Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
In early 2010, the NCAA announced a new identity headlined by three words: “discover,” “dedicate,” and “develop.” This new slogan was intended to unify such diverse schools as Transylvania University (with an enrollment just over 1,000 in Lexington, KY) and New York University (with an enrollment over 50,000 in New York City) under the Division III umbrella. However it’s also a perfect description for collegiate athletics that aren’t ruled by the light-blue NCAA circle logo.
How better to discover, dedicate, and develop than through club sports: from ultimate frisbee to rugby, let’s check out what’s so great about the ten club sports now offered at Swarthmore.
Discovery? Take this from the Swarthmore women’s rugby team poster. “We love rookies! No experience is required or expected. Come to a practice and join us!” Or from the Swarthmore women’s frisbee team. “We don’t have tryouts or make any cuts based on skill – if you come to practice and show interest and commitment, consider yourself a member of the team!”
Dedication? Over winter break last year, Swarthmore fencers flew from around the country, including Hawaii, to descend upon Colorado Springs for a weekend of bouts against club opponents from Stanford, Notre Dame, and the University of Florida. Or frisbee practice in all sorts of weather, the team descending upon Sharples for dinner soaked to the bone and caked in mud.
Development? How about the formation of both men’s and women’s club soccer teams in the past two years. Brennan Klein ’13 was instrumental in the organization of the men’s squad. “It started out as a bunch of guys playing pickup on Saturdays on the turf, and in a matter of two years, we went from an unorganized group of soccer players to a solid squad playing at Princeton for the playoffs of our division last spring,” Klein said.
“This year, we have six games against very competitive teams between now and October 6th: Villanova (twice), University of Delaware, St. Josephs, Haverford, and West Chester. Most of these teams have paid-coaches and hold tryouts of between 20 and 90 students a year, and to be able to compete with them as such a young club is incredible,” Klein added.
Or the camaraderie, parallel to that of any varsity athletic team. Eugene Prymak ’13 is a varsity basketball player and has also found a home for his 6’7” frame in the middle of the men’s club volleyball formation.
“I feel that volleyball is a vital part of my Swarthmore experience; it definitely wouldn’t be the same without it. I’ve made so many close friends through volleyball,” Prymak said.
Club sports are the often overlooked layer of collegiate athletics hidden between the well-publicized varsity teams and friends vs. friends intramural leagues.
Swarthmore’s club level consists of men’s and women’s rugby, frisbee, fencing and soccer and men’s volleyball and squash. The teams balance teaching with competition. The spectrum is as diverse as Hannah Purkey ’11, learning rugby for the first time as a second-semester senior, to Anthony Yoshimura ’12, who after working with the varsity women’s volleyball team and playing on the men’s club team for four years, was hired as an assistant coach this year for the varsity team at Bryn Mawr.
And competition at the highest level? Sure. The Warmothers, our women’s ultimate frisbee squad, ended the 2012 regular season ranked eighth of 48 in Division III and 63rd of 185 of all collegiate teams. At the Colorado Springs tournament, five Swarthmore fencers posted victories over opponents from Top-20 club teams.
This blend of strong competition with the opportunity of exploration is brought to life in the story of Purkey, an unsung hero and keystone in the midfield for the varsity women’s soccer team who reached out to rugby in her final months at Swarthmore.
“While I have always loved both playing and watching sports, I really had no idea what to expect when I stepped on the field for my first day of rugby practice,” said Purkey. “There was a bit of a learning curve, but I was lucky enough to have dedicated coaches and teammates who took the time to teach me and who put up with my ubiquitous questions and mistakes.”
A columnist for The Phoenix, Purkey originally joined the women’s rugby team to chronicle the challenges of learning a new sport before the game itself inspired her. She thrived in the club environment which was “more laid back than it was on the varsity soccer team […]. I really didn’t know what I was doing for the first month or two and made a lot of mistakes, but since rugby was as much about the experience as the score, the team was exceptionally supportive of me.”
Varsity soccer or club rugby, collegiate athletics takes many forms. The New York Times estimated in 2008 that two million students participated in collegiate club sports around the country, nearly five times the number of student-athletes competing on NCAA-sanctioned varsity teams.
Of those two million active in competitive club sports, over 200, around 15% of the student body, come from Swarthmore, where discovery, dedication and development on the athletic fields parallels the classroom experience, and neophytes and veterans shape their collegiate careers with the help of club athletics.
“Club soccer fits into my Swat experience in a lot of ways,” said Klien. “It gives me an athletic outlet to get away from school while doing something I love. It’s not as intense as a varsity sport but it is nonetheless a commitment. It also is a time to hang out with a really fun, hilarious group of guys.”
“Swat for me was all about expanding my horizons, whether in the classroom or on the field,” said Purkey. “So even though I was terrified and completely unprepared to step out on the [rugby] field, it was ultimately an incredibly fun challenge to start something new when the rest of my Swarthmore life was coming to its end.”
Victor Brady ’13 is Sports Editor at The DG. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.