Squash hits wall as courts close 

 NEWCASTLE squash players are bracing for yet another blow to their sport on Saturday with the closure of the Bel-Air courts at Kotara.

Bel-Air owner Barrie Thompson is retiring and a development application has been approved to build residential units on the Princeton Avenue site.

When the six Bel-Air courts are demolished, Newcastle will be left with only three squash centres, in Cardiff (15 courts), University (five) and Wallsend (five).

Veteran Newcastle Super Squash player Anthony Hancock is a member at Bel-Air and estimates that 31 centres have closed in the past 20 years in the city.

‘‘It’s all very sad for us because we keep seeing the decline of the centres over the years,’’  he said.

About 110 competition players will be affected by the closure of Bel-Air and almost as many social players.

Hancock plans to move to Raymond Terrace Squash and Fitness Centre, while most of the Bel-Air members will play at Cardiff and Wallsend.

‘‘It’s not just the comp players who will struggle to find somewhere to play; there are just as many social players, and they’re going to find it hard to get a court because there’s only really Wallsend and Cardiff to choose from,’’ he said.

‘‘There was 20 teams from Bel-Air who are committed to going to Cardiff and Wallsend, so they’re going to be full to the brim.’’

Squash, a Commonwealth Games sport, was popular in Newcastle in the 1980s when courts were spread throughout its suburbs and surrounding towns.

Medowie professional squash player Matthew Karwalski is ranked third in Australia and 58th in the world and is preparing to make his Commonwealth Games debut in Glasgow next year.

While Karwalski trains  at Raymond Terrace or the Williamtown RAAF base, he played at the Bel-Air as a junior and socially in recent years.

‘‘It’s going to be a loss, not personally, but for Newcastle as a whole,’’ he said.

‘‘Losing the centre is quite devastating because it is centrally located and it was one of the two biggest centres remaining in Newcastle.’’

The Bel-Air courts were built in 1978 and Thompson took over in 1988.

Thompson said the closure would be sad, but increasing electricity costs and the growing popularity of gyms and other indoor sports were eating into the profitability of squash centres.

‘‘Squash from a competition point of view it’s pretty good as there’s only a few centres around,’’  he said.

‘‘It’s getting very quiet with social bookings. The problem is there’s not many juniors playing squash and it’s the same with a lot of sports these days.

‘‘The kids tend to be playing more computer games and the like.’’

Due to declining popularity of the sport, Wallsend Squash and Swim Centre has  turned four of  its courts into laser tag arenas.

But Hancock believes a new squash centre could be profitable. 

He plans to lobby Newcastle City Council and Wests Leagues Club to drum up interest in building  courts. 

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