Club Sports Are Imperative to Community-Building, But Need More Support

Club sports are an essential part of a positive college experience. They provide people with social activities, friend groups, and opportunities to take on leadership roles and acquire skills that will continue to benefit them after college. Although students do most of the work organizing club sports, they still require support from the College to overcome obstacles that inhibit the growth and foundation of club sports in student life. Unfortunately, these clubs do not get enough attention from the College, and this has been made even more clear during COVID-19.

Club sports give people an opportunity to make new friends and create valuable connections during their time at Oberlin. Since my first day at Oberlin, I have made most of my closest friends  through sports such as rugby and bowling, and I continue to create meaningful connections with people through other sports like soccer.

Third-year College student Spencer Soltisiak, member of the men’s rugby team and captain of the bowling team, feels the same way about the importance of club sports in students’ social lives.

“Most of the friends I’ve made have been through club sports, and most of the people I continue to meet, I’ve met through club sports,” he explains. “Club sports help with making those social connections.”

Club sports also help with developing leadership skills that are important in the outside world. Once I was elected as rugby captain, I was in charge of numerous tasks: acquiring a certified coach for the team, recruiting new members, planning out practices, etc. Being able to juggle these responsibilities, along with my other academic work and outside life, prepares me for the variety of responsibilities I’ll have to take on once I leave Oberlin.

However, COVID-19 has put many of these things on hold. Managing and participating in sports hasn’t been easy. Some of the problems that club sports are facing have been present for a while, but they have been made more apparent due to COVID-19. Unfortunately, the College has not been able to provide the support that clubs and athletes need.

Promotion of club sports is something that the College hasn’t prioritized, but institutional support would greatly help. Many people don’t even know about the existence of club sports. The club sports fairs and field days organized by the Club Sports Council would help the clubs with recruitment and connection making, but the College barely promotes them. In previous years, they had been held out at Wilder Bowl, which is a great location because it is in the middle of campus and has high student traffic. In spring 2020, they moved it to the Root Room, and not many people showed up for the fair. This June, it was held out at North Fields behind the softball field, so it was especially hard for people to make the trek to the event. As expected, no one showed up except the people who were already on the teams and a few friends who were only there for the conversation. Not much advertisement was made for the event itself: it was only mentioned in one of the Campus Digest emails, which not many people read fully. So, it was easily missed.

I have met and gotten to know several first-years who started their first year of college during the pandemic and didn’t know how to join the club soccer team. Some didn’t even know we had a club soccer team. I tried to help them through the process and tell them who to contact, but there is only so much one person can do. A fair amount of first-years struggled socially in their first semester at Oberlin because they were not aware that these types of clubs existed. The College needs to help these students out by promoting club sports to the entire student body, especially now that most people are vaccinated and most restrictions have been lifted.

Another issue is how the College deals with sport injuries for club sports athletes. Although club sports athletes are not as highly prioritized as varsity athletes, they should receive the same amount of care and treatment when they receive injuries. Second-year College student Gunja Sarkar can attest to the struggles of getting injured as a club athlete.

Sarkar injured her right leg last year and needed surgery for it. Physical therapy was required, but there was no physical therapy option for her on campus. Additionally, it was hard to get a hold of an athletic trainer. Even before COVID-19, times to see trainers were quite limited.

“There are only a few specific timeframes that we’re supposed to go get treatment, and if you get injured that doesn’t … work,” Sarkar explains.

I had this very issue myself when I got concussed. I was unable to get medical treatment during the weekend, and the only time available that I could see a trainer was around lunch. I was forced to speed through my meals in order to see the trainer and get to class on time.

According to Sarkar, throughout the pandemic athletic trainers were not allowed to see club sports athletes when they got injured, making the issue a lot worse. How were injured student-athletes supposed to get the help they needed? One could have gone to Mercy Hospital, but not everyone can afford constant trips to the hospital for something an athletic trainer can help with.

The College needs to help promote club sports and ensure the proper treatment of club sports athletes. If Wilder is unavailable for the sports fair, could North Quad be used instead? To increase the visibility of club sports, the College could send out emails specifically promoting club sports events and practices. Student-athletes should also not be concerned about where they can receive help when injured or recovering from injury. Athletic trainers should be readily available to treat club sports students. Having hours of operation once most students get out of class, as well as over the weekend, would increase accessibility for student-athletes.

Club sports are an important part of student life here at Oberlin, and it is important for the College to help foster the social connections and skill acquisition that can be made through these sports. Hopefully, the lessons learned during COVID-19 will encourage the College to increase their support of club sports.