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The Growth and Evolution of Racquet Sports at The Denver Athletic Club

The Denver Athletic Club (The DAC), located in the heart of downtown Denver, has a rich history of offering a diverse range of physical activities to its members.

The annual Hashim Khan Championships are a showcase of how racquet sports, and especially squash, are celebrated and thrive at The DAC.

From weight training, to swimming, group exercise classes, and even a golf simulator, The DAC has been a hub for Mile High fitness enthusiasts for decades.

Amongst its offerings, racquet sports have maintained a consistent presence at The DAC, adapting and evolving as the popularity of various sports has risen and fallen over the years.

An Ever-changing Racquets Scene

Racquetball found an early passionate following at The DAC and remains popular among its members. Invented in 1949, racquetball quickly became America’s fastest-growing sport, captivating both men and women, singles and doubles players alike. Its simplicity and accessibility made it a favorite among DAC members, providing hours of fast-paced and enjoyable gameplay.

Squash courts

These days, The DAC boasts six racquetball courts with glass backs and a full balcony for viewing, along with lessons, league play and junior instruction. Of note, DAC Member Erika Manilla, is the #1 Female Professional Racquetball athlete in the USA and #4 in the Ladies’ World Tour, and she frequently runs clinics and programming to up level the skills of her fellow members – including junior players! She grew up playing at The DAC and now shares her love of the sport through top-level training.

In recent years, pickleball has taken the country by storm, and The DAC has embraced this trend with enthusiasm. Pickleball offers a low barrier to entry, featuring simple rules, smaller courts, and a slower pace of play compared to many other racquet sports. This accessibility has made it a hit among players of varying skill levels, drawing individuals from different generations and backgrounds, including those new to team sports. The DAC has responded to the growing popularity of pickleball by scheduling regular pick-up games and introducing league play for players of all skill levels.

Racquetball courts

Squash: Ever-Popular and Still Growing

Squash, a racquet sport with roots dating back to 19th-century England, found its way to The DAC in the 1920s and has only grown in popularity since then. The DAC’s squash facility started as a single, repurposed handball court and has since expanded to seven courts and become a major attraction. The game, named for the distinctive sound the hollow ball makes when it hits the wall, gained popularity in prep schools and universities and was spread worldwide through the help of traveling British Empire officers.

The arrival of Hashim Khan to Denver, a seven-time British Open Squash Champion, played a pivotal role in the sport’s surge in popularity at the club. Khan loved Denver as the mountains and climate reminded him of his native Pakistan, and at the age of 56 he offered to play an exhibition match at The DAC against the Rocky Mountain squash champ, 26-year-old Dennis Driscoll. Organizers were initially concerned about potentially embarrassing the much older Khan, but soon realized there was no reason to be concerned, as Khan made quick work of his opponent and barely broke a sweat. Khan’s advice to aspiring players, “start young and play every day, all year round,” resonated with enthusiasts, and the annual Hashim Khan Championships played at The DAC became a must-attend event for squash players and spectators alike.

Racquetball viewing balconies

Throughout its history, The DAC has celebrated racquet sports and evolved with the changing dynamics of the racquet sports community. The recent addition of Michael Woods as Head Squash Pro signifies the club’s dedication to maintaining its racquet sports legacy. Michael, following in the footsteps of John and Anne Lesko, who managed the squash department for three decades, brings a wealth of experience and a vision to further enhance the squash program at The DAC. He warmly welcomes all racquet enthusiasts to explore the numerous opportunities to engage in racquet sports at The DAC, ensuring that the club’s tradition of excellence in these sports continues to thrive.