Web Exclusives: From the P-Nut Gallery
a column by Nate Sellwyn nsellyn@princeton.edu

November 6, 2002:

Playing the field
Club sports at PU run the gamut from horses to hoops

First of all, thanks very much to those who responded to my plea for emails last week. These wonderful few were, in order:

- My mum

- Me, testing out my e-mail address.

So again, please, if you are not a member of my immediate family, e-mail me!

This week let’s take a look at club sports.

For those in the dark, club sports at Princeton operate at a skill level somewhere below varsity, but above intramural.

Club sports teams play intercollegiate matches, hold try-outs, and sometimes win championships. Club teams exist where there are varsity teams and also where there are none. Still unclear?

There are four levels to men's basketball, for example. PU has a varsity team. You can see it on TV, you can see it in Jadwin. There is also a junior varsity team, actually a B-team for varsity, where players with potential can be developed. The JV team plays other JV teams, and also varsity teams from smaller schools. Then there is the club team, which holds tryouts in the fall, and enters itself in various leagues and tournaments. The club team, unlike the other two, is entirely student organized and managed. And, finally there are intramurals, which pit teams of Princeton students against one another.

My own club experience is — surprise! — not what I thought it would be. Freshman year, I had a burning desire to continue playing basketball, which I had done in high school. Despite being only a few months removed from a close encounter with the NBA Draft, I was not naive enough to think I could play basketball for Princeton at the varsity level. Or the junior varsity level. What I needed, I figured, was intercollegiate competition at a non-threatening skill level. Enter club basketball, right? Well, my try-out for the team went something like this:

Dillon gym, a Tuesday night. Three of four courts are filled by hoopsters, all of impressive size and athletic ability. None appear to be having problems with their contact lenses drying out, and none have a build sometimes described as 'pathetic' or 'fragile.' Except one!

Strapping, athletic captain of club basketball team: Lay-ups! Get into lines, get warmed up!

Nate Sellyn, in a tone that can only be described as gleeful: All right, guys! Let's get it on!

Lay-up lines fill out, and everyone begins a simple drill in which players approach the basket one at a time and toss the ball in. Except, of course, the four superhumans in front of our hero, who all perform very credible Darryl Dawkins impressions. One player even placed his leg above the rim before launching into the 'Chocolate Thunder Flying,Robinzine Crying, Teeth Shaking, Glass Breaking, Rump Roasting, Bun Toasting, Wham Bam, Glass Breaker I Am Jam.' He is followed by our gallant hero, who tosses the ball in with his left hand, and then continues running toward the door.)

Athletic captain: Hey, little guy! Come back! Dude! Wait! Are you crying?Back to the success stories. Princeton club teams often perform feats that are as great as those of their varsity counterparts. Some teams are even legendary among the student body for their accomplishments.

The women's rugby team is perhaps most well-known of all — the squad won the national championship in 1995 and 1996, and returned to the finals in 1999 and 2000. In 2001, they placed third.

Tyler Wren '03, of the cycling team, picked up his fourth national championship tin October, in New Mexico ( For a fantastic history on this gang, check out Kate Swearengen's article.).

Other consistent achievers include the men's and women's ski teams, the men's rugby team, and the equestrian team.

Club sports are also where many of the university's more eccentric athletic pursuits find a home.

Ultimate Frisbee? A serious group with serious websites (www.princeton.edu/~clockwrk/ and www.princeton.edu/~ultimate/), these teams refer to themselves as 'Clockwork Orange.'

Ballroom dancing? If it's a sport at the Olympics, it should certainly be varsity.

Sailing? Although one might think it should be Princeton's flagship sport, this is also a club endeavor.

Martial arts? Club sports has three: karate, aikido, shotokan karate.

So club sports, without question, play a positive role at the university. The question is, are they appreciated? Sean Dowling ’04 examined this issue in a paper last year, showcasing how club sports often suffer from financial concerns. President Shapiro was a great supporter of club sports "Shapiro had an open-door policy regarding funding for club sports teams," Dowling wrote, "and the rumor among students suggested that a captain could walk into his office and emerge 10 minutes later with a blank check." Thus when a team suddenly found itself in a position to compete for a national title, it could count on Shap to pay its way to the host city.

President Tilghman handles things differently. She placed $15,000 from the President’s Fund under the control of the club sports office. Teams that need money in a pinch would find a closed door at Nassau Hall. Dowling says that "...with 38 teams to fund, $15,000 can stretch mighty thin. The rugby team’s trip to Orlando for the Final Four [in 2001] required $10,000.”

To receive any funds from the club sports board, a team must draft a proposal more than a month in advance, meticulously detailing all expenses. So, what happens, then, when a team suddenly finds itself successful and didn’t put in for travel money in enough time to get to the championships? Sudden success looks like sudden death. Should underdog teams not receive money because they didn't plan on being great?

Many club sports turn to alumni or sponsorship deals. The cycling team, for example, has a number of sponsors, including Mercury Automotive and Fuji Bicycles. What happens to new teams, however, that can't find sponsors?

Club sports, in my opinion, deserve more than they are getting. The President's Fund should be increased. The university should give them more coverage on the fficial athletic website.

And, most important, someone should put me on the men's basketball team, no questions asked. What do you think?


You can reach Nate at nsellyn@Princeton.EDU