By Chris Rotolo |
SEA BRIGHT – As a kid you were taught to avoid dark alleyways, but since 1923 local squash players have ventured down one particularly shady corridor in the heart of Sea Bright to work out within one of the community’s most beloved hidden gems.
For nearly a century, those strolling past a concrete pathway on Ocean Aveune – which now separates Anjelica’s Restaurant and DIVE! – have heard the spongy splatter of a synthetic-string racket connecting with a squishy hollow rubber ball. The familiar pops and impacts resonated from behind a door with a sign that read “Valkyrie Squash Club,” a Two River-area institution open to all local competitors, but known by only by a handful.
The club’s legacy was put on hold for a number of years following the devastating impact of Super Storm Sandy in 2012. In October 2017 the club was purchased by new management that wants to entice new players to venture inside and take turns smacking the ball in a four-walled court.
“Right now it’s all about active management and active promotion and marketing,” said Tertius Raubenheimer, the club’s general manager and head squash professional, who has rebranded and renamed the facility the Monmouth Squash Club and Swim School.
“This is an incredible facility with a great history. But now we’re more than a handful of squash courts. And we have to get the word out,” he added.
For 94 years the club was squash-centric, featuring three singles courts and one larger doubles court. However, since Raubenheimer and his business associate Francis Odeh have stepped to the forefront, the pair has worked to expand the facility’s offerings, removing the doubles court and replacing it with a swimming pool, a steam room and a bar and lounge.
It was a renovation Raubenheimer believes has made the club more of a community.
“We’re taking the club in a little bit of a different direction, but the feeling of community is like nothing this club has ever had before,” Raubenheimer said. “The older players who have been here for years have expressed how much fun they’re having meeting new playing partners and new friends. It’s created a family atmosphere, which is exactly what we wanted to do.”
According to Raubenheimer, since introducing this new business model the club’s enrollment has increased from just 25 members to nearly 150. And though a surge in patronage is certainly great for business, Raubenheimer’s greatest joy is seeing the future of his beloved sport preserved.
“Squash is a niche sport, but it’s a truly great sport,” he said. “Once people are introduced to squash they rarely let it go, and I’ve seen that play out in a lot of young kids enrolled at the club. They’re 7 and 8 years old and already competing at a high level. It’s very exciting to see.”
Raubenheimer credits the lure of an NCAA Division I college scholarship for the uptick in participation from younger players, but he also views the pool as another gateway for local youths to become familiar with the sport.
“The youngest you can begin training and playing at the club is 7 years old, but we offer swimming lessons to children as young as 3 and 4 years old. Though their focus is swimming, they’ll be around the game at a very young age. They’ll see people playing on our courts, they’ll watch the pros play on our televisions and I think a handful of them will end up pursuing it because, at the end of the day, squash is just a lot of fun.”
The Monmouth Squash Club and Swim School offers monthly membership options, including an entry level pool membership for $45, a pool membership for two children for $70 and a family pool membership for $150. Squash membership includes access to all of the club’s amenities. A squash student membership can be obtained for $55, while an adult membership is $150 and family membership is $250.
This article was first published in the June 21-28, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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