Like a lot of former high school athletes, I came to Michigan looking for a competitive and athletic outlet. I was never the biggest, strongest or fastest, but I was often the most competitive. I lived off sports, and the thought of not practicing for something every day was a little bit shocking.
I know I’m not the only one who felt this way. My friend Abiman dreamed of, and tried out for, a spot on the basketball team. Craig thought the cross country team was his best chance at Division I athletics. Last year, I talked to a bunch of club hockey guys who wanted nothing more than a spot on Red Berenson’s squad.
Many of the people I eventually became friends with were high school athletes, and a large chunk of those fantasized – at least briefly – about a spot in collegiate athletics.
I was admitted to Michigan and Cooper Union, a small engineering school in New York with a few hundred people. At Cooper Union, I could have played on the basketball team – seriously, more than half of the basketball team there never played the sport in high school. At Michigan, I’d be lucky to walk on to the average intramural team.
Obviously, Michigan is one of the country’s premier athletic institutions. Few debate that Michigan’s 27 sports teams – from football to hockey to cross country – are always among the best in the nation. And even though that may be great for the school’s reputation and recruitment, it’s frustrating for Abiman, Craig, me and you.
But for all of us, Michigan provides another option. The University has more than 70 club sports teams for former athletes looking for that competitive outlet. I chose ultimate frisbee, but the options are endless. Synchronized swimming, tae kwon do and roller hockey are examples and the chances are that, if you’ve played it, we have it at Michigan.
I knew it would be tough – I wasn’t one of those who expected the ultimate team to be filled with hippies or anything like that – but I was in no way prepared for the amazing athleticism I found on the squad. Guys who can jump over buildings and outrun dogs. Girls who could do the same. The coaches look specifically for athleticism – they figured they could teach the rest, and, from the success of the team, it looks as if they might have the right idea. The team has made Nationals in something like six of the last seven years.
Even during my freshman year, the focus was on athleticism, but I remember a shift in attitude midway through my career at Michigan. One of the requirements of the team was the timed run. Everyone on the team was required to run a mile in five and a half minutes and two miles in less than 12. Group runs, team lifting sessions and plyometrics parties were habit to the guys on the team. And if you wanted to get playing time, it had to be.
I couldn’t keep up with the top guys (literally or figuratively), but, for three years, I got my athletic outlet with the ultimate ‘B’ team. And at times, the competition was just as intense. The team travels around the country – the ‘A’ team made it as far as Oregon and Georgia for competition; the ‘B’ team stays in the area, but still makes trips all around the Midwest.
I played with the ‘A’ team for just one tournament – a brutal competition down in Tennessee. It was 35 degrees and raining for the entire weekend, and we took turns running back to the car just to keep from freezing. Players, caked in mud and drenched from the rain, continued to play as if it were the World Series. Against Notre Dame, Mike dove headfirst into a pile of mud to break up a pass. He then, without hesitation, popped up and just kept running – hoping someone would pick up the disc and hit him on a deep route.
I wish we at the Daily could cover the ultimate frisbee team every week because layout deflections and picturesque catches are an everyday occurrence for the team. We have a spot in the paper just once a week to cover the 70 club teams, meaning we cover 25 of the teams just once and the other 50 don’t get any time in the paper. Throughout my last year as the Managing Sports Editor here, a half-dozen guys from the lacrosse team – one of the club varsity sports at Michigan – basically begged for some kind of coverage. Every time, I tell them that we don’t have the resources or the space in the paper to give them the kind of coverage they want – and deserve.
But all of these club sports – at least all the ones that I’ve seen – are worth a look. It’s worth paying nothing (tickets are generally free) and spending a few hours at Oosterbaan to watch a girls ultimate frisbee tournament – there was one this past weekend – and it’s worth making the trip over to Yost at midnight some Saturday to watch women’s ice hockey. If you’re looking for a competitive outlet, joining one of these 70 teams is probably the best thing you can do. And if you’re looking for entertainment sans football (especially on weekends when basketball is out of town and hockey is just playing an exhibition game), becoming a club sports fan is always an option.
– Ian Herbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.