New sports in south Charlotte shopping center

Pickleball, squash serve up new future at Providence Square; elite Egyptian squash athletes hone their game

This article appeared in the May 28, 2021, edition of The Charlotte Ledger. To get on our email newsletter list or upgrade your subscription, sign up here. Details.

These south Charlotte Pickleball courts (left) and Charlotte Squash facility (right) make up Charlotte Squash and Pickleball Club. The two facilities are in the Providence Square Shopping Center, one of south Charlotte’s oldest retail centers.

By Lindsey Banks

One of south Charlotte’s oldest shopping centers is finding new life as an emerging sports complex — but not with the typical sports that come to mind.  

Earlier this month, Providence Square Shopping Center created six outdoor pickleball courts to complete the Charlotte Squash and Pickleball Club, joining other recreational tenants Charlotte Squash and the Walsh Kelly School of Irish Dance.  

Pickleball — a combination of badminton, ping pong and tennis — is surging in popularity across Charlotte and nationally.  

And it pairs nicely with squash. (Squash is a racket sport played in an indoor, four-walled court with a small hollow rubber ball.) 

Connie Barnes, an Australian native, is the owner of the Charlotte Squash and Pickleball Club. Before moving to Charlotte, Barnes brought squash to the Washington, D.C. area, growing youth involvement from 20 to 2,000 participants. She also provides physical education programming for middle and high schoolers at Charlotte Country Day SchoolMyers Park High School and Charlotte Preparatory School

Barnes said her goal is to bring new sports to people of all ages in North Carolina — even though it sometimes proves a challenge. 

“We knew that it would be difficult at the beginning because some of the athletic directors are saying to me, 'Sounds great, but what is squash?’” Barnes said. “It was like starting from scratch and explaining it again, and it’s that type of challenge that I really, really enjoy.” 

Barnes also started a non-profit 15 years ago called Squash Empower, which works with at-risk youth, providing them with mentors, academic tuition and, of course, squash. 

She said that there is a need for collegiate squash players, so she hopes to introduce children to the possibility of playing beyond the club level. 

“We use the game of squash — and now we're going to use the game of pickleball — to be a hook to help guide these children, sometimes to be the first in their family to go to college or to get into a better college than they would otherwise get into,” Barnes said. 

Elite squash athletes: The indoor squash courts are also used as a practice facility for local athletes, hosting an accomplished squash coach from Egypt, AmrAbdelmaksoud. Egypt is known as a squash superpower.

Abdelmaksoud came to the U.S. in 2017 to coach squash after leaving his academy in Egypt, where he coached the No. 1 male and female players. When he was a junior player himself, Abdelmaksoud was a top-five player worldwide. 

One of his athletes, seventh-grader Samir Samiy, is a highly ranked junior player. He had plans to attend an elite squash camp in Egypt before it was canceled twice due to Covid. Samir said that the Charlotte Squash Club is the only court in the area where he can practice. 

The new sports facilities are breathing new life into the 49-year-old Providence Square. The shopping center, owned by Daniel Levine, was anchored by a Harris Teeter and an Eckerd in the 1970s and ’80s, but those tenants left in the early 2000s and smaller businesses moved in. Now, it’s finding a niche with recreational businesses looking for large spaces. Charlotte Squash has been in the shopping center for six years.

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Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina Bolling; Reporting intern: Lindsey Banks; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory