Squashing out drug abuse in Santa Barbara

In 1994, the Santa Barbara Open Squash Tournament committee decided to make the event a fund-raiser for the Sheriff's Department Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) Program, which is offered in all public schools in Santa Barbara County. D.A.R.E. educates school children about the dangers of illicit drugs, in hopes that having the information will deter them from the obvious risks of substance abuse.

Once the committee chose to support D.A.R.E., its members approached Sheriff Jim Thomas with the idea. He was excited about the prospect, and lent his full support to the event. The Santa Barbara Athletic Club (SBAC), in turn, offered to underwrite the prize money and host the event.

The Santa Barbara Athletic Club was built with sports-event viewing in mind. In front of the main squash court, a large carpeted gallery rises in a series of steps toward the third-level ceiling. This gallery provides seating accommodations for as many as 180 people to watch the action on the court, with a further 40 spaces available for standing room.

With this built-in opportunity to draw a crowd, the committee decided that a reasonable admission charge to view the squash professionals playing in the quarter-final, semi-final and final matches could also raise a significant amount of money. The turnout for these matches was good, and nearly doubled the amount of money that was raised for D.A.R.E. The final tally was more than $5,000.

Following the success of the 1994 tournament, SBAC agreed once again to put up prize money for the 1995 event, promising to match up to $4,000 raised by the committee. The Santa Barbara Deputy Sheriff's Association agreed to underwrite this additional $4,000.

This increased purse drew higher-ranked players than previous years and enabled the committee to attempt to “sell” the event to a major corporate sponsor, and other larger donors. Furthermore, the larger event proved to be popular with the West Coast squash enthusiasts, who came to play in the amateur divisions and watch the pros.

In addition to the competition, the tournament treated players to social mixers each night. One event, a poolside barbeque, ended with a raffle for prizes ranging from squash eye protectors and Fin racquets, to wine and airline tickets. The raffle alone raised more than $1,000 for D.A.R.E.

The 1996 tournament was similar to 1995's. Good draw, good social events and good auction/raffle combined with great competition and great fund-raising.

In 1997 the Wood-Claeyssens Foundation signed on to help sponsor the event. The event once again drew top world-ranked players.

For the 1998 event the format was changed slightly to an eight-man draw invitational event. This enabled the likes of Peter Nicol (ranked No. 1 in the world) and three other top 10 players to compete for the first time on the West Coast.

The 1999 event saw more top 10 players, including the return of Nicol. The following year, 115 amateur players competed alongside an impressive lineup of pro players. The prize money of $15,000 was contributed evenly by the Wood-Claeyssens Foundation, the Santa Barbara Deputy Sheriff's Association and SBAC.

After the 2000 event, a check was presented to the D.A.R.E. officers for an incredible $51,000. That brought the grand total for all the tournaments to more than $200,000!