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Club sports for the win
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Club sports for the win

In between classes, homework, jobs, sleeping, eating, and all the other practicalities of college life, students often seek out opportunities to connect with their peers. To accommodate for the subjective nature of “fun,” Fort Lewis College leadership tries to facilitate as many outlets as possible for the diverse student body with more than 60 student-led clubs animating campus throughout the school year. Students who crave competition can sign up for the mostly casual intramural team sports or qualify for intensely structured NCAA Division II varsity sports teams. Club sports fill the spaces between, with a more relaxed practice schedule that preps participants for collegiate competitions spanning the nation.

"We’re a vessel of fun and nothing is off-limits. Come with any idea you’ve got. I haven’t said no to anybody. It only takes three people to start a team, except for baseball; then you should come with 10."

Brandon DenHartog

Before the pandemic, Fort Lewis College supported 16 club sports teams. As students sought out spaces to play with friends, only three club sports teams resurfaced, including tennis, women’s volleyball, and men’s lacrosse. A year later, nine club sports teams fill the calendar with potential groups pitching new club ideas to Brandon DenHartog, assistant director of Recreational Services, and Corbin Gilbert, coordinator of Competitive Sports, all the time.  

“We’re a vessel of fun and nothing is off-limits,” DenHartog said. “Come with any idea you’ve got. I haven’t said no to anybody. It only takes three people to start a team, except for baseball; then you should come with 10.”

Besides the dormant Baseball Club, other teams of yore include martial arts, fencing, whitewater rafting, adventure racing, and sky diving. men’s volleyball, wrestling, and big mountain skiing are currently in the works. If a student is into a niche or extreme sport, club sports offers a way to find and build community, DenHartog added.  

Climb on

Emily Hartley, a sophomore majoring in Education, has competed in and coached climbing since high school. Last spring, she wanted to compete in a regional qualifier in Santa Fe, New Mexico and was curious how the College could support her endeavor. 

“I emailed Brandon and within a day I was in his office talking about all my hopes and dreams for a climbing club,” Hartley said. “We had a conversation and then [DenHartog and Gilbert] took it over. It didn’t take much. It was surprising to see how easy it was and how much support I would have. Last year, we had two people and now we have a whole van going to a competition.”

Mere months later, the Climbing Club roster has 30 students enlisted. Club members are asked to pay a $200 annual fee, which covers competition fees and travel costs, access to gyms and practice spaces, and coaching.

“It’s hectic working with students and telling them to pay $200, but Brandon is there to take on the administrative side and show up to all the meetings,” Hartley said. “It’s been awesome having someone who knew I wanted this to work out. And every time I compete, he and Corbin want to know how it went. I’m not alone in this process.”

This year, DenHartog is anticipating multiple national qualifiers on the climbing team and sees an opportunity to sustain the program.

“There’s an ebb and flow to club sports depending on student leadership,” DenHartog said. “The club thrives when strong leadership is there.”

To keep up the Climbing Club’s momentum beyond Hartley’s tenure at FLC, DenHartog hired a head coach and is actively looking for an assistant coach. Besides the climbing wall at the Student Life Center and a bouldering garden being constructed on campus, the Gravity Lab climbing gym recently opened in nearby Three Springs, offering an overdue asset to the Durango community and FLC students. Well-established club sports programs, like the 20+-year-old men’s lacrosse team, have a special draw for recruiting and retaining students, DenHartog added. He said that four first-year students chose FLC because of the lacrosse team. He speculated that the presence of Gravity Lab could sway prospective students into choosing FLC over other colleges.

Bucking for broncos

Vicki Tune, the team manager for the newly established Rodeo Club, also reflected that many Indigenous students choose colleges based on rodeo club teams. Her brother-cousin, Matthew Tuni, represents FLC on the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association circuit, which offers scholarships based on points accrued. Vicki Tuni wanted other students to know they could also access the joys of rodeo, so she connected with DenHartog to start FLC’s first Rodeo Club. 

