Squash at WHSB.
A former professional rugby player-turned sports coach who was taught squash by Jonah Barrington as a junior has renovated courts at his school to bring through a new generation of young players.
Chris Garstin was forced to retire after a series of concussions but has found a new passion in introducing Essex schoolboys to the game he loved as a child.
Mr Garstin was coached by six-time British Open winner Jonah Barrington at Millfield School and played at county level before representing Bath, Bristol and Leicester rugby clubs. Since retirement he has forged a new career in coaching and now works at Westcliff High School for Boys, where he coaches the rugby team.
But on discovering the Grammar School’s two rarely used squash courts, Mr Garstin, with the support of the School, set out to restore them to their former glory and encourage the pupils to play the sport. The 34-year-old, of Westcliff, Southend, said: “I came here last year and saw the squash courts and wanted to get them back in use. I loved the sport as a boy and it’s still one of my favourite sports to play. Sports are disappearing all over the place and I want to see squash in the Olympics.
“Since we reopened the courts we’ve had about 18 boys playing, with 10 regularly playing on a Friday. We’re really pushing the sport and the boys have bought into it, some of them were asking for squash rackets for Christmas.”
Mr Garstin said he wanted to inspire the schoolboys in the same way Barrington inspired him. He recalled how even in his late 50s Barrington was still “ripped”.
Mr Garstin, who trained with Barrington’s son, Joey, said: “To play with him was amazing really. He used to play us holding the racket head and hitting the ball with its handle. When I was 12 years old he would smash me to pieces and he wasn’t even holding the racket properly. He was very demanding but clear about how he wanted us to play the game, he was so dedicated. He was like a cyborg. He was still ripped then, it was amazing.”
Boys at Westcliff said they had enjoyed training with Mr Garstin. Sam Haque, who plays in the school’s under-12s team, said: “It’s a fantastic game that everyone should experience.”
Fellow under-12 player Anish Verma said he enjoyed the various aspects of the game. He said: “I love the different shots and the fitness the sport gives you.”
Headmaster Mike Skelly said: “I have been delighted with the energy and enthusiasm that Mr Garstin has brought to the school. He has some fantastic sporting experience and I am thrilled that a number of boys want to develop their skills in squash.”
Mr Garstin thanked the school’s director of sport, Tom Morrish, and the headmaster for helping bring the sport back to Westcliff.
England Squash CEO Keir Worth said the efforts of Mr Garstin and the school were important in allowing the sport to continue to grow. He said: ”It’s great to see these children have been encouraged to play squash and have been given an opportunity to experience the game they might not have had otherwise. The fact the courts have been renovated is fantastic boost for the sport in that area and hopefully will open the door to a large new crop of young players.