Club sports are a vital part of the college’s athletic community. They provide a wide array of less involved, but still competitive, opportunities for student-athletes at a range of experience and skill levels. When it comes to The Student’s sports section, club teams live in the shadow of varsity teams, which constitute a vast majority of our college-wide coverage. In light of this, we checked in with representatives from several different club teams to learn about the experience of being on a club sports team, particularly amidst the current pandemic.
Kate Redmond ’23, a member of the women’s ultimate frisbee team, provided insight about how the team functions. She explained that the team receives a club budget to manage their operations, with the option to ask the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) for additional funding, if necessary. Regarding the experience of being a member of the team, Redmond extolled the value of being part of a community: “I joined late in the fall last year because some of my friends were joining the team, but I stayed because I loved the people.”
The team has a number of traditions, one of which Redmond referred to as “dirty Val.” After practice, players would head to Valentine Dining Hall for a meal, still wearing their post-practice clothes, while ignoring the judgement of onlookers. The team’s name, Sparkle Motion, is a reference to the 2001 film “Donnie Darko,” which Redmond said the team watches annually. Like all activities at Amherst this year, women’s ultimate frisbee has been impacted by Covid-19. Most upperclassmen team members are not on campus this semester, so sophomores, like Redmond, have had to step into leadership roles. In addition, games have been cancelled, and practices have to adhere to social distancing protocols, but Redmond expressed a positive outlook: “It’s hard not being able to actually play games, but it’s a great time to teach people the basics. We can’t wait for the whole team to be together next year.”
We also spoke with Sirus Wheaton ’23, a member of men’s club soccer. He explained that the team’s budget is primarily used for equipment and transportation, with the option to request additional funding. Recently, the team received approval for funding to replace equipment — balls, cleats and pinnies — that was lost during last spring’s evacuation from campus due to Covid-19.
Wheaton expressed a strong attachment to the team. He remarked, “club soccer has become my family. I live, breathe and eat with them, and I don’t know what I would have done without the team.” Wheaton noted the value of the light-hearted environment, which he contrasted with negative experiences playing soccer in high school.
Describing his favorite memory of the team, Wheaton recalled a tense moment in the second game he played. As the final minutes dwindled, Wheaton, who had left the game with an ankle injury, watched as his team made a last ditch effort to win the game. Off a well-placed cross, fellow team member Martin Wilkinson ’23 nailed a mid-air slice to score the game-winning goal. “We erupted with joy, and I have never seen Martin smile that big. I swear I could see his wisdom teeth. That was one of my best days and moments at Amherst,” Wheaton said. This semester, Covid-19 has forced the team to rely on technical passing practices, with players even avoiding touching the ball with their hands. Certainly, team members are looking forward to an eventual return to typical practices and games.
In addition, Zoe Levin ’23, shared her experience as a member of the women’s rowing team. So far, her favorite moments with the team have been the water practices on the river. “I remember watching beautiful sunsets on my boat and riding together in the vans to and from the boathouse,” Levin remarked.
As is the case for every team on campus, Covid-19 has hindered the rowing team’s ability to practice. Members are currently not allowed to go to the boathouse or row on the water, which has forced the team to shift the focus of their preparation to conditioning. Levin also noted that the separation between on-campus and off-campus students has somewhat disturbed team unity. Despite the current setbacks, Levin was unwavering in her support of the team: “Rowing is one of my favorite aspects of Amherst. I love the team and feel so connected to the culture of the students who row here. I am so thankful to have that on campus.”
Caleb Beebe ’23 discussed his time on the men’s rugby team. Rugby’s funding, he explained, comes almost entirely from the AAS. According to Beebe, rugby alumni occasionally designate donations specifically for the rugby team, which the administration uses to maintain the rugby fields, rather than allowing the team to direct the funds. Beebe said that the rugby team is attempting to establish a separate fund for rugby alumni donations, which would enable them to control how the money is spent. The majority of the team’s annual budget is spent on their coach’s salary, but Beebe noted that the budget supplied by AAS makes it difficult to pay a rugby coach at a competitive rate. Some of the funds are also used to pay for equipment—such as uniforms, balls, and pads.
Echoing the other club sport athletes, Beebe praised the sense of community that exists around the team. “What I love most about the rugby team is the academic, geographic, and racial diversity of the program. We’re a group from incredibly different backgrounds, and we all have the amazing opportunity to learn from each other both on and off the field,” Beebe said.
He added that his favorite team tradition is their homecoming game against bitter rival Williams College: “The game itself is always especially intense, and the captains on both teams wager their b-side jerseys on victory. The losing side turns over their jerseys until the next year, so a victorious Amherst captain’s greatest pride is wearing a Williams jersey around campus.”
In a typical year, the rugby team relies on their coach and upperclassmen to teach the sport to new players. Due to Covid-19, the team has no coach this year, and most upperclassmen are living off campus, which has impeded the team’s ability to hold effective practices. Despite these current issues, Beebe maintained the value of his time on the rugby team: “Rugby has been a true highlight of my Amherst experience; it’s become an incredible social and athletic outlet, and the friendships I’ve made through the team have defined much of my experience on campus.”
Based on these student-athlete perspectives, it’s safe to say that community and competition are key aspects of being on a club sports team. Even in a pandemic, when typical practices and games are impossible, there is still value in having the shared identity that club teams provide. By constructing these communities, students at Amherst are able to stave off the isolation that otherwise seems so prevalent right now — creating bonds that will serve them well when competition returns.