city with obvious class divides. “They’re hit with failing public schools and Yale in the same place. They see it. They know it.” She said Squash Haven staff members, all of whom are white, don’t hesitate to discuss issues of unequal opportunity on which students might otherwise be silent. The program’s six high school juniors, the first Squash Haven class to be preparing college applications, recently handed Elligers report cards showing grades as low as Cs and an F. Alarmed and upset, she put aside Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, the topic of that day’s lesson, and opened up a Fiske Guide to Colleges. She showed them that their grades weren’t yet within range for their dream schools. Then she asked her students to picture their high school civics class. Six out of the class’s twenty students wouldn’t graduate, based on statistics for New Haven public high schools. Of those who graduated and enrolled in college, one in five would finish within six years. The rates were lower for blacks and Hispanic students. That left three future college graduates in the twenty-person civics class. “I don’t know about you all, but it’s gonna be me,” one student quipped, but the harsh message had sunk in. Students couldn’t afford to get complacent. They had two semesters left to beat long odds that even eight years of enrichment classes couldn’t fully wipe clean.

**

Lauren Mednick, Director of Placement for Squash Haven, works with seventh-grader Antonio Yerena. Photo by Caroline Lester.

Seneca Cox-Uhlan, a short, thick-bodied eleven-year-old who is Squash Haven’s only white student, told me one day after his academic session that there was something I needed to put in my magazine. It was something he had never before told anyone about Squash Haven. “Teachers at school are paid to be nice to students,” he confided. “Here, they’re not paid. They’re just plain nice.”

Squash Haven’s teachers, of course, are paid, but it’s revealing of their unconventional methods that their students aren’t always sure. Elligers said, “We’re all up in there. We’re in there with their family stuff and we’re in there with school stuff, grade stuff, money stuff, sex stuff.” Staff members give kids rides home and estimate that they answer thirty texts a day from students. They know whose younger brother has a fever and whose mom works the night shift. They hear when family relationships turn sour and are helping one student’s dad find a job. When a ninth grader quit Squash Haven and later got pregnant, Elligers, Greenwood, and DeWitt visited her at the hospital every day. Elligers later went to her home a few times a week to help her change diapers and do enrichment homework assignments.

The staff’s immersion is not only necessary to smooth over everyday challenges for kids of limited means. It’s also an essential part of the social contract for a program promising to build a bridge from the projects to Payne Whitney. Squash Haven challenges students’ low expectations, expectations that serve as defenses against past and future failed promises. In their place, Squash Haven plants the idea that with its help, students can go as far as they’d like to: up the squash rankings and into Yale’s glossy halls. If Squash Haven’s promise to tear down barriers turns out to be an illusion, the disappointment can be lasting. Kids go back home having tasted life on the other side, more convinced than ever that they’ll never be allowed in. Squash Haven is “all up in there” because fighting systematized prejudices requires nothing less.

**

When I first asked Osuman if I could visit him at his home, he said no, explaining with a shrug that his dad worked late. Osuman seemed to want to keep his home life, which he said could get noisy with seven siblings, separate from his life on the squash courts. He later complained about a New Haven Register reporter who had called him for a recent article and expected him to open up right away. “I wasn’t ready for that,” he said. “People I don’t see too much of I don’t feel comfortable with. I was about to play squash and they just called me.”

After two or three tries, Osuman finally relented and told me I could visit. On a chilly December evening, I walked to his home on Goffe Street, just three blocks from Payne Whitney Gym. It stunned me that I’d considered calling a cab. Only three blocks separated the U.S. Squash Hall of Fame from a dark road with boarded storefronts.

Osuman’s dad, Yousef Imoro, greeted me at the door as five tiny children between the ages of eight months and six years gathered at his feet. Osuman was staying late at squash practice, like usual, but Imoro welcomed me. His small row house was barren of stuff and filled with people. Osuman’s siblings climbed over the couch and onto Imoro’s arms as we spoke. Imoro emigrated from Ghana twenty-one years ago. Five years ago, his wife and Osuman joined him in New Haven. Imoro now works sixteen-hour days at a Toyota body shop, and his hands were thick and worn. He seemed animated by the same barely-contained ebullience as his son.

Imoro recounted an evening a week earlier when he heard Osuman rip open a letter and start screaming in the kitchen. “Na Gode Allah!” Osuman had yelled, ‘thank you God’ in Hausa, the family’s native Ghanaian language. “Na Gode Allah!” When Imoro came downstairs, Osuman told him that he’d earned a spot at an upcoming tournament in Boston. “I hope he will do well,” Imoro said. “That’s my prayer. I know he will do well.”

Imoro told me he brought his family to America because their opportunities in Ghana were limited. “I want my children to go ahead more than me,” he explained. “Because I didn’t get the chance.” He said he hoped one day Osuman “might become one of the best stars, a Yale star. That’s something we wish. And maybe we all achieve the dream.”

I asked Imoro what sort of dream Squash Haven represents to him. His two-year-old daughter Adiza was sneezing into his arms. “It’s like right now I was sitting some place and somebody just came and said, ‘Well this is two million dollars. Take it and use it for something.’ That’s what Squash Haven represents.” He continued: “I thank God for that. I thank the coaches and thank all of you for your hard work.”

“I didn’t do anything,” I laughed in protest, figuring that he had mistaken me for one of the Yale volunteers who helped out.

“Yeah, but at least you walk and come to my house, he said excitedly, his voice rising, now practically booming through his hollow house. He insisted: “It’s something. It means a big thing.”

Imoro’s son, five years off the plane from Ghana, was twenty boys away from being the best squash player in America at his age. He harbored dreams of going pro in the country clubs’ sport; if not, Elligers was already plotting his college admissions strategy. In the unlikely collision between white, wealthy Americans and poor Ghanaians, where the support of the squash elite met the resilience and ingenuity of the underprivileged, Imoro saw the heavens spark and two million bills fall into his worn hands.

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