Club Sports Deserve More Recognition, Institutional Support

One of the most exciting moments in Oberlin athletics last year was when both of the College’s ultimate Frisbee teams, the Flying Horsecows and the Preying Manti, qualified for the national Frisbee tournament. Their success allowed for some rare glimpses of school spirit as the campus came together to support both squads — in a way it rarely does around Oberlin’s varsity teams.

This celebration was a reminder of the ways club sports can build community, even though they receive a fraction of the institutional support that varsity teams do. While that discrepancy is at least partially due to the inherent DIY nature of club sports, which many club athletes and supporters value, it can hinder the ability of club sports on campus to live up to their full potential.

This may seem like a minor discrepancy, but on a Division III campus, athletic programs are largely not maintained for their prestige. Instead, they are — or at least should be — important conduits for connection and community, allowing athletes and fans alike to make friends and build school spirit.

From an institutional perspective, both outcomes are enormously beneficial — when students feel connected to their campus communities, they’re more likely to stay enrolled and to give back to the school as alumni.

Club sports are ultimately just as able to achieve those outcomes as varsity sports. When the goal is to get community buy-in, build school spirit, and sustain relationships, there’s not a significant inherent difference between the two. Yet club sports at Oberlin continue to get the short end of the stick in many ways, representing a missed opportunity to take advantage of both halves of the campus’ athletic community.

Oberlin currently offers 19 varsity teams, featuring around 350 student athletes. Conversely, the school has roughly the same number of club teams, with 375 participants. In any given semester, about 30 of those teams are active — and coordinating practice times for that many teams is no easy task.

Scheduling is a much easier task during the warmer months, when both varsity and club teams can take advantage of Oberlin’s many outdoor athletic spaces and fields. However, the problem arises during the winter, when snow is on the ground and all 700-plus athletes are forced indoors.

As a Division III school, we are extremely lucky to have an indoor complex like Williams Field House. However, because Oberlin also has so many athletes, competition for time slots in Williams during the winter months is extremely high. While every team is guaranteed Williams time slots if they want them, the time slots are often inconvenient, if not largely unfair to students who participate in club and intramural sports.

Currently, the only spots available for Williams Fieldhouse during weekdays are from 9 p.m. onwards, from 8:30 p.m. onwards on Sundays, and 2 p.m. on Saturdays. These spots are shared between nine club and off-season varsity teams. This means that each team only gets two or three practice spots — some of which start at midnight and do not finish until 1:30 a.m.

Unfortunately, the burden of late night practices falls almost exclusively on the club teams. The students who get out of practice at 1:30 a.m. realistically will not get to bed until around 2 a.m. on a weeknight.

While some club athletes certainly value these gritty elements of their experience, there are likely others who are swayed from participating because of these factors. Regardless, the latest slots should not be the only ones available to club sports.

As a liberal arts institution, one of Oberlin’s biggest selling points to prospective students is that they give their students the opportunity to do it all — they can participate in rigorous academics, the arts, athletics, ExCos, and still have time for a social life outside of all these activities. However, when it comes to supporting club sports — which, after all, involve more athletes than varsity teams — it seems as though the institution falls short.

During a time in which the College is devoting many resources to determine the value that different departments and programs add to this institution, club and intramural sports need to be given more consideration for the important role they play on campus. Increasing the access these teams have to practice facilities would be a positive step toward fostering more buy-in from our many club athletes — impacts that will potentially ripple out in positive directions