Shabana Khan's rise to national and global prominence as the queen of promoters of the sport of squash has come with a few giant steps while her progress toward recognition in the local community that she has put on the international squash map is happening in small steps.
One of the reasons she has gained high regard from youthful squash players, their coaches and parents are the national College Showcase that she put on last week for nationally ranked students, 16 men and 16 women, aged 15 to 18, playing before coaches of the top schools where squash is a scholarship sport. It was the fourth annual Showcase event.
Shabana Khan and Yasmine
The fact the young competitors were all from Washington and California while the coaches eyeing prospective scholarship talent were from schools like Amherst, Middlebury, Vasser, George Washington, Bates, and Brown points up the difference in focus on the sport on the East Coast and the West, including the Puget Sound area.
But another difference, one for which Khan deserves significant recognition, is the fact that similar tournaments on the East Coast cost the young competitors, or rather their supportive parents, between $3,000 and $5,000 to participate in one of the four-day events while the students competing here pay nothing.
Part of Khan's stated goal is bringing an awareness of squash to young people of all backgrounds rather than merely the children of the squash affluent, whose demographics are men and women, both players and fans, with median incomes of more than $300,000 and an average net worth of nearly $1,500,000.
A quest for awareness for youth squash is exemplified by her thus-far unsuccessful effort to convince the City of Bellevue that there should be a park for squash courts so that, as she puts it, "kids of ordinary means can learn to play without having to have their parents be members of a club."
In fact, as the mother of aspiring youth squash star, 13-year-old Yasmine, she knows the challenges of youth-squash competition.
Readers of The Harp will recognize that I've written about Khan before. Beginning when she brought the Men's World Squash Championship to Bellevue, the first time (ever) in the U.S. The reason is because of a conviction that what she is seeking to do for Bellevue and its young people in particular merits far more attention than she is getting.
A couple of significant developments for Khan and her squash initiatives await in the coming months. One brings particular pleasure to the now 50-year-old former national women's squash champion.
That's the fact that her world invitational squash tournament in August for top squash talent, six women and six men, will be an event whose sponsors have decided to name the event, the only one of its kind in the country, after her late father. There are no other squash events in the country like it.
Yusuf Khan, who brought the sport of squash to Seattle from his native India a half-century ago and, as one of the world's top squash professionals, proceeded to bring Seattle to the attention of the national and international squash establishments and see two of his daughters become women's national champions, died last October at the age of 87.
The invitational event that will be held August 25-30 at the Hidden Valley Boys & Girls club in Bellevue will be named "PMI Dave Cutler Presents The Yusuf Khan Invitational."
The "PMI Dave Cutler" portion of the title is for the two men, both internationally known in their respective professions, who have become the financial support for YSK Events, the little non-profit through which Khan carries out her squash events.
One is Dave Cutler of Microsoft, universally acclaimed as the key technical brain behind the Microsoft Windows NT and all the subsequent windows versions. A decade ago he was recognized as a National Medal of Technology and Innovation laureate, perhaps the most prestigious honor in the country for developers of new technology.
The other is Robert Harris, founder, and CEO of PMI-Worldwide, a Seattle-based brand, and product-marketing company with offices in seven cities around the world whose corporate philanthropy has only recently begun to be recognized.
The two have come to team up for a $150,000 donation that for the past several years has allowed Khan to put up the prize money, which this year will total $300,000.
"Every player participating is ranked inside the top 10 in the world," Khan noted. 'The only one, not world ranked is our local player, Reeham Sedky, who has just recently begun her professional career."
I got to write about Sedky, though sadly it was her only local visibility, after the then 21-year-old who was born and raised in Bellevue and became the nation's best women's high school squash player as a student at Forest Ridge, upset one of the world's top women at last year's Invitational.
Sedky has begun her squash pro career after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania where she was women's national squash champion.
The fact that her father is Egyptian works for Amazon and played squash, is an example of the role the growing international diversity of the Puget Sound region can play in bringing squash, among the top sports in many countries, into greater prominence among activities for young people.
It's particularly appropriate that the PMI Dave Cutler event will be named this year for Yusuf Khan since it was 20 years ago that he and Shabana teamed to bring to Seattle the first women's world squash championship ever held in the United States.
Khan is adding a fun factor to the invitational event this year in the form of a tech company tournament that she explains will be called the Tech Challenge and will involve 12 teams, with four from Microsoft already committed. Each team of top squash players from their companies will put up $5,000 to compete.
"We need about $110,000 from the 'Tech Challenge' to fill out our $300,000 prize money," Khan said.
And a few weeks after the invitational event, Khan's plan for a new series of western youth squash tournaments called West Coast Squash will debut as a competitive Junior Squash series involving teams from Vancouver, Portland, San Jose, San Francisco, and the Los Angeles area. She said Orange County, "which has an excellent squash facility," could be added.
In the face of an apparent lack of interest, from the Eastside establishment, in what Shabana is doing for the image of the area in the global squash community and the many countries where squash is a top sport. I was struck by the answer that Harris gave me last year when I asked why he was such a strong supporter of Khan. It bears repeating here.
"It's pretty simple. In a world beginning to look inward rather than building international alliances and global partnerships, I believe it's increasingly important to support sports that are global in nature and connect people from around the world. This is the only way humanity, and our planet are going to survive and prosper."
It's a comment that leaders of the business and civic communities that have "other causes" than Shabana's might ponder.