Club sports embrace special role on campus
"Thwap!" Bare, sweaty skin slaps down on a thinly padded foam mat. UMass senior Jon Decker helps the smaller, quicker athlete in front of him to his feet. Junior Sam Weeden wipes off the sweat and gets ready to spar once more. It is practice for the Brazilian Jujutsu Club at UMass, an organization for which Decker is the outgoing health officer.
Club sports at UMass face a diverse array of issues. Many of these issues are unique to the sport’s situation, though there are also collective issues. However, club sports also provide a unique opportunity for students, and present a way to play both non-varsity sports and varsity sports at a casual and stress-free level.
Officially there are 46 club sports registered on campus, representing men’s sports, women’s sports and co-educational opportunities. Not all of these clubs are always active. Additionally, some of these sports are seasonal (like their varsity counterparts, if they have one), while others defy this and are bi-seasonal. Indoor club sports compete both semesters, and also often face different challenges than their outdoor counterparts.
Club sports compete in club-level regional tournaments and national competitions, which often rub up against one of the main issues faced by club athletics: funding and participation. Funding is an issue across the board, however the problem is more multi-part in certain sports as compared to others. Participation is an issue stemming from funding due to fees, however it extends to the number of people playing and how strong their commitment to the club is.
MONEY AND PEOPLE
Allie Noyes, a senior who played three years of club lacrosse, knows about troubles associated with funding and participation. “Dues only cover a certain portion of the costs of playing this sport,” Noyes said. “We have equipment and we fight for facility use, but definitely funding [is a major issue]. Our dues are higher, and we have to travel using a combination of crowdfunding and carpooling.”
In fact, the men’s team, which never had the money or commitment from members to get the right equipment according to Noyes, disbanded (at least temporarily) this year.
Commitment was no foreign issue to the women’s team either.
“We voted and elected a president, VP, treasurer, the usual roles,” said Noyes, “they set rules, and told everyone them at the beginning in order to prevent any issues during the season…but [we still had] players not showing up to practice and then expecting to play [in the games].
Decker mentioned a similar issue in Brazilian Jujutsu. “We have a very low overhead cost, probably the lowest of any club sport. All we need are mats and a space. We don’t do uniformed jujutsu, with the special fabric, which makes it a lot cheaper. Dues are only $20 [per semester], and we carpool to all our competitions.”
However, the number of competitions the club is involved in is a critical element. Jujutsu attends a relatively low number of competitions, further reducing the costs to its members. Wrestling however, which uses the same space to practice as jujutsu, deals with more of a financial burden.
“We had $3,000 in funding this year, but going to nationals costs over $6,000,” said Hiep Nguyen, the new captain of the club wrestling team. “We have to fundraise our ass off. We got lucky recently because our old captain’s high school coach had money and paid for us, but we also go to more competitions than most of the club sports so we always need funding. We keep our dues at $40 per semester and $70 for the year.”
For wrestling specifically, a lack of funding is glaring at competitions: “We are the only wrestling team in the Northeast Conference without a coach,” Nguyen said. “Luckily we are getting our funding raised next year by the university, so we should have one next year.”
Meanwhile women’s lacrosse has had to utilize both carpooling and lobbying for university funding for its tournaments.
“We struggled to afford going to big tournaments,” senior Lizzie Loranger said, “it was hard to have to depend on each other for transportation to games, especially when it was far away.”
“We went to a national tournament my freshman year,” added Noyes, “and it was very hard to get the school to help us fund it.” However, eventually the team did get the trip paid for and they did not have to resort to crowdfunding.
A MULTITUDE OF MOTIVATIONS
However the sports also have their individual identities, issues and attractive qualities. Some, like the aforementioned jujutsu club, have little trouble with cost compared to many of their counterparts. Going along with that is the club’s laid-back atmosphere and the individual reasons that the members have come together to form a club. Because of these factors a variety of students have joined the club. They range in skill and size, and there are no belts or ranks recognized in the club: Everyone is treated as an equal.
Ibrahim Shaheen is the new vice-president of the club.
“I think we are the most welcoming new club for new people,” he said. “We are unlike a lot of clubs, we have people that will join and pay dues in the middle of the semester, people are joining all the time.”
Recently, Shaheen has noticed an influx of female members. “Grappling is really useful for self-defense, and I do feel like a lot of people join to get better at self-defense, which is one of the reasons why we understand that people are constantly going to be joining.”
The tough part is retaining those members once they feel they have been trained to defend themselves.
“By this part of the semester,” said Shaheen, “the numbers start to go down and usually only people going to competitions are still here. Our goal next year is to retain the people who join for self-defense, by offering alternative physical activities at the meetings besides simply grappling.” In this way, what is nominally “the Brazilian Jujutsu club” can be something more than that. It can represent a community of commonly vigilant students.
To others, club sports provide an avenue to continue a passion and continue to meet those driven by the same passion.
“My favorite part was getting the opportunity to meet new people,” said Noyes, “and I got into it because I love the game and wanted to play after high school at a competitive level but with not too much pressure/commitment.”
A PLACE TO PLAY
Facilities are a major issue for some outdoor sports. Because the use of McGuirk stadium is limited, it crams varsity field hockey practice, men’s lacrosse, and women’s lacrosse practices onto Garber Field, according to Noyes. This makes finding practice and game time a challenge.
“We would have games scheduled at home and in the morning we would have no nets, and the fields were not lined,” said Noyes about women’s lacrosse, “there were multiple occasions where we had to cancel games last minute, which is inconsiderate to the other team, and fans who traveled far to see it. UMass doesn't seem to care about the success of their club sports and looks like they only care about the varsity teams.”
“We’re sort of second in line,” said Noyes, “but we also don’t generate any money so it is what it is.”
Loranger mentioned that some of the varsity perks did trickle down.
“We all got the benefit of the renovation of the field last year,” she said, “we appreciate not having to play on astroturf anymore. They installed the pellet field which helped everyone.”
But Loranger later agreed with Noyes about many of the issues the team faced being discouraging to potential members.
“They just didn’t make it seem like they cared about us with the way they scheduled us in weird time slots,” she said, “eventually each year some people would get sick of having to cancel games and practices and would leave.”
This give-and-take relationship with UMass Athletics also applies to other clubs in their interactions with either the aforementioned athletic department or UMass Recreation Center for indoor sports. However, because of the differences, there is no unified lobbying effort to the university among the 46 registered sports.
“There are so many differences in what indoor sports need from say, baseball,” said Weeden. “Indoor sports tend to work stuff out together, a lot of people cross between them, I mean I do both (jujutsu and wrestling), I have a friend who has done both swimming and water polo, although not at the same time, but in the same way we work out scheduling and other issues mainly with the clubs we deal with on a weekly basis.”
This perhaps illustrates the best point about issues faced by club sports: money and people is always a problem, but other than that there are positive and negative circumstances that make equipment, scheduling or space either an asset or a liability for each sport.