Bob Sweeney doesn’t play squash. “Believe it or not,” says UVA’s Vice President for Development and Public Affairs, who oversees the school’s $3 billion capital campaign.
However, Sweeney knows the difference between a North American court and the slightly longer international court. He knows that the game may have cultural caché among international students from countries like India and Pakistan, where the racquet sport enjoys popularity. And he knows that UVA’s squash facilities could use some work.
Jaffray Woodriff, CEO of Quantitative Investment Management, says both he and UVA “hope to build a very competitive collegiate squash program over the coming years.”
During the last few months, Sweeney has met with a small group of UVA administrators, alumni and a donor to discuss ways to turn the school into a squash destination for would-be students and community athletes. Among the alums is Jaffray Woodriff, chairman and CEO of Quantitative Investment Management (QIM), who spoke with C-VILLE last week after he lost one match and won another at the ACAC squash courts.
Woodriff tells C-VILLE that the Quantitative Foundation is in “advanced negotiations to fund a squash facility at The Boar’s Head Inn.” Boar’s Head, the resort purchased by the UVA Foundation in 1988, already attracts a number of racquet enthusiasts. In 2005, UVA announced a $7.5 million expansion to Boar’s Head’s tennis facilities to create a top-notch national tennis destination. Of course, said Woodriff, the ongoing nature of the discussion means that nothing is guaranteed.
“It is absolutely accurate to say that nothing is set in stone,” said Woodriff, whose company oversees a multi-billion-dollar hedge fund. “And the possibility certainly remains that no squash happens at all.” However, he expressed his hope that the UVA community at-large would have greater access to “excellent facilities.”
Currently, squash courts are hard to come by at UVA. The school’s Slaughter Recreation Center has three courts, and the North Grounds Recreation Center has two more. During the past 10 years, UVA club teams have won national titles in men’s and women’s play. The teams formerly practiced at the Albemarle Racquet Club, but the center has closed.
The Virginia Athletics Foundation is in the midst of a $14 million fundraising campaign—and, at $12.1 million last week, is well on its way to meeting its goal. However, says executive director Dirk Katstra, those funds are tied to varsity sports at the school, and not used for club sports like squash.
“I know that the University is working on a gift for squash,” says Katstra. He adds that the prospective donor is “a donor of ours.”
QIM has previously sponsored the North American Open tournament in Richmond, an event that attracts many of the sport’s top-ranked international players. QIM has also supported the Virginia Athletics Foundation. When John Paul Jones Arena opened in 2006, the company leased one of the new building’s 19 luxury suites, which go for a reported $65,000 to $75,000 per year.
In addition to a colleague who played squash at Yale and could provide perspective on other top-notch facilities, Woodriff said he knows several members of the UVA men’s club team.
“Their goals aren’t set very high because their current access to courts is just so terrible,” said Woodriff. “They would be excited to hear that [UVA] might build a couple of courts on Grounds.”
And current team members may not be alone in their excitement.
“What is happening now with UVA squash?” asked a commenter on the University of Virginia Magazine’s website. “Is the school supporting the students’ efforts to create a team?” The commenter concluded that “there are plenty of alum hoping to support this sport.”