By Ukee Washington

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Since 2001, hundreds of Philadelphia young people have benefited from a nonprofit sports program. Some of them have returned to teach the next generation.

You can measure the success of an after-school squash program in a lot of ways, like by the marks on the wall.

“When the kids are beginning, they’re not hitting the ball hard enough to be able to leave their mark,” Quinetta Bowden said. “Then they get more strength and power, and then they get to leave their marks on the court.”

Quinetta works for SquashSmarts, a program for West Philadelphia middle and high school students. “Squash” is for the game, “smarts” is for the academics.

Fifteen-year-old Ramirrah Reid, a 10th grader at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science, has been playing in SquashSmarts for four years.

“When I first started SquashSmarts in sixth grade, I was very shy, and being in this program helped me come out of my shell more,” she said.

Thanks to private donations, the program is free.

SquashSmarts executive director Stephen Gregg explains it’s not just about sports.

“The ultimate goal is for children to get into colleges and to careers,” Gregg said.

It’s working. Since 2001, SquashSmarts has graduated hundreds of students — 60% of the current staffers are graduates of the program.

One of them is Quinetta Bowden. She started the program in 2002 when she was 11. Now she is 28, a Penn State graduate, and West Philadelphia academic director for SquashSmarts.

“I get to be who my 12-year-old self needed, and it’s amazing,” she said.

One of those 12-year-olds is Kimora Jackson, a seventh grader at Science and Leadership Academy Middle School.

“When you’re playing, you don’t have to try to be somebody you’re not. You can be yourself, and if you mess up, it’s OK, because other people mess up, too,” she said.

The goal of the program isn’t necessarily to create the next squash champion, but you never know.

“I’m getting to like it. I might go pro one day. I’m thinking about that,” said 12-year-old Justin Lane.

Ukee Washington