Grand Valley State University has between 1,300-1,400 club sport athletes who do not get the privileges of scholarships or priority scheduling given to their varsity counterparts. Instead, these men and women pay to play the sports they love.
There are more than 60 total organizations operating through the GVSU Student Life Sports program on a two-tier system with athletes participating at either the competitive or recreational sports level. The competitive teams travel much like the varsity squads, while the recreational teams play more for the love of the game.
For club athletes however, playing the sports they loved since they were little is becoming pretty costly, in more than one way, particularly in the competitive-sports tier. All student athletes are required to pay athletic dues before the start of competition, which go toward paying for uniforms, equipment and travel expenses.
While Student Life Sports works with all of the club sport coaches to set up a predetermined schedule, freshmen and newcomers still have to adapt and work around their classes. Most club sports teams operate with the same intensity of their varsity counterparts, practicing three or four times a week and playing on weekends.
Despite not receiving any money to play their sports, athletes and coaches alike have made the best of the situation. Sophomore women’s softball player Kendall Weber said she has been fortunate with her schedule and that her coach mandates a class-first, athletics-second policy.
“I haven’t found softball to interfere with my studies at all yet,” Weber said. “If anything it keeps me on track by forcing me to manage my time better.”
Women’s rugby coach Bob Richthammer, whose club team is ranked No. 9 in the nation, said that he also believed in an education first policy.
“I certainly want our team to win, but everyone on our team knows that getting it done in the classroom is more important,” he said. “The teachers have been pretty accommodating with our schedule as well.”
Sophomore men’s soccer player Bobby Nichols said not having priority scheduling has helped his time management skills but admitted he would not mind the extra privilege.
“I have found it pretty difficult to keep up with schoolwork,” Nichols said. “It’s all about time management, something I’m learning pretty quick. Priority scheduling would be a huge help though.”
Despite not having priority scheduling, GVSU club athletics has largely enjoyed the same success as the varsity teams. GVSU Student Life Sports Graduate Assistant Eric Garvelink said he believes the success of the teams is large a credit to the quality and commitment of the athletes.
“The amount of students we have to draw from and their commitment to taking it seriously has helped us excel,” he said. “What makes it even more admirable is that they pay to play because they love it. The unparalleled passion and drive they have for the game has made them successful at both the local and national levels.”
That passion is clearly embodied in the hard working athletes like Nichols and Weber.
“I love playing soccer,” Nichols said. “Being able to compete at the highest level possible just makes the experience that much better.”
Weber said playing a college sport was a privilege that helped her put things into perspective.
“Being a college athlete gives me a sense of pride by making me feel like I have a bigger role at Grand Valley than just being a student,” she said. “I have a responsibility to my teammates, coaches and myself. I am so thankful for the opportunity to play college softball.”
For more information on joining a club sport or going to any of the many games this year, visit the club sports website at www.gvsustudentlifesports.com/.