Maine club sports teams struggle to exist and love every minute

When Olivia Bourque became president of the University of Maine women’s basketball club, she had a long list of things to do.

There was a team to build, a schedule to do, training to hold. But unlike NCAA-level teams, it had little staff support – that was primarily the responsibility of its team.

Club sports are becoming increasingly popular in Maine colleges. They sit between NCAA-level teams and much less formal intramural teams. They receive financial support from their schools, but much of the work falls on the students themselves.

Women’s club basketball is new to the University of Maine at Orono, which has 28 club teams. The team spent the 2021-22 school year recruiting players, training and practicing before joining the National Club Basketball Association for this season.

Maine has 19 players, including 15 allowed by league rules to prepare for a game.

Bourque has her hands full as president of the club. “At first I wasn’t sure I could handle it, but I quickly learned it takes a whole village and the team were more than willing to help where they could,” he said. she stated.

There is a notable distinction between club sports and intramural sports. Both are student-run, but club teams primarily compete against other schools and are more formal and competitive, lining up closer to university college teams.

Asked about the biggest challenge of starting a club sport from scratch, Bourque was candid: everything.

“We didn’t know where to start. When we did this there were several meetings about do’s and don’ts, fundraising, other club sports (operations), volunteering, student government, money, travel – it was the most crushing moment of the creation of the club.

This doesn’t even include the time commitment.

“You have to spend a lot of your time planning events, basketball games, volunteering and fundraising,” Bourque said. Over the past few months, she has better honed the balance between the time commitment and, as she describes it, mixing serious competition with the fun of club sports.

“At the end of the day, it’s a club team and everyone is there to have fun, make friends and play basketball.”

An hour away at Colby College in Waterville, Jackie Ko is president of the club’s women’s rugby team, overseeing 35 starters, 25 of whom are allowed to feature on match day. Sixteen of its players are freshmen, an unusual — but welcome — increase among newcomers.

Few players had rugby experience and some had no sporting experience before joining the team – one of Colby’s 27 club teams. A handful had participated in sports such as basketball, hockey, soccer or track and field, and others were on competitive dance teams.

“Rugby is such a unique sport that there is no real blueprint for success. No matter your background or experience, you can learn the sport and contribute to the team,” Ko said.

Members of the Colby club’s women’s rugby team pose for a photo during a playoff game. Photo courtesy of Jackie Ko.

Administrative work is also Ko’s main challenge, although rugby has been offered at Colby for years, first as a varsity sport and then as a club sport in recent years.

She and her vice president work alongside the university’s athletic department on game budgeting and logistics (travel, accommodation and meals for road games, setting a start time and ensuring referees will be available for home matches), along with the events and facilities departments. to coordinate space for team meetings and games, and with league and college officials to ensure all necessary documentation is submitted.

“Overall, it can be difficult to master administrative tasks while playing rugby and being a student,” Ko said.

Most of the fundraising to cover Colby’s $30,000 operating budget for the fall and spring rugby seasons comes from the Friends of Colby Rugby group, largely made up of former players. The college provides a full-time athletic coach, leaving travel and equipment costs to fundraising by the team.

After a $2,500 contribution from his university to cover jerseys and basketballs, the UMaine team must raise $500 in the offseason — though it usually brings in $600 to $800 — to cover travel.

Busy but favorable schedules

During the season, UMaine holds practices every two weeks for two hours and sets aside an hour every Wednesday to volunteer at a local elementary school basketball program. Weekends contain a doubleheader, either at home or at opponents in Massachusetts.

For Colby rugby, the in-season program includes four or five weekly training sessions, depending on the weather, and includes film study sessions on Mondays to review how the team can improve on their final game of the weekend.

Road games make for long days. The closest road game for Colby last fall was an hour away from Bowdoin College in Brunswick. His furthest was a five-hour jaunt to Middlebury College in Vermont, with further 2½-hour road matches at Endicott College in Massachusetts and 3½ hours at Bryant University in Rhode Island.

The team left in the afternoon or evening before road games, in rental vans this season because the journeys were too far for their traditional carpooling. Since much of the roster comes from all over New England, the players have stayed with loved ones of their teammates, with the exception of their first two-day playoff experience, when they stayed in a hotel.

The UMaine team, meanwhile, typically leave Orono around 7am on match days for the doubleheader before returning that night. Each of his three road trips this season has lasted about four hours in Massachusetts. Sometimes the team adds an element of team cohesion after a doubleheader.

Rugby’s off-season allows for approximately four to six weeks of recovery from the fall season before strength and conditioning begins for the spring. The captains hold practices at the start of the year until spring training with the coaches can begin outdoors.

“Because rugby is so physically demanding, the bonds that form between our team are incredibly strong,” Ko said. “I think rugby provides the environment to build our confidence and develop the physical and mental strength that we will have for the rest of our lives.”

Team UMaine’s offseason is balanced between practices, fundraising and community service, including programs for kindergarten and first graders, and with the local YMCA.

So with all the paperwork – from fundraising to logistics – why step in?

“I wanted to do more for this team that continues to do so much for me, that’s why I chose to play a role in leading the team,” Ko said.

For Bourque, his biggest fear was not having a strong turnout or support.

“They could have easily said it was chaotic and too hard to follow, but I was very lucky to have these girls,” Bourque said. “They had my back from the start. They are the reason the hard times weren’t so bad and were worth it.

This is what makes the chaos manageable.

“There’s a sense of pride in saying, ‘I’m the president of the women’s rugby team at Colby,'” Ko said. “I wanted others to feel as inspired and connected to the team as I am. .”

George Harvey is the media editor of The Maine Monitor. Contact him by email: [email protected]

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