While the four current Rodeo Club members receive gas money through the club sports budget to travel to the nearest rodeo competition arena, Vicki Tuni is researching how to bring bull riding, saddle bronc, and barrel racing resources to Durango. Her family organizes rodeo events across the Navajo Nation, so she’s connected with stock contractors who could bring bulls and horses to, say, the La Plata County Fairgrounds. While she works toward her degrees in Public Health and Psychology, Vicki Tuni aims to host a collegiate rodeo in Durango in the fall of 2023.

“Some people stop rodeo because a college doesn’t have it,” she said. “I just want to develop that community on campus and share knowledge about rodeo. If you’re stressed or want to clear your mind, you can step away from the dorms and campus, saddle the horse, get on it, and roam around. It’s a whole different feeling when you have that connection with an animal. It’s like therapy. I wanted other people to know they could do this, too.”

eSports ignite  

For students who aren’t into free soloing or eight-second rides, there’s an ergonomic office chair in EBH 7 with their name on it. This is the home of FLC’s Gaming Society and features monitors, computers, 10 state-of-the-art gaming systems, and the world-class support of FLC’s Information Technology team. Patrick Gaughan, manager of Campus Audiovisual Tech Services, serves as the staff advisor and lead support of the club, which launched two electronic sports club teams in partnership with Recreational Services in the fall of 2021.  

“eSports is more like the competitive gaming side of video games where you compete in tournaments and matches,” said KiAuna Tanequodle, manager of the eSports Club teams. “It’s a stress relief from school work. You can just hang out and play video games.”

A year after its inception, the eSports roster has nearly doubled in size to 31 players on nine teams, including Apex Legends, Call of Duty, League of Legends, Madden, Multiverse, Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege, Rocket League, and Super Smash Bros. These multiplayer video games are highly competitive, and players prepare and train for this “mind” sport, not unlike athletes practicing traditional sports. The International Olympic Committee is discussing the inclusion of this nearly $1 billion industry in future Olympic events.

The FLC eSports Club teams practice three times a week and compete against other colleges on the weekends. Tanequodle, or ayokeeks24 in gaming spheres, is one of four women on the eSports team. She’s a junior majoring in Marketing, a degree she hopes to apply to the eSports industry someday.

Tanequodle worked with DenHartog and Gaughan to pull together the best equipment and infrastructure for the Gaming Society and successfully host practices and tournaments for the trending campus sport. Last year, they were awarded the Registered Student Organization Collaboration of the Year Award for their work orchestrating an end-of-year tournament. Students and community members can cheer on and support the teams at EBH 7 or follow @esports_flc on Instagram or on Twitch at fortlewisgamingsociety. She added that new players are invited to try out for teams throughout the school year.

“I love working with student leaders and helping them act and expand on the things they’re passionate about,” DenHartog said. “Club sports are where students can meet their lifelong best friends or create those lasting college memories. It’s just fun.”

To join an existing club sports team or launch a new club, visit fortlewis.edu/clubsports, email competitivesports@fortlewis.edu, or stop by the Student Life Center to connect with DenHartog or Gilbert.

 

Editor’s note:

Thanks to alumnus and Fort Report reader Fred Resler (Physical Education, ’71), we learned Fort Lewis A&M had a Rodeo Club from 1940 until 1965. Resler was a member of the 1964-65 Rodeo Club and recalled competing at junior colleges around the state.

According to the Center of Southwest Studies, “The Rodeo Club was organized in 1949 in order to provide recreation for those students who were interested in the rough and tumble sport of tangling with bucking broncos and mean-eyed steers.”

Resler, who rode bareback, said he got kicked in the head by a horse once and stepped on by a bull but he’ll never forget the rush.

“Some people like to watch football, but I like the rodeo. At the time, you don’t think about getting hurt. You just think you can do it and you want to find it if you really can. It’s an experience that’s still there in my mind.”

 

 

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