Students milled around in the grass, finding and tossing broken glass, beer cups and assorted pieces of metal into a 40-gallon trash bag, triple bagged so that the 23 pounds of debris would not tear through it. Students were not dealing with the remnants of the previous night’s party; rather, the two Yale Ultimate Frisbee teams were cleaning up the Intramural fields before the start of their tournament, the Yale Cup, on April 6 and 7.
According to men’s Ultimate captain Alex Civetta ’09, the trash was presumably left over from the Harvard-Yale football tailgate almost five months ago.
At last year’s tournament, a Harvard Ultimate player was forced off the field mid-game after a piece of glass got lodged in his shin.
Such problems are not unique — many club sports teams at Yale say they have had a similarly hard time obtaining usable field space, as well as funding and transportation. Although each team has a different story that spans a variety of individual experiences, all club athletes interviewed for this story agreed that many club teams deal with these challenges on a regular basis.
Ever since Edward Migdalski founded Yale’s program in “minor sports” — fishing, pony polo, riflery, rugby, sailing, skiing and trap shooting — about 50 years ago, club sports have played second fiddle to varsity sports.
Under the direction of Tom Migdalski — Edward Migdalski’s son — the Club Sports Office has expanded from 18 teams in 1984 to 47 today. As a result of the sheer number of teams — especially teams that play sports also offered at Yale on the varsity level — teams are often forced to compete for practice time, funding and medical attention.
One major hurdle for club teams is finding practice time at Payne Whitney Gym, which has to accommodate the needs of not only varsity and club teams but also intramurals squads and pick-up players. According to Civetta, the Ultimate team tried to practice in PWG during its winter off-season but was asked to leave so the women’s varsity volleyball team could have an empty court next to it.
But Civetta said he does not resent his varsity counterparts.
“We don’t have any tension with the players and the coaches,” Civetta said. “It’s frustrating as hell to have my team of 30 guys kicked off a court so that two volleyball players can practice serves, but we understand that it’s their prerogative to enjoy the rights they earn for committing to a sport on the varsity level.”
For those club-sports athletes who are eager enough to find practice spaces, Migdalski said, there are plenty of hours available , just not at times most college students would consider most convenient.
“Club sports teams need to come in early if they want practice time,” he said. “That’s when some of the varsity sports are going. Everyone wants the ‘prime times’ from 3 to dinnertime, but if they really want to come in early, the space is open.”
Men’s basketball co-president Chris Brusalis ’10 recalled one occasion on whichc his team had already booked court time at Payne Whitney but a minor miscommunication between the Club Sports Office and gym officials led to an unnecessary hassle.
“During second semester, we have allotted court time on Tuesday and Thursday at the Amphitheater,” Brusalis explained. “One day, one of the gym employees said we were not allowed to be on the court. As a club sports team, we had no documentation, so we had to go to the Club Sports Office the next day so that they could verify our right to use the courts.”
Still, such difficulties are not representative of all club sports teams’ experiences at Yale.
While admitting to frustration over various minor logistical problems, men’s club soccer captain Sam Levander ’10 said he understands the challenges inherent in finding field time for so many teams.
“We have an excellent Club Sports Office,” he said. “There are a lot of teams going for field space, so it can sometimes be tricky, but there’s always some place to play.”
Splitting up the pie
The division of resources can sometimes create tension among varsity, club and intramural teams, but club athletes interviewed said they understand the established hierarchy and know they must work within it.
More established teams tend to have easier experiences, with newer teams such as the men’s basketball team and the women’s swimming team describing more difficulties, especially in finding practice time.
For the coed club swimming team, which was started last October, it was a struggle to find pool time from the get-go, captain Nicole Roberts ’10 said. The Club Sports Office even went as far as discouraging the team from forming because of the prospective difficulty of finding pool time. Although the founding members persevered and were able to reserve a few hours of time, the scheduling of intramurals offered an unexpected challenge, Roberts said.
“During IM season, IM water polo displaced us,” she said. “Clearly, IM teams get preference. On the one hand, I understand that IMs are an important institution throughout the school, but it’s impossible for our team to get physical benefit from one practice a week. It’s been a really big issue for us and has complicated our lives.”
