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Monday, August 22,2011

Pick your team

Club sports offer student athletes more than just the chance to play

By Sarah Simmons

When students and alumni of the University of Colorado think of the athletic department on campus, their minds often turn to the Division I football and basketball teams and their various accomplishments over the years. But there exists a much larger group of student athletes with their own set of accomplishments that are frequently overlooked: the 1,400 students who play club sports.

These athletes make up the 34 different club sports teams on campus — 21 of which qualified for a national championship last season — and have a much deeper level of involvement within their teams than the training and travel of Division I athletes, says CU Club Sports Director Kris Schoech.

Club sports athletes have a GPA requirement and must take a certain number of credits to participate, like Division I athletes, but club sports athletes hold their own tryouts for new players, must fundraise in order to travel and compete against other teams regionally and nationally, and take on leadership positions to organize their teams’ schedules and budgets, Schoech says.

“The good thing about our program is they practice two to three times a week, and games are on the weekend, so we give them a little bit of time to enjoy the college experience. We want to make sure they do that and succeed academically,” Schoech says. “We also give them the opportunity for student development. Usually juniors and seniors, they’re the ones that organize the schedule. They’re the ones who do the budgets. We let them do as much of that as possible, and they do all the fundraising. Our coaches are just there to coach.”

One way that these student athletes take a leadership role with the allocation of each team’s budget is through the Club Sports Council, an organization that functions as a governing body for the teams.

Kassidi Warnock, a 21-year-old senior business marketing major, was secretary of the executive board for the council last year. She says having the opportunity to not only play the sport, but also be involved on the council, gave her the chance to lead the team on several different levels, an experience missing from a Division 1 team.

Warnock has been playing women’s volleyball for all four of her years at CU, beginning at the varsity level of club sports her freshman year, then playing at the Division I level for part of her sophomore year before electing to return to the club team.

“It’s a whole different experience. It’s something where you can compete and still train and make some great friends and be really involved in the rec center,” Warnock says. “That was something that I really wanted to do rather than compete at [a Division I] level.”

Perhaps the area that requires the most involvement and attention of the student athletes is fundraising. In order to have a successful season, each of these teams must fundraise enough money to match the amount that is budgeted to them by the university, Schoech says. Fundraising activities vary from team to team, but very often include donation letters that teams send out to family, friends and alumni.

Dan Finck, coach of the women’s lacrosse club team, says their focus for fundraising for the upcoming year is on spreading awareness about the team.

“This year, we’re going to host our own tournament. We’re going to have some of the top teams in the country [come] to Boulder in the spring for a weekend, and then we’re also going to host clinics for kids, I would say starting at third grade through high school,” Finck says. “That’s what we’re putting a lot of energy into, but we’ll also hopefully have a lot of other smaller fundraising. We typically will do some sort of restaurant deal where 10 percent of whatever’s sold goes toward our fundraising.”

Even with the deep level of involvement that comes with playing a club sport, many of these athletes find their Division II and Division III teams to be an equal balance of participating in a competitive sport while maintaining the social life that contributes to the overall college experience.

Alex Lencioni, a 21-year-old senior psychology and integrative physiology double major, has been playing for the men’s club hockey team throughout his four years at CU and says that joining a club sport his freshman year helped him feel more comfortable on such a large campus.

“On a campus with something like 2,500 undergraduates, club sports was a way for me to cut that down to 50 people I could get in contact with and get to know really well,” Lencioni says. “It’s a really good starting point for college life, I think, and a good way to meet people who are interested in the same things as you.”

Trying to balance being a full-time student and playing a competitive club sport with such responsibilities may sound overwhelming, but John Pfeiff, one of the coaches of the men’s club hockey team, says having such high expectations of these athletes in all areas of their collegiate activities is what encourages them to work so hard.

Despite all their hard work and accomplishments, Pfeiff says, one frustration for these coaches and athletes is the lack of recognition across campus of the teams’ achievements.

“A lot of the reaction you get is people will see some piece of merchandise on a player and say, ‘Oh, CU has a hockey team?’” Pfeiff says. “We’ve been nationally ranked how many years? We’ve won two national championships between the two teams, and we still don’t have the following we’d like.”

Lencioni says the team tries to raise awareness on campus but often feels overshadowed by the Division I teams.

“It’s tough to get the word out because the Division I football and basketball get the advertising from the school because they bring money to the school,” Lencioni says. “Hopefully people will get to hear more about club sports. Just because we’re a club doesn’t mean we don’t play at a high level. We have a lot of talented athletes here.”

Even if these athletes do not have the same recognition as the Division I athletes, Tim Jorgensen, associate director of programs for the recreation center, says it does not deter them from continuing to be involved in the club sports program on campus and contributing to their overall college experience.

“I think it’s all positive, because any time you have an involved student, it’s definitely correlated to graduation rate,” Jorgensen says. “So you have an involved student, they’re happy, they’re engaged in the campus community, so I think it’s all good. Ultimately they come to get an education and to graduate, but it’s not only their experience inside the classroom, but outside, that makes them a successful student.”

For a complete list of the club sports teams on campus and more information, visit www.colorado.edu/rec-center/clubsports.

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