On the Fringe
France Griggs Sloat
When Matt Dudash gets ready for a game, he sometimes pulls pajama pants on over his soccer cleats. The white or navy T-shirt he wears has no name or number on the back. And some days, he doesn’t even wear socks. But he always remembers to grab his equipment bag—a sack of flying discs—as he heads out the door.
Hardly traditional preparation for a typical sport. But the sport Dudash plays is anything but typical. Ultimate Frisbee has no referees, no physical contact and practically no recognition among mainstream sports fans. Yet Ultimate, as it’s now officially called, is one of the fastest growing club sports on Xavier’s campus, gaining visibility as it gains in membership. Despite its reputation as a fringe sport, it’s got a roster of about 30 players this year, making it one of the largest of the lesser-known clubs.
Though obscure, clubs like Ultimate are attracting the kind of students who want an alternative competitive outlet that keeps them healthy and connected to the University. So they shoot rifles, carry swords, ride horses, toss Frisbees. They dance, do gymnastics and practice taekwondo. They toss balls in swimming pools. What’s the lure?
“Club sports allow students to be active in their own sport of interest,” says Jim Ray, director for recreational sports. “If we only offered typical sports like flag football and volleyball, other students would have no ability to participate in a sport they love. We give them that ability. It’s a great recruiting tool.”
A little more than 10 years ago, when recreational sports took over management of the club sports program, there were only seven club sports at Xavier. But then the number of clubs grew, reaching a total of 21 last year. Three more were added this year, including football, which got a lot of fanfare as it was the first sign of the sport since the varsity program was canceled in 1973. The other two, rifle and tennis, have also been longtime varsity sports until rifle was canceled last year. (See list below, right.)
Now there are 500 students participating in a collection of club sports that includes everything you’d expect on a college campus today. But the lesser-known clubs that fly under the radar are proving to have staying power as they attract more and more students to their ranks.
They include those that are small but tightly knit, like the four-member gymnastics and rifle teams and the nine who compete with the martial arts club. Others, like Ultimate, keep growing. The equestrian club, complete with a riding stable, horses and several blue ribbons, had eight members its first two years but expects to double its ranks this year. And water polo, which features men in swimming caps treading water for hours, has six active players.
Then there’s fencing. The club has 20 members, and they’re close friends as well as teammates, says club president and junior fencer Nicholas Losekamp, who had never fenced before joining the club as a freshman three years ago. He’s fallen in love with the sport and says fencing is the most traditional and historic.
“That’s what they used to do to practice for battle,” he says. “It has a lot of history behind it, and it’s amazingly fun to watch.”
A club’s budget reflects its competitiveness and equipment needs. Crew and football receive the most money from the club sports council because they need expensive equipment or have extensive schedules. Smaller clubs like Ultimate, with few equipment needs, receive the least.
Some clubs compete against Division I teams. Crew, for instance, often out-paddles the competition and could someday become a varsity sport, Ray says. That’s the kind of reputation that Dudash and his fellow Ultimate players hope their team can achieve some day. The club is only four years old, but it’s already able to send two teams to college tournaments. And its fan base is growing.
“It’s a weird sport, but it’s very fun to watch,” says Patty Bohn, assistant director for recreational sports. “It’s fast and has strategy and good teamwork. And I like the sportsmanship aspect. They’re very social and friendly with the other team.”