Pick your team

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

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

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

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

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.