Portland squash program ready to up its game in former synagogue

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PORTLAND — Portland Community Squash is in its new home at 66 Noyes St. in the Oakdale neighborhood.

“There is a long way to go, but so much to celebrate,” President Barrett Takesian said Jan. 25.

The nonprofit, which offers youth instruction, leagues and court space for adult play, moved from the Portland YMCA on Forest Avenue to the former Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh synagogue.

Portland Community Squash bought the synagogue last September. The congregation shifted about 30 families to services at nearby Temple Beth El, 400 Deering Ave.

A reception and ribbon-cutting at 1 p.m. Feb. 1 was scheduled to include Mayor Ethan Strimling and other city officials, PCS board members, and synagogue members.

Then it is back to the mission that began four years ago, which Takesian plans to expand in the new home.

The former sanctuary and community gathering room have been converted to four glassed-in squash courts. The classrooms remain in use as Portland Community Squash staff helps students with schoolwork. The ultimate goal is to get them to college, while keeping them fit with a game that tests reflexes and requires stamina.

“This brings a sense of community, it is a safe place for them to hang out. It helps you grow,” Roberto Meza said as he watched his son, Ben, play with friends.

Later, father and son would challenge each other on a court, but only after Ben and other middle school students played round robin games.

While they played, five elementary school students were learning the game as part of the Rally Portland program for children from LearningWorks.

LearningWorks, based on Brackett Street, provides a variety of services to disadvantaged and immigrant families. Rally Portland offers five lessons, often with Takesian.

Those not playing were posing for their own sports card, with Casco Bay High School senior Zach Cooper taking pictures on his cell phone.

“I like it because I am athletic and I like sports,” Justin Charles said between posing and trading volleys with Takesian.

Once out of the Rally Portland program, students in sixth grade and above are invited to join the junior league. Members said they are often drawn to play because they have friends already on the court.

“I like having something to play after school,” King Middle School student Myles Finlay said.

He is also a swimmer, but said squash is his favorite sport now.

Nicholas Lawsure, also a King student, said squash is accessible.

“Anyone can do it, you just take a racket and hit a ball against a wall,” he said.

Expansion goes beyond the courts, as Portland Community Squash now offers twice-weekly yoga classes led by Nicole Gorgon, whose husband plays squash.

“I wanted to bring yoga here because I am impressed with the mission,” she said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland Community Squash is now offering programs at the former Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh synagogue on Noyes Street.

Myles Finlay joined PCS after a friend at King Middle School recommended it. He said squash is the best sport he’s ever played.

Ahlam Nure learns the basics of the game Jan. 25 at Portland Community Squash. She is part of the Rally Portland program that invites children from LearningWorks to take lessons.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.