By J. Harvard Feldhouse
Animosity festered last year between Youngstown State University’s Campus Recreation and club sports administration and the students involved in club sports.
Students and administration could not come to an agreement about policies surrounding the payment of coaches for certain clubs, and a lack of leadership in club sports made communication and general operations difficult for all involved.
This year, however, it appears club sports students and administration are working together to create an experience that works for both sides.
Last year, campus recreation was able to pay $1,000 per year to nonstudent coaches of club sports considered “high-risk,” according to a Dec. 20, 2018, Jambar article titled, “Club Sports Debate Priorities.” The term high risk means injuries occur more frequently and tend to be more severe by nature of a sport’s gameplay. Men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s soccer, ice hockey and women’s rugby make this list.
However, many within club sports, such as Ricky Koewacich, former men’s lacrosse president and YSU mechanical engineering graduate, thought $1,000 wasn’t enough to draw coaches in.
“It’s money, time and the lack thereof,” Koewacich said in the December Jambar article. “When you’re only offering $1,000 a year, it’s really difficult to find someone who’s going to dedicate the time.”
If a club sport wants to pay its coaches more, it would have to acquire money through other means.
Campus Recreation understood the frustration expressed by club sports members, but it considered coach payment a secondary priority to ensuring the safety and well-being of their student-athletes.
“If I had a choice in the funding, I’m always going to look at risk management and safety of our players, and then move along the line in priorities for what our clubs need,” Joy Polkabla Byers, director of Campus Recreation, said in the article.
YSU Campus Recreation and club sports players differed on how to ensure the safety of players when interviewed in December 2018. Players believed having professionals teach proper techniques was the answer, while Campus Recreation believed implementing more extensive safety protocols was a better alternative.
These disagreements occurred amid a transitional period for campus recreation. Club sports usually has a coordinator to help facilitate discussions between students and administrators and negotiate practice schedules with YSU athletics and YSU facilities.
Until Domonique Sak, the new coordinator of club sports and summer camps, was hired in the late spring 2019 semester, club sports players felt unguided.
A Budgetless Budget
The club sports program has an operating budget of $113,402, according to the YSU fiscal year 2019 operating budget.
As well as paying the coordinator and graduate assistants’ salaries, this budget pays coaches in the high-risk clubs, pays student practice monitors and provides scholarships for select incoming freshmen players, as well as covers office supplies and other necessities.
However, there is no general fund or budget dispersed to each of the club sports like that of some other universities, such as Xavier University
This year, high-risk club sports’ coaches aren’t paid a $1,000 stipend. Rather, they are paid for three hours each week at a rate above minimum wage, according to Sak. For coaches of low-risk club sports — clubs in which injury is unlikely or minimal — they are not paid because the sport is low risk.
Joe Laughlin, a club sports graduate assistant, came to YSU from Xavier. He said he was surprised the university had no budget for club sports.
He said Xavier had a university-appropriated club sports budget, but insisted there are pros and cons to both YSU and Xavier’s models.
“Money equals engagement, right?” Laughlin said. “So, with more money that gives [club sports] more possibilities to create and do more things. It’s already built in there for them, so they don’t have to go create it themselves.”
“Now, the downside to that is that it’s given to them, so they don’t really have to show much initiative towards charging dues and having fundraising events. Whereas here, we survive off that,” Laughlin added.
Even if YSU had a general fund for club sports, Sak said money would be given to the clubs themselves, not to coaches’ salaries.
At YSU, if club sports teams want to have extra money to pay for coaches, they must either charge dues, raise funds or vie for appropriations from the Student Government Association.
SGA appropriates 3% of its budget to each club, according to Mark Slavens, vice president of financial affairs for SGA and senior biology pre-veterinary major. For 2019, that’s a little more than $4,600 per club.
However, clubs cannot apply for all that money at once, nor are they guaranteed that SGA will award money for the purpose of paying a coach. As a result, club sports may either rely on multiple revenue sources or forgo paying a coach, opting for a volunteer willing to coach for free.
While the YSU club sports program and Campus Recreation know that this is a frustrating topic for some of the club sports members, they are working to provide other programs and services clubs should find helpful.
Creating a Club Sports Culture
Byers, Sak and Laughlin have worked together to make changes to the club sports program that focuses on culture and is student focused. They want to promote club sports autonomy, well-rounded safety protocols, community engagement and professional development.
Byers said she wants to steer club sports away from coaches that take an administrative role as they have in the past, preferring the students to take that role and let the coaches simply coach.
“We have a coaches’ contract that [says] the coach’s job is to coach the players, it is not to run the club,” Byers said. “Domonique has been working hard these past six months to establish the coaches’ role versus student-leadership role. I think sometimes that gets a little interwoven; we have to work on making sure that the students are always involved in decisions.”
“We want the students and student leaders by the time they graduate from [YSU] to have a good foundation for leadership, fundraising and community service,” Sak said. “We hope that this makes them better humans when they leave out the door.”
Club sports created a Club Sports Council and is working to develop a tiered system to track club engagement.
The Club Sports Council is a club that advocates on behalf of the club sports in the council while encouraging its member clubs to follow procedures to ensure efficiency.
“With the Club Sports Council, we meet on a monthly basis,” Sak said. “We talk about professional development. We promote student autonomy [within] the Club Sports Council. If there are changes that should be made with the program, we allow the students to voice their opinions in the council meetings.”
At the meetings, each club sport must have two representatives present, who are usually executive board members. The council also has its own executive board who represents the clubs and their interests directly to the club sports and Campus Recreation administration.
“Right now, Joe and I are leading those meetings. But eventually, we want the executive board to lead those meetings because it’s student-driven, staff-facilitated and we want more student autonomy within our program,” Sak said.
According to Sak, the quality that sets varsity athletics apart from club athletics is self-actualization, and she wants club sports players to appreciate that.
From Deprecation to Appreciation
The men’s lacrosse club was one of club sports’ primary critics last year. This year, however, the club seems to support the direction it is headed in.
Mark McKenzie, senior physics and astronomy major and current men’s lacrosse president, believes having a dedicated club sports program coordinator has made a significant difference from prior years.
“I think the rules on paperwork and what has to be done in order to be able to practice has definitely helped with not only the organization of clubs but also for the safety,” McKenzie said. “It’s still a little up in the air how all the rules and standards and policies and everything like that [work], but it’s definitely [making] a lot more sense. A lot more things are set in line for what needs to be done.”
McKenzie is also the president of the Club Sports Council, working directly with Byers, Sak and Laughlin on helping progress the club sports program.
“I get to start up decisions made for club sports as the executive board,” McKenzie said. “We can kind of decide if we want a club, a new club, to be able to join within club sports or if we don’t think they’re ready yet. We have the power to [decline their request].”
While the council can make improvements, McKenzie has been patient with Sak and Laughlin because the council is only in its infancy.
“I know Dominique and Joe are taking this from what they’ve done when they were in college and in club sports and stuff like that,” he said. “So, they’re trying to kind of push that concept to YSU. Right now, we’re still in the process of figuring out what’s best for YSU and what procedures work best to kind of fit the needs of the clubs here.”
McKenzie is optimistic about the future of club sports, and he plans to work hard to help build a stable foundation for the program.
“I think this year is a lot different than the past couple years,” McKenzie said. “We still are in that growing process as clubs, and I think soon we’ll have something that will fit the majority of all club sports’ needs.”