By Carlos Toro
On March 26, the Fireside Lounge in the Bart Luedeke Center was host to a special gathering of one of Rider’s sports teams.
Players donned formal attire and an exquisite banquet was served for all in attendance. The team’s head coach was honored with a coach of the year award presented by the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association. It was an eloquent showcase of Rider’s athletes that seemed fitting for one of the school’s varsity sports team — except it wasn’t. The award ceremony was for Rider’s club ice hockey team and it was Head Coach Sean Levin who received the award.
The Broncs’ ice hockey team is just one of many different club sports offered at Rider. Rider currently supports 18 club sports — aikido, adventure club, badminton, baseball, dance team, equestrian, golf, ice hockey, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s soccer, softball, table tennis, tennis, ultimate frisbee, unified sports club and men’s and women’s volleyball.
There is an upward trend of Rider students not only electing to attend the school for academics, but for athletics as well, and not all of them are aiming to become a varsity athlete. Instead, they participate in a club sport.
Dianna Clauss, assistant director of campus life for recreation programs, said the school has been getting an increased number of students interested in participating in club sports. As a result, the number of club sports offered on campus greatly increased throughout her team overseeing the program itself. Clauss has stressed that the students must take the initiative and want to create these club sports.
“I’ve been in this position since the spring of 2007 and at that time, there were only seven sports and there are now 18,” Clauss said. “We try to listen to what the students are saying and what they are requesting, but they need to start the club. It takes a lot of student dedication and leadership to keep the ball rolling.”
The role of club sports has been growing over the years from a simple activity for students to a full-blown feature in attracting students at Rider. For some students, the idea of playing in a certain club sport was a huge reason for them choosing Rider over other schools. Some students, such as club ice hockey senior defender Brett Ansbacher, said he chose Rider because he could continue his hockey career.
“To be completely honest, I really only came to Rider to play hockey,” Ansbacher said. “As a high school senior looking at colleges, I had plenty of options, but I didn’t want my hockey career to end. When I looked at Rider, I saw a good school with a reputable accounting program, where I could get both a great education and play competitive hockey for four more years. This may have been the best decision I ever made. The bonds you make with teammates, even those who may have only been my teammate for one year, are permanent relationships and memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”
Friendship and bonds have been a recurring theme for several of these club sport athletes. Participating in club sports does get tough at times, according to junior sports management, marketing major and women’s club lacrosse president Brittany Cupo. However, the love of the game, the family environment these teams create and any lasting bonds made through club sports is a big reason why many return to their teams year after year.
“I’ve been on the [lacrosse team’s executive] board since my sophomore year and before that, I did not know how much work you put into everything on the team. I thought I go to lacrosse, practice, play on games and return home. When I got on the board, it was more than just getting the girls to play lacrosse. It was building that friendship and bond because they want to be a part of something more than just playing lacrosse. They want to build that friendship with everyone.”
Cupo said working and playing with her fellow teammates became more than just improving their skillset. Some club sport athletes had never played the sport that they are interested in.
“A lot of girls were iffy on playing because some of them had never picked up a lacrosse stick before,” Cupo said. “It’s just about allowing them to play, teaching them the fundamentals like passing and catching the ball. I feel like most of them stayed because of that family-oriented feeling.”
Some of these sports compete in small scrimmages and tournaments against other schools in the area while other sports compete in fully-fledged competitive leagues and travel off-campus, and sometimes, out-of-state, to participate in matches and tournaments.
The role of club sports has grown and evolved, in some regards, into an entity in which some sports behave similarly to that of Rider’s varsity sports. Clubs such as men’s lacrosse and ice hockey compete in national intercollegiate leagues such as the National College Lacrosse League and the aforementioned MACHA.
The dance team performs at university events such as home basketball games, Awareness Day, Friday Night Lights, which are Rider’s intramural flag football games, and other events. The dance team also travels to the MAAC Basketball Tournament each year to support the varsity teams as well as entertain the crowd.
The role of club sports also serves to not only present opportunities for students to play sports in college, but also future opportunities. With club ice hockey in his blood, Levin has been involved with club ice hockey since 2002, when he played on the team as a defender and became the team’s captain in his last three years playing.
He then quickly became an assistant coach after his playing days were done and now, not only does he serve as Rider’s Director of the College of Continuing Studies, he also serves as the club ice hockey’s head coach.
“I’ve always had a passion to teach and coach,” Levin said. “My undergraduate degree was in education and I had plans to teach high school as well as coach. [Former head coach Ted Gerry] coached me while at Rider and played an important role in my development as a coach. I cannot thank him enough for giving me my initial opportunity to coach and my goal is continue to build upon the legacy he created here at Rider.”
Clauss said the program has helped students grow, not just as athletes, but also as leaders.
“I feel very strongly the club sport program is a leadership program,” Clauss said. “The vehicle that we use to drive leadership is sports. These students aren’t going to go to varsity experience, but they still want to see a college sport experience. We are around the record of about 375 students in the club sport program.”
These programs are run by students, according to Clauss. Some sports, such as ice hockey and equestrian, require coaching staffs, consisting of Rider employees volunteering to take on those additional roles. But the main objective is allowing these students to continue living their playing days in college.
As with all sports, there is always some risk, such as students getting injured and potentially inexperienced students managing teams, but Clauss said the school and the program help these students stay on the right path, without being an overwhelming presence, and allow the students to grow as students, athletes and people.
“I think it depends on the leadership capabilities of each student and also up to us in advisory roles to make sure we do our roles well,” Clauss said. “It’s also making sure we don’t step on the toes of the students. It can be tough. We aren’t managed by the NCAA, so we don’t have that policy regulating all 18 sports. It falls onto us to instruct the students in certain things because of the risk association with some of these sports. These students aren’t getting paid to run their clubs. They do it because of the love of the sport. While these are not varsity athletes, they still have the spirit of an athlete.”