Club Soccer Receives Official Okay to Play
Issue   |   Wed, 02/20/2013 - 01:11
Photo courtesy of Eli Harris ’15
Despite not having formal recognition from the College, the Club Soccer Team had a successful fall season.

Clarification: According AAS President Tania Dias '13, "Club soccer was not officially recognized during a AAS meeting two weeks ago. Senators motioned to fund the women's team, as a symbolic gesture agreeing with Club Soccer. This did not constitute official status to Club Soccer, but was instead an AAS gesture towards supporting the Club Soccer students. It was only two days later, after Suzanne Coffey and I met to discuss the current impasse, did we work things out, and come to an agreement."

After months of talks with the administration, the Amherst College club soccer team officially became recognized as an official club sports team during an Association of Amherst Students (AAS) meeting two weeks ago. The Senate voted to overturn a policy that does not permit a club team to exist if it has a corresponding varsity team and allotted club soccer AAS money. However, more work still needs to be done. The team still needs to address issues including transportation, scheduling of home games, medical agreements and allotment of finances. However, these issues are being dealt with, as policies for club teams will be revisited during a meeting between club sports representatives and administrators from the Athletics Department.

“It’s time to rethink the policy for the needs of today: students want to experience a level of play not unlike what they had in high school,” Director of Athletics Suzanne Coffey said.

While the future of Amherst club soccer appears bright, the journey that led to this current state has been long and at times difficult. President of the Amherst club soccer team Eli Harris ’15 came up with the idea for a club soccer team towards the end of last school year, and has been ceaselessly trying, along with partners Eric Steinbrook ’15 and Griff Freeman ’15, to make soccer an officially recognized club sport since. After facing difficulties cooperating directly with the Athletics Administration, Harris decided to try a different approach to getting recognized by the school. At the beginning of this semester, Harris got in contact with Senator member John Yarchoan ’13 to try to get the AAS to provide funding for club soccer. Yarchoan had first heard about the attempts to create an official club soccer team over the summer through Steinbrook and was “sympathetic to their problem.” Yarchoan, who also is a captain of the Amherst Ultimate Frisbee team, knows firsthand the difficulties club teams can face when dealing with the athletic administration.

“Club sports face the dual problem of a lack of resources and a hierarchy in which varsity sports are at will to do pretty much whatever they want in regard to field space,” Yarchoan said. “I don’t think that the athletic department wanted to have another club program under their wing that would vie for already minimal resources.”

Yarchoan helped set up a Senate meeting to discuss the possibility of the College recognizing Amherst club soccer as an official club sport as well as giving funding to the club through the AAS. Present at the meeting were Harris, Steinbrook, Freeman, Coffey and Assistant Athletic Director Billy McBride, who is the head of club sports. In addition to these people some members from the varsity soccer team were present to support club soccer. At the meeting McBride and Coffey presented several arguments against official recognition of a club sport. The main argument was that a club team cannot exist if there is a varsity team of the same sport. According to Coffey this rule is in place because of space constraints, partially due to the existence of both varsity and IM soccer. However, the administrators could not “produce this rule,” according to Yarchoan.

“Tierney [Werner] ’16 tried for an hour to find it on the website and couldn’t do it,” said AAS Vice President George Tepe ’14.

Another argument brought up against club soccer was the lack of resources the athletics department has, namely money and field space. However, club soccer would be receiving the majority of its funding from the AAS, not the Athletics Department. In terms of playing space, once construction on Pratt Field is finished there will be two new turf fields that club soccer can use. Given these responses to the arguments brought up against club soccer, the Senate voted to overturn the Athletic Department’s decision to not allow official recognition of club soccer.

“They kept on saying there were many ‘layers’ to their argument against it, but when each of these ‘layers’ were picked apart and disproven there wasn’t really a coherent argument for why club soccer cannot be an AAS-recognized group that can apply for and receive funding,” Yarchoan said.

While by no means a finished project, it was a victory for Harris, Steinbrook, and Freeman, who had been trying for many months to get club soccer officially recognized. The seedlings for the team were planted during last school year’s varsity soccer tryouts.

“I tried out for varsity soccer at the beginning of my freshman year. I was the captain of my team in high school, so I expected to just walk on. I didn’t realize how competitive it was on the D3 level though,” Harris said. “I was pretty bummed. Soccer had been a big part of my identity.”

Harris participated in other club sports during his first year but was left unsatisfied. Towards the end of the year he had the idea to create a club soccer team.

“I talked about it to Eric Steinbrook, a friend of mine who was also cut from the varsity team, and he liked the idea too,” Harris said.

Harris also contacted Freeman about his idea and found more interest.

Harris, Steinbrook and Freeman started the process of trying to make the club team a reality in May. They first contacted Justin Serpone, coach of the men’s varsity soccer program. They sent him a proposal for a club soccer program and Serpone “gave his full support,” according to Harris. Serpone, however, was unfamiliar with the procedure of creating a club team and put Harris in contact with McBride. McBride, however, said that there was a policy in place that could not be circumvented, namely that a club team cannot exist if there is a corresponding varsity team. Repeated attempts to get around the policy throughout the summer were unfruitful.

In the fall Harris, Steinbrook and Freeman “made a collective decision to move forward formulating a soccer team entirely independent of the College, with no affiliation whatsoever.” They organized tryouts during the first week of school. Forty-five students came to the first meeting, and 43 of those 45 returned for the first practice. The team, going by the name Amherst FC, registered independently in the NIRSA ROCCSL Fall League after explaining their unique situation to the league director. Despite having to organize everything, including practice space, transportation, uniforms and scheduling without the help of the school, Amherst FC had a successful first fall season, going 2-2-2.

Throughout this season Harris, Steinbrook and Freeman continued to pursue efforts to become recognized as an official club sport. They held several meetings with Dean of Student Activities Hannah Fatemi, McBride, Coffey and Facilities Coordinator Don Faulstick. However, further roadblocks appeared. The administrators said that they did not want the club organizing as a group of Amherst students, whether officially recognized by the school or not.

After receiving this news, Harris tried to appeal to President Biddy Martin. After weeks of no response, Harris received an email saying that President Martin had declined their request to meet. Despite this disappointing news, they decided to continue to move forward independently, registering for both the Northampton Men’s Open Indoor Winter League and the NIRSA ROCCSL Spring League.

It was at about this time that Harris came into contact with the Senate and was able to see his vision begin to be realized.
“We are moving forward for sure, and I am very excited,” Harris said.

“In the spirit of cooperation, we’re going to figure out how to meet the needs of students who want to play soccer,” Coffey said. “Soccer is a sport enjoyed by many students at Amherst who played either recreationally or at the varsity level as high school students, and I would really like to see them continue to play here at whatever level suits them.”

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/20/2013 - 03:10

A good story, showing the perseverance of a student group against what sounds like a frustrating and uncooperative athletics department. Why the change of tune, Suzanne Coffey? Is it because the student body called you out on making up rules?