City to College to City

Squash was his ticket-now he's passing the ticket on

Megan Cerullo

Chris Fernandez ’15 grew up in a tough part of the Bronx, facing an uncertain future. Some of his friends hung out after school and got into trouble. He joined an after-school squash program and got into St. Lawrence, where he played baseball and captained one of the country’s best collegiate squash teams. 

Today, Fernandez is back home as the director of squash for the after-school program that helped him, CitySquash. He’s trying to help other kids stay out of trouble and go to college. 

“A lot of my friends joined gangs and some girls had babies before they were even freshmen in high school,” he said. “I wouldn’t necessarily have taken the same path, but I was lucky to have CitySquash.”

CitySquash, in the Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx, serves 180 local youth. It recruits from Thomas C. Giordano Middle School and from P.S. 205, Fiorello LaGuardia, both serving a low-income demographic. “It’s not uncommon for our families, when they report household income, to say $20,000,” said the program’s executive director, Terence Li.  

As a kid, Fernandez made it through a rigorous, months-long trial period to earn a spot on CitySquash’s team. “After the first two weeks of tryouts I kind of liked it,” he said. “I was very competitive so I started noticing I was a bit better than the other kids.”

The next thing he knew, he was falling in love with the game. “I would say after two more weeks, I was sold,” he said.

Squash was Fernandez’s ticket to new opportunities. In middle school he outpaced his peers in the classroom and wasn’t challenged academically. “Where we lived wasn’t a good area,” he said. His mother, Diomeris Fernandez, is thankful for CitySquash. “Squash kept Chris busy and taught him discipline,” she said.  

Squash also helped Fernandez earn scholarships to boarding school and attract attention from colleges. He spent eight years away from the Bronx, returning only on holidays. “When I came back from St. Lawrence for my first time freshman year, there was a whole group of kids who had families. They had wives, they had kids. It was mind-blowing,” he said.  

Fernandez, who majored in performance and communication arts and minored in sport studies and exercise science, would like to have a family one day. But in the meantime, he wants to start his own urban squash program. “My ultimate goal is to create a bunch of young CitySquashers who will someday rule college squash,” he said. 

In his words, he wants to groom kids to be like himself, but better. His mother thinks he turned out fine. “Thanks to squash, my son is a professional with an education, and not a street kid. I owe a lot to squash,” she said.

Megan Cerullo is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. She played squash for Brown University.