September 28, 2010
Sport clubs offer chance to learn, not just play
About 1,000 SUNY Cortland students take part in the college’s 32 club teams
Joshua Britt knows how little glamour comes with playing for a sport club at SUNY Cortland.
When his club baseball team practices indoors during the winter, for the spring half of its season, often the only available time is midnight to 2 a.m. The team travels in players’ cars and pays $50 each time it uses the city’s Beaudry Park field for practices and games, so it practices only twice a week.
Britt, a senior from Wayne County, serves as not just the team’s president but as its coach, travel coordinator, paperwork collector and arbitrator of internal issues, such as a player wanting to see game action after skipping practices.
“That’s the life of a sport club,” said Britt, whose team is composed of former high school stars who either were cut from SUNY Cortland’s varsity or never tried out but still wanted to play a sport they loved.
An intercollegiate team, even at Division III SUNY Cortland, requires not just time but adherence to strict policies from coaches, campus and the NCAA. Sport clubs — the college’s preferred term instead of “club sports” — have plenty of policies to obey, but require less time.
“It’s the best of both worlds: you get to be a college kid and play your sport,” said junior Liam O’Connell, in his fourth semester as men’s soccer club president. “A varsity team is far more intense and more work.”
The college offers 32 sport clubs ranging from traditional team sports to running, kickline, dance, water skiing and water boarding, skiing and snowboarding, ultimate frisbee and martial arts. About 1,000 students take part.
Sport clubs can mold leaders, as with any student organization, said Matt Nuesell, who directs the college’s club and intramural athletics programs.
Club officers handle a range of crises and conflicts. Some sport clubs struggle to find practice and match venues and times.
Sport clubs have officers who, in many cases, also coach their teams. A few clubs have part-time coaches, but the students schedule games, collect dues and pay league fees, and collect the insurance waivers and other paperwork for their roster.
“Being an officer is a resume builder,” Nuesell said. “They have great responsibilities. They forge relationships, manage a budget.”
“As a sport management major, I’ve gotten more relevant experience from this club than anything,” O’Connell said. “I’m coach, athletic director, equipment manager, travel coordinator. I also run the league, which has 18 teams.”
The sport clubs are funded partly by money from the students’ activity fees and partly by the athletes themselves, sometimes through fundraisers.
Nuesell and his advisory board divide $62,500 among the 32 clubs, based on their equipment needs and other costs they show when they propose a budget. Men’s hockey gets the most with $5,980, while the lowest amounts go to running with $503 and swimming with $428.
Britt said the baseball club receives $2,500 from the college and raises another $2,000 on its own. It has to pay $1,500 per year for league membership, fees for tournaments and gas for trips. Its season is split between fall and spring.
The running club, which is about five years old, devotes much of its efforts to raising money for charities.
The clubs represent the college, with uniforms bearing the college’s name and the red of its athletic teams. They are responsible for keeping their members out of trouble; when they travel, the teams give Nuesell and his graduate assistants dates and times for departure and return.
Each club must have a player trained in first aid and CPR.
And despite being less time-consuming and intense than an intercollegiate sport, Nuesell points out that sport clubs are serious about competition.
The men’s lacrosse club has won four of the last five national college club championships in its division. Women’s softball has reached national tourney play. Baseball has won one major fall tournament consistently, beating teams from UMass, Hofstra, Pittsburgh and other larger campuses.
Britt said the baseball club’s tryouts two weeks ago attracted 60 candidates for 28 roster spots.
Most of last year’s starters were back. The club officers chose 10 new players, only two of whom were freshmen.
Britt had to inform the students who were cut, in a businesslike manner. He said he understands what it feels like to be cut from a sports team, probably for the first time ever, because it happened to him when he was not chosen for the college’s varsity as a freshman.
Britt, a pitcher, said he learned to be responsible while growing up with a single father “and I had to figure out how to govern myself, handle things on my own.” He also did an internship in high school with the Rochester Red Wings triple-A baseball team, where he dealt with fans and set up for promotions.
Senior second baseman Nick Croce said he never tried out for the intercollegiate team, preferring the club level.
O’Connell said some of his soccer players could have played for the varsity. He was not recruited by college coaches because a knee injury caused him to miss his senior season, but he said many players prefer the club.
A club president must handle crises, like the e-mail O’Connell received Friday, telling him that Cortland soccer’s fee and paperwork for the national tournament in Arizona in November were filed too late.
He fielded three calls within 15 minutes before discovering his club’s check had arrived in time.
“People have no idea how much time this takes,” he said, “but I plan to go into soccer management. This is the best thing I could be doing.”
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