Roberts also acknowledged that the club water-polo team, which is more established, has more practices per week. For men’s water-polo player Andy Gordon ’11, lack of pool time has never been a problem, despite the late practice times.
“We have our practices at night, and we can’t use the swim team’s locker room, which is irritating, but I really don’t mind the late practice times,” Gordon said. “I’m used to it from high school. Plus, there’s never a problem with not having pool time.”
Because of the different practice times of teams using pools at Payne Whitney, varsity swimmer Sam Goldsmith ’11 admitted to not having much interaction with club teams. But he noted a general sense of respect that varsity athletes have for their club counterparts.
“At other schools, varsity athletes and club sports athletes are very separated because of athletic scholarships,” he said. “But here, there isn’t such a division. We have equal respect for club athletes. Club and varsity athletes at Yale are competing for the same reasons, a general love for competition and for their sport.”
But a difference between varsity and club athletes is evident in the availability of medical care. While varsity athletes have access to athletic training staff and a team physician, injured club athletes must turn to University Health Services to get care, through either sports medicine or student medicine.
Club athletes are treated, along with intramural athletes and other local athletes, by John Dailinger, James Perlotto and Kenneth Watkins, who all deal with club athletes on a part-time basis, as well as tending to various other duties at UHS. According to Dailinger, who described the idea of employing a physician full-time for club-sport athletes as “overkill,” the care available to club athletes is set to improve.
“We are in the process of re-envisioning how sports medicine operates at Yale,” Dailinger said. “We are in the process of hiring another physician for sports and for student medicine. The end result will be that we will be able to handle more these needs more effectively.”
Fighting for funds
Club teams with a well-established history also benefit from extra funding that comes from contributions from donors. Teams like men’s water polo and men’s rugby can use donations from alumni to supplement funding they receive through the Club Sports Office.
Club teams must also scramble to find transportation to away games and tournaments. According to women’s club tennis captain Michelle Wong ’08, since the number of players travelling to an away game does not meet the minimum number required by the Club Sports Office to provide busses, the team has to rent cars for the journey. She said, however, that her team’s experience with travel seemed considerably better than that of club tennis teams she had spoken with at other schools.
In contrast, larger club teams benefit from their size in a variety of ways. Ballroom-dancing captain William Schmidt ’09 cited his team’s size as a possible reason for its relative ease in securing much-needed resources.
“Compared to other club teams, I think ballroom does well with regards to funding, probably due to the large number of people who participate,” he said. “Club sports is also accommodating with our transportation needs when we have a large group traveling to competitions.”
Still, for many other teams, lack of funding from club sports remains a major problem. The women’s club lacrosse team uses its own personal funds to supplant money it receives from the tight club-sports budget, which is shared by dozens of teams.
“Besides the bureaucracy of getting fields, our team is an entirely student-run initiative,” captain Sarah Fetter ’09 said. “We rely mainly on donations from athletes’ parents, enabling us to be independent from club sports. This just makes it easier to manage our team on our own funds.”
Migdalski, who has been director of club sports for 24 years, said that while he empathizes with problems faced by club teams and wishes his office could offer more help, the financial situation is much better than it was five years ago.
“I hate saying no, and I support club sports 1,000 percent, but there’s just not enough space and money available,” Migdalski said. “Funding has tripled in the past years since the creation of the Student Activities Fee, but students don’t realize it since most of them weren’t around a few years ago.”
That funding is doled out by the Club Sports Advisory Board, a collection of club athletes that meets each semester to determine how much money goes to each team. The Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee, which handles much of the funding for undergraduate events, clubs and other activities, has no say in the funding of club sports, said Joshua Tan ’09, the chair of the UOFC.
Given the variety of challenges faced by club athletes, the YCC is looking into improving club sports as a part of a larger initiative to improve all undergraduate clubs and organizations.
Tomas Rua ’10, the YCC liaison looking into club sports, said that after speaking with several club captains, he has found funds and transportation to be the two major problems facing teams.
“Besides the $1,000-2,000 most teams receive per semester, the rest of the money comes out of athletes’ pockets; thus, some students can’t afford to be on teams,” Rua said. “We plan to make a project team next year to look into these issues.”