Club sports keep them in the game

Within the halls of the White Building at Penn State’s University Park campus hang championship banners from years gone by.

Soccer – rifle, cross country, cycling, gymnastics – these are just a few of the sports represented along the gym walls and rafters, symbols of pride and accomplishment on the athletic field.

But these coveted flags were not earned by Nittany Lion varsity athletes, but rather by students who compete in one of the university’s many club sports programs.

“Club sports give participants the chance to be a student and do many things on campus,” Club Sports Coordinator Matt Kutz said. “But they can also continue to participate in a sport they enjoy, or even try something new.”

High school athletes can pick up where they left off at graduation, joining a college club sport which is generally a higher level of competition than intramural athletics, but with far less commitment than is required from an NCAA scholarship athlete.

Some choose to put their previous experience to the test with a new sport; club offerings include options like crew, handball, paint ball, many forms of martial arts, and even the Harry Potter-inspired sport of Quidditch.

“Some teams are more recreational, designed more for fitness and camaraderie,” Kutz said. “Others belong to national organizations and compete on a very high level.”

At Penn State’s main campus, more than 5,000 students took part in club sports last year, with six club teams taking home national championships, including baseball and women’s cross country. Penn State Altoona also offers club sports programs dubbed “for students, by the power of students.”

In that sense, the club programs offer more than even D-I varsity sports can provide, as club officers are given leadership opportunities to plan practice and competition schedules, travel arrangements and even their own budgets.

“In club sports, many of the coaches are students themselves,” Kutz said. “So there is significant decision-making made by team members.”

There have also been significant milestones for the club sports programs in recent years.

Penn State rower Natalie Dell took her crew experience to the 2012 Olympic Games, earning a bronze medal. Men’s and women’s ice hockey have earned varsity sport status, though club teams are still available in Happy Valley; rugby enjoys team sport status, receiving more financial support than a typical club team without varsity designation.

Club sport participants do not have 90,000 fans cheering them on every Saturday, and they don’t have sports paying their way. In fact, the clubs must raise about 90 percent of their own budgets, either through dues or fundraisers or both.

But the clubs do provide the unique opportunity for students to wear a Penn State uniform and represent their university on their own terms while enjoying all of the challenges and rewards of competition and sport.

Goodman Shaffer can be reached at