"I've never had more fun playing tennis than with Drury's Tennis On Campus team. I loved my NCAA tournament experience, but with the club team I didn't have to earn my scholarship, I just had to play my sport."
~ Lindsey Castrodale '09, MA '11
That sums up the spirit of club sports. While more competitive than most intramural teams and involving intercollegiate play, club sports do not carry the pressure of NCAA sanctioned athletics. Drury has club sports for tennis, soccer and ultimate (formerly known as ultimate Frisbee). Additionally, Drury competes in the City of Springfield adult men's hockey league along with some non-Drury players. There's talk of starting clubs for running, adventure racing, cycling and table tennis . . .
Club sports are nothing new to the Drury campus. Long-time Drury employee Dan Cashel, now director of student-athlete enhancement, recalls that Drury had club teams in volleyball, soccer and women's basketball in the 1970s and 80s, before Drury added those sports on the NCAA level. "They were loose programs, but many of them were highly successful teams," Cashel says. "Usually one or two people drive the team, but when those students graduate, the teams fade."
That has not changed much in the 21st century, but staff and faculty advisors are helping to sustain club sports at Drury. The ultimate team has been around since 2007. If you're not familiar, ultimate is a non-contact sport that combines the skills of soccer, basketball and football into a fast-paced Frisbee game that draws in players who may have been high school athletes.
"We get a lot of crossover athletes from football, basketball and track," says Director of Residence Life Matt Battaglia, "people who still want that competitive outlet." The club began under the guidance of former Residence Life Association advisor Aaron Witzke '08, and involved mostly intramural play. In 2011, Drury's team competed in the USA Ultimate National Series South-Central playoffs coming just two points shy of the national tournament. Battaglia now serves as advisor, coach and sometimes player, though he cannot compete in sanctioned matches.
Ultimate is not the only club sport that has enjoyed success. The club tennis team began in spring 2010, and by spring 2011 Drury qualified for the Tennis On Campus national tournament. "We were the smallest school at the national tournament by a couple of thousand," says Lindsey Castrodale, the club tennis campus advisor and player. She competed for Drury's tennis team as an undergrad, then, as a graduate assistant, she advised the club tennis team while also competing. At the tournament, Drury lost to Big 10 and Big 12 powers Michigan and Texas, but rebounded to win its last two matches, including a win over Oakland University from Detroit. While competition drew students to join the team, they took away much more from this trip to the national tournament. "Nothing beats my NCAA tournament experience, but you weren't there to make friends," she says. "At Tennis On Campus, we'd talk, make friends and even on changeovers compare notes on how long it took to get to the tournament and our challenges along the way."
"What I love about the Drury Tennis Club is that it allows students to play at a competitive level in college who cannot play on the varsity tennis team," says Alex Wiley, a fifth-year architecture major from Tacoma, Wash., and tennis team president.
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Battaglia believes that club sports could work as a recruiting and retention tool for students, especially male students. "We talk about how to get guys engaged on campus, and one thing male students do get excited for is sports," he says. "The number one ultimate team in the country is Carleton College in Minnesota, and that school isn't much bigger than Drury. Students go to that college from all over the country to play ultimate."
Battaglia is working with Charlie Hungerford in admission to stage an ultimate clinic in St. Louis with Drury ultimate athletes and other Springfield residents who played on the Ultimate World Championship team. The goal is to make potential students aware of Drury's team and make sure they understand that they can play a competitive sport in college even if it is not at the varsity level.
"That's why I went to Mizzou, to play hockey," says Ryan Pigg, campus recreation coordinator and fraternity house director. "I knew I didn't have the size or speed for NCAA Division I, and I knew I wasn't going to go pro. I didn't want to mess with the time and energy required to play Division II when academics needed to come first, but I still wanted to play." Pigg and a handful of students make up the Drury club hockey team. It took a couple of years to get going according to team member Jake Carnevale. "My sophomore year one of my old teammates and I tried to start it, but we were literally the only two people at Drury who had equipment and played recently," says Jake, "but more hockey players found their way to Drury, and we finally have enough to field a small team. With the help of the ice rink, we drafted players so we could play in the league."
The goal is to sustain teams after founding students like Jake have graduated. "Not only do you need to have passionate student interest to get something started, but to be successful and sustainable you need to have a strong advisor or coach," says Battaglia. "The bass club, the lacrosse club and the first ice hockey club were all student-driven, and when the students who started them left, they just stopped. I don't get paid a dime for advising ultimate, but I just fit it in as part of my job because I like it."
Liking or loving the sport is the first requirement for anyone involved in a club sport. Just ask Wiley; he'd like to start even more club sports, but doesn't have the time between tennis and academics. "It's a great way to meet new people, make new friends and establish new relationships — all while playing a sport I love. That is the most important part: loving the sport. It's a lot of work to start or maintain a club, but it is totally worth it."
For team leaders, the club sports experience can serve as a résumé builder. What employer wouldn't be impressed with an applicant who managed a budget, scheduled practices, handled travel arrangements and led a team of peers?
"Recreational sports help to develop lifelong interests and pursuits," said Dr. Kent Blumenthal, executive director of the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA). "It enhances active lifestyles and counters disturbing trends, such as childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Through recreational sports the benefits are endless."
HOW CAN ALUMNI GET INVOLVED?
Drury's facilities such as Sunderland Field and the on-campus tennis courts see a lot of use and wear. Financial resources for upkeep and rehab are always welcome and appreciated. Additionally, Matt Battaglia says that coaches with some expertise are always welcome, and he envisions a day when the club sports coaches will even earn a stipend. Contact the Office of Alumni & Development to get involved with this generation of club sports.