Students find competitive outlet in club sports

Nathan Heintschel
Contributing Writer 

Courtney Dodson was considering transferring from VCU until her decision to play women’s club rugby changed her mind. Now, Dodson is the president and team captain, and she has made experiences and friendships that have changed her life.

Along with women’s rugby, VCU recreational sports offer 25 other sports clubs that are a part of VCU’s Office for Student Organization Development. The sports clubs, like any other student run organization, allow students to make new friends while gaining the opportunity to develop leadership skills. Out of VCU’s 23,951 undergraduate students, roughly 800, or about three percent of students participate.

Anne Zielinski Brown is the recreational sports assistant director of the MCV Campus and sport clubs. The organization has many perks, she said.

“Playing club sports allows a student to still be competitive in a sport they have generally been playing for years,” Brown said. “Playing club sports also allows time for other extracurricular activities that playing varsity sports may not allow time for.”

Baseball club president Joey Cortese said that participation also offers students a social setting to develop relationships.

“We now have a great group of guys that are dedicated to the team and are willing to put the time in on the field,” Cortese said. “The team is especially close now; everyone hangs out outside of practice and does things that aren’t related to baseball. It’s almost as if we’ve formed a brotherly bond. I think this has contributed to our success the past two seasons.”

Ice hockey club president Taylor Horricks and swim club president Kali Pascual compared their team members to family.

The VCU recreational sports website also highlights leadership opportunities as a reason to participate in club sports. Brown said that participants active in the leadership roles of club sports should use her as a reference on their resumes.

“Being the president or other officer of a sport club is like getting the experience of being a team manager or athletic director,” Brown said. “They must schedule and run practices, schedule games, manage paperwork, travel etc. There is a lot that goes into being a sport club officer that translates to any career after college.”

All VCU students have access to the sports clubs as long as they can meet the time and cost commitments required by teams. However, certain clubs, such as the ice hockey team or equestrian team, require participants to meet certain credit hours or to be in VCU’s undergraduate program. Students graduating in the fall will not be able to participate on certain teams if the team is active for both fall and spring semesters.

The financial commitment for teams varies, and participants are required to pay dues that range from $25 to $1,200. The dues are used to cover some equipment costs, competition and practice costs, uniform rental and some travel costs.

The sports clubs also receive supplemental funds from VCU’s Student Government Association. The SGA budgets a percentage of funds to the sports clubs’ governing body, the Sports Club Council. This past year, the SCC received about 15 percent of the budget that equated to roughly $80,000. The SCC requires sports clubs to submit budgets and explain budgetary needs in individual hearings. The SCC then divides the money among the 26 clubs based on presentation, club organization and monetary need.

Time commitments for teams often include two or three practices a week. Competitions typically take place on the weekend. Outdoor club teams have four hours a night to practice on the Cary Street Field, while the indoor teams split time in the Cary Street Gym after 9 p.m.

Certain club teams practice off campus too. The ice hockey team holds practices at SkateNation Plus, and the women’s rugby team holds practices at Abner Clay Park. The equestrian team practices at Stillmeadows Farms in Mechanicsville, Va.

Club team presidents insisted that practices do not take priority over prior commitments.

“We do have guys miss practice for work or classes,” Cortese said. “We don’t want guys skipping class for practice.”

Club team competitions take place on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and the schedule can be found on VCU’s recreational sports website. VCU teams compete against other Virginia collegiate club teams and occasionally play out of state.

Athletes with Friday classes are encouraged to be proactive in communicating with their professors about possible travel competitions because excused absences and make-up assignments are up to the professor’s discretion.

Some club teams not only compete in friendly collegiate games, but they also belong to leagues and national organizations. The women’s rugby team, for example, is associated with the USA Rugby organization. The club baseball team belongs to the National Club Baseball Association, which is the fastest growing baseball league in the nation. The equestrian team competes in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, where they are currently second in their division behind the University of Mary Washington.

While club sports are usually regarded as friendly competitions, club sports captains described competitions with the some of the other Virginia schools as modest rivalries.

“Our biggest rivals would probably be U.Va., UR, JMU and Radford,” Horricks said. “It is fun competition but it also gets personal at times and the competition is intense.”

Participants are encouraged to have insurance that covers sports related injuries because, unlike varsity sports, club sports members are not covered by VCU. In the case of the women’s rugby team, participants must pay a $40 fee to USA Rugby that equips team members with basic liability insurance.

VCU students also have the opportunity to create a new club sport. Students must first compose a team of at least five members to be registered as a student organization. VCU rec sports has its own set of guidelines too, Anne Brown said.

“They must have the number of people that it takes to compete in that sport,” she said. “Sport clubs must also be a commonly recognized sport such as one that is an NCAA sport or Olympic sport.”

Team captains and presidents also said that club sports reflect VCU’s diversity.

“The VCU women’s rugby club is a direct representation of VCU because we have members from diverse backgrounds with very diverse interests and yet we are a family,” Dodson said. “We refer to our team as RamFam because of the bond we share.”

The VCU recreational sports website offers a contact list of sports club representatives for prospective participants needing specific information on a sports club.

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