BY NICK STATT
Joining a sports team is one of the best ways to keep active, meet new people, and really become a part of your campus community. The problem is, traditional competitive sports teams can be too serious for the average student looking more for a good time and less for the strenuous lifestyle of a college athlete. Intramurals can also be infused with enough competition and time commitments to push away the casual player.
But there is hope, because almost every area college has club sports -- just-for-fun activities that are often a highly rewarding way to try an activity (including some you never knew existed), and an opportunity to make some long-lasting friends in the process.
Below you'll find a selection of some of the more interesting club sports at various local schools, but these are only the tip of the iceberg. If you're interested in getting involved with one of the clubs at your local school, check out your school's athletic department, office of recreation, or campus life centers; any one of the three could handle the school's club-sports program.
The University of Rochester is home to more club sports than you could join in your whole undergraduate career. But one stands out among the rest, because the sport didn't even exist until author J.K. Rowling decided to reinvent the broomstick in the 1990's. Quidditch, the fictional sport revered by characters of the Harry Potter universe, actually exists as a collegiate activity, started by MiddleburyCollege in 2005.
Daniel Panzarella, president of UR's Quidditch Team, says that it's not as strange as it sounds. "The sport is so much fun. You're tackling, playing dodge ball, and slam dunking all in the same sport," he says.
The sport incorporates recognizable elements from rugby, soccer, and American football, but with the added catch of having to keep one hand at waist-level to hold the broomstick between your legs. The most intriguing, and comical, aspect of real-life Quidditch is the Golden Snitch. In the books it's a small winged ball that has a mind of its own as it zips around the playing field. In collegiate Quidditch, the fastest member of the team dresses completely in yellow and is chased around the field, making him or her more of a source of humor than a serious part of the competition.
Considering the sport's roots in Vermont, Panzarella and his squad mostly play teams around the northeast, but schools nationwide are picking up on the offbeat craze. The IQA, or International Quidditch Association, hosts the annual World Cup at Middlebury, which Panzarella says is quite a big deal. He even mentions that the occasional "dementor" roams the field to pay homage to all the intricate plot elements of the series.
It's not all about Rowling's iconic series, though. "We've been trying to diversify ourselves from Harry Potter and make it a sport of its own merit," says Panzarella, who started a Quidditch team in Buffalo before founding UR's. "One of my best players from Buffalo, one of my best keepers, never read the books," he says. Panzarella also stressed that he has athletes from a variety of other sports, from football to soccer.
For more information on UR's Quidditch team, find its page at UR's Campus Club Connection at sa.rochester.edu/clubs/URQC. More information on any of the other 35-plus club sports at UR can also be found at the Campus Club Connection at sa.rochester.edu/clubs.
At the Rochester Institute of Technology, students can move on from the same boring jog or game of catch in the quad with something a little different, like, say, an exhilarating climb up a towering rock wall. Thanks to the Interactive Adventures Red Barn, RIT's very own rock-climbing facility, that's a possibility for students every single day.
Sean McArdle, operations manager of the RIT Red Barn, says the facility is unique because it was started by students back in the 1980's, before it became an official climbing site. "Initially [the barn] didn't have any use. It just kind of sat on the west side of campus," he says. "Eventually, some students in the early 80's decided to update it and try and clean it out and make it a functioning building."
McArdle joined the facility six years ago, with previous experience as a manager at NiagaraClimbingCenter in Buffalo, and helped climbing on campus grow exponentially. "We expanded the hours, opened it up to the greater Rochester community. I started maintaining what you would find in a commercial climbing gym," he says.
Transforming an abandoned building to a full-scale climbing gym was no easy feat, but it's paid off in the end. The Red Barn now features more than 5,000 square feet of climbing surface, as well as three climbing caves, a top-out boulder, and a rope wall.
Lindsay Reardon, the current president of the RIT Climbing Club, fell in love with the Red Barn in her first year at the school, and teamed up with Brennah Rosenthal, a freshman at the time, eager to start an official competitive team. The prospects for a legitimate climbing club started to rise. Now one year later, the RIT Climbing Club competes in the collegiate climbing series, and has even taken home first-place awards in events like the climbing series regional while competing against schools like West Point.
