You may know David Ganek as the former equity trader for SAC Capital who was reportedly looking to sell his Park Avenue duplex for $44 million earlier this year. Or you may know him as the modern art collector who reportedly sold Christopher Wool’s Apocalypse Now at auction last year for $26.5 million. Or you may know him as the co-founder of the since-shuttered hedge fund Level Global Investors. But he recently turned his attention to another endeavor: transforming the United States into a squash powerhouse.
Ganek is something of a squash obsessive: He picked up the sport as a kid, met his wife when they were both players at Franklin and Marshall College, and has participated in tournaments with his son. He’s been a supporter in the past, mostly giving money to urban youth programs or sponsoring tournaments. But earlier this month, he and his wife Danielle made the largest donation to U.S. Squash in the organization’s 110-year history — a $2 million gift to endow its first-ever permanent coaching position. Ganek will also play a hands-on role with the organization, helping to lead a U.S. Squash advisory committee and working to raise additional funds to further the program.
“It’s been part of my life for a long, long time,” says Ganek of the sport, “and I wanted to do something to give back.”
It’s much-needed money, too, because the U.S. has a long way to go before it’s consistently dominant on the world stage.
Squash has long been a popular recreational activity on Wall Street, but Americans haven’t historically been very competitive on the international level. No American man has ever been ranked higher than 30th, and no woman has been ranked higher than 10th. No American has ever won the prestigious British Open, nor has one triumphed at the U.S. Open since it switched to the international version of the sport in the 1990s. In the biggest international team tournament, the U.S. has never finished higher than sixth on the men’s side or fifth on the women’s side.
To improve the U.S. program, the Ganeks’ donation allowed U.S. Squash to hire Paul Assaiante, considered the best coach in the country, as the program’s first full-time head coach. (He’d previously worked with U.S. Squash on a volunteer basis.)
“There’s been a conversation over a few years of his wanting to make a real difference in the sport on an ongoing basis,” says Kevin Klipstein, the CEO of U.S. Squash, who’s hopeful the sport will become part of the Olympic program in 2020 or 2024.
American women are a bit further along than the men right now: The highest-ranked American woman is currently 11th in the world; the highest-ranked man is 57th. But Kevin Klipstein, the CEO of U.S. Squash, says the organization’s ten-year goal is to have U.S. teams and individuals consistently finish in the top three in international play.
And hiring Assaiante, Ganek says, is a “loud and clear” message that the U.S. wants to be a major player in the sport. “We want to be competitive,” he says. “We all have the drive to win.”