Recently, Western State Colorado University’s club rugby programs have exemplified this. In 2017, the men’s team went 6-2 in the Division II collegiate Rocky Mountain Rugby League, losing twice to No. 1-seeded Montana State University.
On Oct. 15, 2017, Western and Montana State squared off for the first time in the season and played with such class and dignity that the referee who officiated the game, Dan Hattrup, sent an email after the 20-12 Montana State victory to the president of each school praising the men for their sportsmanship.
“This game [rugby] has been part of my life for now 25 years; I've seen professionalism come in at the highest level, and a loss at every level of what drew me to the game when I was the same age as many of the students playing today: brotherhood and a positive attitude regardless of win or loss,” Hattrup said in his email. “The kids were knocking the tar out of each other as only teenagers and young adults with no sense of self-preservation can, and then they were laughing, helping each other up from the hit. …
“We see every day on TV in professional games where abusing your opponent, taunting a team, trash talking each other or a referee is acceptable and part of ‘sport.’ We know that it isn't. Your student-athletes not only know such actions have no place in a game–they have shown exemplary behavior every time I have seen them, accepting calls, moving on in the game, and working harder to overcome any mistakes.”
Western President Gregory Salsbury was so impressed that he forwarded the email to the entire Western community.
“In an era when commercialism and a ‘win at all costs’ attitude have contaminated many venues, it is refreshing to see athletes playing purely for the love of the game, their school, the competition, the challenge and the comradery,” Salsbury said in his reply to Hattrup’s email.
As the men’s rugby squad has made improvements, so have their female counterparts.
“The women's rugby team has grown more as a functioning unit than they have in the past,” said Charles Newton, head coach of the women’s team. “This season marks the first season they have ever gone on a four-game winning streak, and a three-game shutout scoring over 170 points in those three games. After our first game [when] we scored 118 unanswered points, we could really see the progress that this team has made.”
Recent Western graduate and former women’s rugby player Talitha Beattie touched on the benefits of club sports beyond scoring and winning streaks.
“Playing rugby while at Western rounded out my whole experience as a student and I loved every moment of it,” Beattie said. “I came to Western as a transfer student, and joining a club sports team was an awesome way to make friends and find my place in the Western community. I felt an immediate sense of belonging on the team.”
Club sports at Western differ from NCAA sports. With club sports, almost any student can join. And unlike NCAA sports, club sports often require student-athletes to pay dues and/or fundraise.
“The club sports department has minimal funding, so club teams must work to gather sponsorships, fundraise and pay individual dues in order to participate and cover expenses,” said Ryan White, Western’s recreation sports coordinator. “Each club team has a leadership structure. At the least they have a club president [volunteer position] who works with me to accomplish administrative work for the club [waiver collection, roster management, dues collection and policy enforcement].
“We define club sport success based on student success, and that is measured how a student develops over their time within a club sport. There are a lot of different things that impact students, especially here at Western where students are super involved. I was a student here; I know what that’s like.”
Another advantage to club sports is students gaining real-world experience and resume-worthy skills--which are particularly useful when looking for that first job out of college.
“It’s great to be able to see a student go from a freshman to a junior,” said White, “and they’re a club president or they’re managing a team and doing administrative tasks, and they’re overseeing groups of management, getting real-world job experience and applicable, transferable skills through a position of just overseeing a club team, and that’s really exciting.
“Take a look at what the club sports, specifically the men’s rugby team. They went from not having the best reputation, to one that is a solid reputation in this town, across Colorado and even parts of Montana. [They’re] a solid team [and] a great group of guys.”
While club sports may not be as recognized as NCAA athletics, that does not mean the athletes do not work as hard. Student-athletes in Western’s club sports are required to serve 60 hours per team as volunteers, as a way of giving back.
Club sports, just like any other sport program, require discipline, resilience and determination in order to be successful. These skills transfer over into life and work in the “real world.” Being a student-athlete can be hard, but it can be easier knowing a group of great of people behind you that you are fortunate enough to call your teammates.
“Everybody who plays a sport loves to win, and every coach loves to have a winning record,” Newton said. “That doesn't matter to me. What I value the most about being a coach is that I get to share my adoration of the sport with others who are excited to learn. Rugby isn't about being the biggest, fastest, hardest hitting and aggressive person on the field–although it doesn't hinder a player or team when they are. Rugby is a game of wit, the more you know [about] rugby, the more dangerous a player you really are.”
Story by Caitlin Gleason. Photo by Eric Phillips and Dave Tweed Photography.