On Club Sports and Student Interests

By Guest Contributor

Do you currently play a club sport? Have you ever tried one out? I think a typical experience of many students on this campus, if they are not of the 300+ club sport athletes, is that they tried a club sport for a day or two, and found it wasn’t for them. I would estimate that the number of people who have ever tried or participated in a club sport (even for a brief period of time) is at least 700 students.

Politically, we have seen much discussion about accessibility on this campus. What is accessibility? Are all facilities accessible? On a less quantifiable level, are experiences and organizations on campus accessible for people of all backgrounds? These questions become very prevalent when examining the nature of athletics at Middlebury. The athletic center is not an accessible place for many students. On a base level, it is populated by people who seem to already be physically fit and absolutely beautiful. A girl on my freshman hall once quipped that Midd made her want to “run 4 miles with full makeup on.” Gymtimidation is not the only factor, however. Some gym facilities, like the squash courts or the hockey arena, remain inaccessible to those whose who were not fortunate enough to learn how to use these facilities adequately. I, for one, did not know about the existence of squash until I arrived at Middlebury.

Beyond facilities, varsity sports are decidedly not-accessible. Before the start of the year, coaches plan and assemble the majority of their teams. There is the remote possibility of walk-ons, especially in sports like track, but this is not a prevalent phenomenon. As a consequence, the fitness center often feels segregated. Non varsity athletes generally use the cardio machine areas and the weight room, while varsity athletes use those areas and seemingly everything else. Intramural teams will certainly use the turf in the field house or the basketball courts, but always scheduled around the practice times of varsity squads. This is not a knock against varsity athletes, but it is important to acknowledge that the foundation of varsity athletics is inaccessibile. To remain competitive, sports like lacrosse need people who already know how to play and are physically fit. If you want to learn how to play lacrosse, or master tennis, or swim competitively, tough luck.

Let’s now examine the structure of the competitive club sports, which I will abbreviate as CCS, to differentiate from the recreational club sports (which do not engage in competition with other teams). These sports, which include crew, rugby, and water polo, have active rosters of over 125 students. Crew itself has about 60 members, and would be about the same size as our largest varsity teams. These athletes practice in season on a similar structure to varsity programs. Speaking for crew, on the water practices are about 3 hours a day, 6 times a week. Practices off the water tend to be shorter, with no drive to Lake Dunmore, but are more intense. During the off season, each rower was asked to erg/run/swim/lift their way to 1,425,000 meters. This is approximately the distance between the center of town and Charlotte, North Carolina. From friends and acquaintances, it seems other CCS share similar dedication in practice and fitness. The ultimate key to club sports is that they are perhaps the most accessible competitive athletic programs at Middlebury. The majority of people at Middlebury can sign up to be a “novice” in one of these sports, someone who has had little or no prior contact with the game. Regardless of your physical starting point, these novice programs are designed to take you to the appropriate fitness level needed to be competitive. On the financial side, club sports have a powerful financial aid structure to help lower the barriers for people who want to participate. This aid is raised through fundraising. All the members of the team, beyond practices, spend hours to make sure that all can participate.

There is currently an initiative in the SGA to set a funding cap on club sports, so that each club sport is funded (per person) the max amount allocated by each student’s extracurricular participation fee, which is just above four hundred dollars. Currently, sports like sailing and crew are taking more than this fee per athlete, meaning that each athlete is costing more than the fee they are putting in. The concern is that this funding scheme is unfair, and the Finance Committee has also taken this view. The new proposal will slash some budgets for club sports by up to 30 percent, which may leave some sports unable to exist beyond a recreational level. I, too, share the concern that no club or organization should be funded more than the “fair” level.

Where is the administration when it comes to this? Are the interests in club sports as legitimate as financial interests in Monterey or opening a new school abroad? Is Middlebury College rooted in the small liberal arts campus or a gigantic international corporation? If the new funding gap is applied, somewhere, somehow, the administration could provide $20,000 dollars to keep the club sports at the same operating level. It is particularly notable that the college’s financial health is not particularly vibrant, as admitted by the head of the Finance Committee. Yet, the issue of club sports involves the livelihood of hundreds of students. The interests of students should be the first priority of Middlebury, and the diffusion of responsibility that Athletics, Old Chapel and other agencies on campus have shown in solving the funding issue of club sports is concerning. Why should students who practice and fundraise for upwards of 12-20 hours a week also have to defend the legitimacy of their interests? Why should a student-run Finance Committee be forced with dealing with an issue that should have never been theirs to solve?

I am not going to defend why club sports are important to people. Ask any club sport athlete. If this funding cap passes, club sport budgets will decrease, and student interests on this campus will be damaged. I ask you, as fellow peers at Middlebury, who also believe in ideals of accessibility and student life, to urge your respective senators in the SGA to vote no this upcoming Sunday. Until a new funding proposal can be reached, with the deficit in funding picked up by the administration, continuing with the cap will do far more harm than good.


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