Squash is smashing straight into Lawrenceville with the opening of a new facility on Princess Road, catering to juniors, adults and local schools interested in the high-intensity sport.
The new facility, the New Jersey Squash Club, hosts four squash courts, including a handicap accessible court, as well as four coaches to help train squash enthusiasts or help introduce new players to the sport.
The New Jersey Squash Club is led by head coach Lefika Ragontse, who has trained 15 junior squash champions and cultivated various squash clubs across the country. However, Ragontse started his infatuation with the sport in his hometown, a small mining village called Orapa, in Botswana.
“It was just a bunch of kids playing. Our headmaster, he started squash with us,” Ragontse said.
Squash, often compared to racquetball, has two to four players strike the ball with rackets within selected areas on the four walls of the court. However, squash utilizes larger rackets, a smaller ball and more out-of-bounds zones to increase the challenge.
‘We’re trying to provide access and provide a healthy way of working out and fun way of working out.’
According to the World Squash Federation, squash is played in almost 150 countries worldwide on approximately 50,000 courts and was recently picked as a showcase sport at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games. The game has also been a popular staple in the athletic programs of many Ivy League schools, including Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
Ragontse continued to play squash throughout his youth, traveling to local areas and countries like South Africa, starting a small junior program. After going to high school in South Africa, where Ragontse continued to play squash, he trained with Jonathon Power, the first American to be ranked the number one squash player in the world.
Ragontse returned home to Botswan, working at his parents’ diamond business for approximately a year before they encouraged him to turn his passion for squash into a career.
Afterwards, Ragontse continued his squash career in England, then the United States, where he was recruited by the Trinity College squash team in 1988. In his time at Trinity, Ragontse won four national championships and became the team captain before leading a squash program at a country club in Baltimore, where he decided to pursue his dream. He’s lived in Baltimore ever since, and he commutes to the new facility from there.
“I met a wealthy financial guy and he liked my work ethic. He said, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ and I said, ‘I’d like to own my own club,’” Ragontse said.
From there, Ragontse opened his first club in a warehouse-turned-facility in Baltimore, which went on to be a local success, cultivating 15 national champions while growing the squash community. According to Ragontse, there were approximately five squash clubs in Baltimore when he started, which has grown to over 15 clubs today.
Ragontse then saw the increased interest of the sport in Lawrenceville and seized the chance to introduce the game to a new audience.
“I figured it was a good opportunity, it was worth giving it a try and seeing how it works,” Ragontse said. “We’re hoping that the community will embrace us.”
Ragontse opened the facility with the blessing of Gail Ramsay, the head coach of women’s squash at Princeton University and former president of the Women’s College Squash Association.
“[Gail] been very supportive as I’ve known her through the years and through the recruiting,” Ragontse said.
According to Ragontse, squash is becoming an ever popular sport with local schools, with a growing squash base developing among students. These schools have even begun to reach out to the New Jersey Squash Club about renting space at the new facility to accommodate the increasing demand for squash in schools that are lacking proper space for the sport.
“It’s good to have a good relationship with people that know and understand the community,” Ragontse said.
In a growing world of local sports clubs, Ragontse hopes squash will be able to fill a niche in a busy world full of people looking for some quick fun and exercise.
“People can come in who don’t really want to go in here, play for 45 minutes or half an hour, and get a really get a really good workout,” Ragontse said. “You have a lot of people who are really interested in having a short break from the office, they come in and they play. If they have a quick morning workout, they come in and they play.”
The sport was listed by Forbes Magazine as the number one healthiest sport, with the game promoting strength, endurance and cardio while burning over 1,000 calories an hour, according to Men’s Fitness.
“You probably burn the most calories in squash,” Ragontse said. “We’re trying to provide access and provide a healthy way of working out and fun way of working out.”
Ragontse also saw Lawrence as the ideal place for a squash facility, with many of the area’s resident squash enthusiasts often traveling to Philadelphia or even farther to find a place to play and the potential for a flourishing community present.
“The idea is to try and get as many people in the community to play the sport,” Ragontse said. “It will help the community to know that squash is out there.”
One of the facility’s most notable features is that no memberships are required, although they are offered. Anyone interested in the sport can rent a court for $20 during peak hours, such as after work, according to Ragontse, or $10 during slower hours. There are also a variety of memberships to choose from, ranging from individual plans for adults and juniors to family plans of up to four people.
“[Squash] is really growing,” Ragontse said. “We’re hoping we can come in and help it grow.”
With squash’s popularity mounting in the United States, Ragontse and his team of coaches hopes bring the phenomenon to Lawrenceville with smashing results.
“There really wasn’t any public facility [in Lawrence] that offered squash,” Ragontse said. “We wanted to be that facility.”
The New Jersey Squash Club is located at 11 Princess Road, Suite L, in Lawrenceville. For more information, visit njsquashclub.com.