It's not all about competition, though, and Reardon and Rosenthal couldn't stress that enough. The club has a competitive squad of about 15, but a recreational group of around 60 people. With absolutely no barriers to join, both the Red Barn and the climbing club are eager to continue to grow their ranks.
"I just absolutely love it. It's fun, you don't really realize that you're working out. It can be social, or it can be meditative," says Reardon.
Rosenthal, whose decision to come to RIT as a photography major was heavily influenced by the presence of the Red Barn, says that other schools had climbing gyms, but none as family-based as RIT's. "The Red Barn -- you're friends with everyone there," she says.
The RIT climbers also stress that climbing is a multi-faceted sport that many people don't fully understand until they try it. "It's such a different sport mentally than soccer or baseball or basketball. You're working as a team, but it's also an individual thing," Rosenthal says.
Reardon adds, "Every single time you finish a climb, it's a personal triumph."
For more information on the Red Barn or the RIT Climbing Club, email climbRIT@gmail.com. For more information on club sports at RIT, visit the Center for Campus Life web site at campuslife.rit.edu.
When Melissa Hartog got to SUNY Brockport, she noticed one distinct feature of the school's club-sports environment: almost all of them were team-based, competitive sports. Wanting something a little different and unsure of how to incorporate her love of outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, snowboarding, and rock climbing, Hartog decided to create Outdoor Adventures before she finished her junior year.
With a name as ambiguous as Outdoor Adventures, it's hard to discern what the club actually focuses on. But Hartog boils it down to simple terms by explaining that it's just about having fun outside. "It's so you can get familiar with an outdoor activity enough to teach it," Hartog says. She doesn't mean becoming an instructor, just that you get the opportunity to try something you've never done before and get acquainted enough to want to take your friends and help expose them to the activity as well.
"I do love team sports, but I like that you can build relationships with people a bit more with unique sports. You have time to build those relationships, and it's more self-fulfilling," Hartog says. "Brockport is very team based, Brockport had nothing like it. It's my passion, so it was easy to start," she says.
The club has already made trips to snowboard at Bristol and rock climb at RIT's Red Barn, among other outings. But Hartog is looking to branch out as far as possible, hoping that the club can some day incorporate a number of activities on a frequent basis.
Although Hartog will graduate before Outdoor Adventures is fully funded by Brockport, she would like to see the spirit of the club carry on because she thinks it can help to enrich students' lives. Instead of just helping someone grow physically and bond with a team through just one sport, Hartog stresses how unique sports can bring people together in new ways and help better round out the campus as a result.
For more information on Outdoor Adventures, check Brockport's Club Sports page at brockport.edu/recservices. More information on other SUNY Brockport sport clubs can also be found there.
SUNY Geneseo is a somewhat secluded school, and any student there will tell you that you need to get out and keep active if you want to fend off the middle-of-nowhere feel that can permeate a rural campus. Geneseo has a number of club sports, but one in particular is unique because it's a sport generally reserved for seriously experienced athletes.
Geneseo's Women's Ice Hockey Club was officially recognized in 2006, and stands out because it's open to all, not just off-season field hockey players or veterans of the rink. Any prospective players, even those who don't have a good handle on skating or using a hockey stick, can join.
Club President Elyse McNamara came to Geneseo three years ago on early decision because she had heard on a campus tour that the club was starting the following year. After getting involved her first week on campus, McNamara became a dedicated member, and now, heading into her senior year, heads the club.
While not officially funded by the school, the club still plays other schools in scrimmages to keep the sport alive, and hopefully garner enough support to gain club status and funding. McNamara says that club sports at Geneseo, while high in numbers, are not very well supported. "The co-ed club soccer, that is really big on campus. I don't really see a lot of advertising for many of the other club sorts. I know there are probably many, but I can't tell you their names. I think it's something they need to put more money into," she says.
As to why ice hockey is a good alternative to your everyday intramural or gym sport, McNamara says, "It's so much more fun. It's a winter sport and it gets you out."
McNamara's final words echo that of many others heavily involved in a club sport: "You can go to classes, but until you join something, it's hard to get to know different people out of your dorm and major.... It's just a way to kind of go out and have fun."
For more information on the Geneseo Women's Ice Hockey Club, visit geneseo.edu/intramurals/club_sports. For information on sports clubs at Geneseo, visit geneseo.edu/athletics.