Club Sports Offer Exercise, Fun and Leadership Opportunities
Participation Soaring With More Students Living on Campus and Getting Involved in Activities
Jan. 31, 2013
Last year, the UT Dallas rugby team won the Texas Rugby Union Collegiate Dvision III Championship.
Nathan Sohadaseni stood among his rugby teammates waiting for the kickoff. The crisp air reflected clouds of exhalation from the players as they readied to compete in their first state championship last February. Sohadaseni, the captain of the UT Dallas team, said he stopped worrying about the outcome once his cleats touched the grass and just played the game he loves.
Nathan Sohadaseni, rugby captain and senior in JSOM.
A few hours later, the UT Dallas rugby team stood victorious, winning the match 15-10 and claiming the Texas Rugby Union Collegiate Division III Championship. The whole scenario seemed so unlikely, it would have bordered on comical only a few months before.
“We didn’t really have a rugby team at UT Dallas for a long time,” Sohadaseni said. “There were teams before that kind of fizzled out. But over the last two years, we really worked on getting people interested in playing.”
Such is the path for club sports—that scrappy cousin of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletics. Where sanctioned athletics are organized and funded by a university, club sports are a labor of love for students and coaches who want to participate.
In intercollegiate club sports, students set the practice schedules and decide what teams they will play and who will coach them, if anyone. They purchase uniforms, coordinate travel and manage paperwork.
Sohadaseni, a senior in the Naveen Jindal School of Management, played rugby as a kid and brought his enthusiasm for the sport with him to college. His goal at first was simple: find a handful of people who could practice together for fun. But soon he found himself wearing several hats—head recruiter, marketing director and salesman for what would become, along with gymnastics, one of two championship club teams at UT Dallas in 2012.
The gymnastics team made it to the national competition. There, Tommy Trompeter (above), a sophomore in NSM, was ranked first in pommel horse and rings.
“The way I saw it, my primary market was former high school football players,” he said. “I would invite them to practice with us. We staffed information booths during lunch time and at fundraisers. When I walked around campus, if I saw a big athletic guy I’d invite him to try rugby.”
Despite the rise of the rugby team from obscurity to high-level competition in a little over a year, the road for many club sports is not easy. The club teams compete with other universities but are not regulated by the NCAA.
At UT Dallas, the Club Sports Program formally started in 2005 with only a handful of groups. Today, 24 clubs, all housed under the Department of Recreational Sports, receive guidance and general supervision, but the emphasis is on students to initiate, organize, operate and participate.
“Strong leadership is a prerequisite,” said Chris McAlpine, assistant director of recreational sports. “The clubs that succeed, and succeed the quickest, are the ones that have a strong leader behind them from the beginning with a great plan and vision.”
Last year, nearly 600 UT Dallas students participated in sports like bowling, fencing, gymnastics, longboard, mixed martial arts, rock climbing, rugby, swimming, ultimate Frisbee and volleyball. They traveled close to 10,000 miles and competed in more than 50 tournaments and games around Texas and throughout the country.
Swimming is among the 24 sports that have emerged since the club sports program began in 2005.
Like rugby, gymnastics found success within its first year of competition. The team made it to the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs competition in Salt Lake City. There, Tommy Trompeter, a sophomore in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, was ranked first in the nation in both pommel horse and rings.
“The gymnastics team grew to be such an inspiration to me,” said coach Fidel El-Aya. “Over the course of the season, I watched it transform from a club into a competitive team.”The University’s growing residential community has contributed to the growth of club sports, with nearly half of all participants coming from the residence halls or on-campus apartments. The majority of those students are freshmen and sophomores. McAlpine attributes that to the fact that residential students are looking for ways to meet others, get involved in campus life and find activities where they can be physically active.
“Those involved with club sports are competing purely for the love of the game,” said McAlpine. “They are students first and foremost.”
Tricia Losavio, director of recreational sports, expects the level of participation, mix of sport offerings and number of travel miles to increase. “Club sports appeal because just about anyone can participate. They are reflective of our students’ interests,” Losavio said.
Mary McCormick, a senior psychology major in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, said she wouldn’t trade her experiences as a co-president of the women’s volleyball club.
“Arranging 12 people’s schedules is hard to do, but going to tournaments and having arranged that experience, well, there’s nothing else like the feeling of pride that comes from that,” McCormick said. “The experience pays back tenfold.”
Harold Lee, a senior biology major in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, has been involved with the jiujitsu club since the fall of his freshman year. Lee said the fun factor is the reason he’s stuck with his club for as long as he’s been at the University.
“I’m busy, but it’s been a blast,” Lee said. “This has been an experience I didn’t expect to have, and I’m really grateful for that.”
This story appeared in the latest UT Dallas Magazine. Click here for the online edition.
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