Athletics extend beyond varsity level

Alex Gallucci

It’s late afternoon, and you and a few friends decide to make the most of the nice weather by starting a pick-up soccer game. As your group approaches Mendel Field, your spirits fall as you find that it is already occupied by an intramural softball game. Unwilling to head back to your room just yet, you walk to the other side of campus, hoping to find some field space on Sheehan Beach or Austin Field, but your dismay is only furthered by the scene there. In fact, every square inch of grass on the campus seems to have been claimed by some varsity, club or intramural team.

For many club sports teams, the coordination of practice times and locations is just one item on a laundry list of responsibilities. There are also budgets to manage, competitions to schedule, travel arrangements to be made, uniforms to be ordered, meetings to arrange, fundraising to be completed and philanthropic events to attend. Only after all of the administrative tasks are complete can one focus on simply playing and enjoying the game – the reason that drives most athletes to compete on their respective teams. Judging by training time, it may appear that club sports are just a less serious version of their varsity counterparts. But when one takes into account the number of hours these athletes devote to their teams apart from practice time, the commitments are nothing short of impressive.

Even more remarkable is the fact that non-varsity athletes do all of this without the frills of scholarships and little or no recognition for their achievements. Despite this, club sports are on the rise nationally, with an estimated 2 million college students involved in competitive club sports compared with 430,000 who participate in varsity-level athletics.

Over 800 Villanova students participate in 28 different club sports that range from soccer to judo to equestrian. Six of the 28 club sports are in their first or second years and proposals for new clubs are constantly emerging, said Chris McAlpine, coordinator of Intramurals and Recreation.

“The problem we often run into with so many existing clubs and athletics is that we don’t have the field or gym space to take on new clubs,” McAlpine said.

Finding a field or practice facility is a difficult problem for many of the sports. Eleven of the teams practice at off-campus locations. The Curling Club, which travels to the Philadelphia Curling Club in Paoli for practices, spends approximately $120 weekly on train tickets alone, while the Sailing Club spends nearly an hour each way traveling to the Cooper River for practices. Even sports like baseball, which do not have unique facility requirements find difficulty in scheduling practices and games since the University does not have on-campus fields.

“Finding a place to play our games is the hardest part,” said junior Michael Pearse, Club Baseball president. “We usually look for parks to play at since local high schools often do not have openings on their fields.”

Sometimes obstacles lie in the cost of using the space after they find it. A prime example is men’s Club Ice Hockey, which has a yearly $31,000 contract for the use of their ice rink, with each member paying $1,500 in dues annually – the highest of any of Villanova’s club teams.

For sports like cycling, which have high equipment costs, recruiting new members is a problem in building the club, as first-timers are more hesitant to join. However, others like Ultimate Frisbee and Sailing, which are uncommon at the high school level, give students the opportunity to try a new sport without an overwhelming commitment of time or finances.

Although teams differ in terms of competitive schedules, time commitment and financial obligation, all teams are self-managed by students (and sometimes coaches) who volunteer their time. Since there is no national governing body for all club sports, leadership is not uniform among every team.

“Leading a club team is not only a huge resume builder, but it also teaches you a lot of different leadership skills in a variety of areas,” said Josh Many, senior co-president of the Cycling Club.

Perhaps the most applicable leadership skill learned lies in managing the club’s budget, which consists of a University-allotted amount based on a system of points that takes a number of factors into consideration. Last year, Villanova allocated a total of $33,250 to its club sports programs. In addition to the University allocation, many teams find extra funding in their collection of dues from members and fundraising events. Just this past season, the Cycling Club raised nearly $8,000 in sponsorships for their jerseys, which will easily cover their expenses as they travel to eight separate races this spring.

Overseeing all 28 of Villanova’s club sports are McAlpine and Lisa Melillo, who serves as director of Intramurals and Recreation.

“The fact that Chris and Lisa together manage all 28 teams is really impressive,” said junior James Miceli, co-president of the Cycling Club.

All club officers are required to attend regular meetings and complete necessary paperwork, corresponding with the Intramurals and Recreation department on a regular basis.

McAlpine has done a phenomenal job and has helped us so much, especially in starting our club,” said Erik Sheets, president and founder of the Curling Club, which is now in its second year and preparing to compete in its national tournament in Chicago.

Founding a club team is no easy task either, even when field space or practice facilities are not such a serious concern. For junior Will Sheridan, founding Club Swimming was an involved process that included the completion of paperwork and research, as well as convincing the Recreation Department that there was a need for the team at Villanova. Just in its second year, the 46-member team boasts a record of 5-0 so far this season and will soon be hosting a five-team championship meet with other Philadelphia-area teams.

Last year the women’s Club Soccer team raised over $4,500 that allowed them to be able to fully fund their trip to the national championships in Pensacola, Fla., where they won the open division.

“Just seeing how much we can accomplish as a group of students is the most rewarding part of club sports,” Sheridan said. “Everything we achieve is done by a bunch of students who love swimming and the team so much that it drives our success.”

There is no question that the hard work and dedication displayed by so many Villanova club athletes stems from a true passion for the sport. While it is often lost in higher levels of athletics, it exists in its purest and most fervent state in club sports teams across the nation and certainly at Villanova.