Club athletes struggle with medical treatment

Yale club athletes looking for treatment for their aches and bruises — and wanting more than just an ice pack — may get the cold shoulder from the University’s Sports Medicine Clinic.

About a dozen members of Yale’s club teams said in interviews that Yale’s lack of an efficient or clear process for undergraduates who are not varsity athletes to obtain medical resources leaves them unsure of where to go for help. Students on club teams have said they hesitate to seek out help from Payne Whitney Gymnasium’s Dwyer Rehabilitation Center — which provides services to the 825 “intercollegiate varsity athletes” on Yale’s rosters — because they fear they will be turned away.

Varsity athlete Alex Guzinski ’09 trains at Payne Whitney Gymnasium in 2006. Non-varsity athletes said they had trouble receiving medical care.
Ryan Galisewski
Varsity athlete Alex Guzinski ’09 trains at Payne Whitney Gymnasium in 2006. Non-varsity athletes said they had trouble receiving medical care.

But administrators in the Yale Athletics Department said emergency care is available to any student who needs it, although financial limitations and ongoing miscommunication between club teams and administrators prevent long-term services like physical therapy from being available for club teams.

Director of Sports Medicine and head athletic trainer Chris Pecora said although members of club teams should seek treatment for injury at the Sports Medicine Clinic at University Health Services, DRC will treat both varsity and club athletes.

“We all care about the safety of our athletes, whether they are club or varsity,” he said.

But when asked about the differences in training services between club and varsity athletes, club basketball player Timothy Kau ’09 said there is an disparity.

“At least [varsity athletes] have a centralized resource that they have permission to go into — they have qualified people to help them,” he said. “That service is not afforded here at Yale, at least for non-varsity athletes.”

Pecora said both varsity and club team athletes are required to go to University Health Services for treatment of severe orthopedic injuries. Still, if a club athlete were to suffer an “acute injury,” the clinic would be able to provide emergency care.

“We had a club sports athlete who sprained his ankle … last week, and we gave him crutches and ice,” he said. “But the ongoing care still is done at UHS.”

Several club team members said they do not think the Yale Athletics Department clearly explains its medical resources, despite the meeting at the beginning of each semester at the department for all club team captains, a mailbox for each team at Payne Whitney and an e-mail panlist for announcements. Some club team captains said they do not use Payne Whitney’s medical services because they do not understand what qualifies an injury as “major” or “acute.”

And while some injured club team members have tried to seek out help at UHS, many said its facilities are lacking as well.

When John Toth ’11 — a member of the club ultimate frisbee team — twisted his ankle on the Yale fields several Fridays ago, his captain drove him to UHS. After waiting for an hour, he said, he was told by the staff that they could not perform an X-ray scan on him and he should come back after the weekend.

“I wouldn’t necessary say that club sports should get the same kind of coverage that varsity sports should get,” Toth said. “But students in general should get better attention to injuries than they are getting now.”

Toth said he is considering going outside the University system and may seek care at the non-Yale-affiliated Temple Physical Therapy.

But seven of the club sports teams that the Athletics department deemed “high risk” — due to the dangerous nature of the style of play — have not always had to jostle with varsity athletes for the medical resources. Barry Goldberg, the former chief of Sports Medicine for UHS, spearheaded a two-hour “high risk club sports training clinic” once a week. But since his death in late September, the club clinic has been shut down.

But Benjamin Swiss ’08, a member of the club rugby team, said he thinks the limited medical resources available to club athletes is the result of underfunding for the club sports program as a whole.

“There are so many varsity teams at the school and so many club teams at the school,” he said. “It’s just that the sports medicine staff doesn’t have the resources to see everyone injured at any given time.”

Tom Migdalski, Director of Club Sports and Outdoor Recreation for the Athletics Department, said he had not heard reports of problems with medical care from any club sports athletes.

“I personally have not heard a single complaint from a single club athlete about it, so it couldn’t be too bad,” he said.

But both Migdalski and Pecora agreed that limited funding puts club sports teams at a disadvantage in relation to their varsity counterparts. Although the club sports budget is almost three times as much as it was about 20 years ago, Migdalski said the teams could use more money. Every year, the Athletics Department — with the help of a small percentage of the Students Activities Fee — allots a budget of $20,000 to be distributed among Yale club sports teams.

About 600 Yalies participate in 35 club sports during a given academic year, according to the Undergraduate Admissions Web site.

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