New club sport paves way for student success
Taking home and washing dirty uniforms, sweeping gym floors, and running scoreboards were definitely not a part of Christina O’Brien’s job description a few months ago. These duties would ordinarily be associated with an athletics assistant.
Nevertheless, O’Brien, the director of Student Life at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast, has become a jack-of-all-trades since the College recently initiated club sports, beginning with a basketball team—the Ivy Tech Titans.
The idea of club sports at Ivy Tech Northeast started around four years ago when the College expanded and added a North Campus, which came with a gymnasium.
“I was imagining everything from indoor soccer to people just going in there stretching, or doing body-weight exercises,” O’Brien says, “but what it (the gymnasium) really became was students in there playing basketball constantly.”
During those years, Ivy Tech Northeast participated in intramural leagues and various basketball tournaments, but never anything outside of these parameters due to funding issues. That changed last September when O’Brien was able to reassign some student activities funding and, with the help of various faculty and staff members, the College officially entered the world of club sports.
O’Brien shares it was a crazy couple of months getting everything to come together, but nevertheless, she was able to organize a tryout and hire Ron Lewis, the director of TRIO at the University of St. Francis, as the head basketball coach.
“Ron is very passionate about the development of the students as professionals and not just as athletes,” O’Brien says.
With O’Brien’s help, Lewis jumped in and started making phone calls, sending emails, and pulling together a team and a schedule. With a 20-game schedule against other area club teams on the books, the Titans officially launched their inaugural season on Jan. 3.
“The next piece of logistics was the quality of the kids,” Lewis says. “Did I have good student-athletes, and were they going to be up to the challenge of playing intercollegiate basketball?”
For what the team accomplished during the season—given the few weeks the members had time to gel as a team—Lewis and O’Brien couldn’t be happier with the way the season turned out, despite going 4–16 on the season.
The team’s showcase of camaraderie, ambition, and persistence throughout the season certainly has the potential to yield good things at Ivy Tech Northeast, both in terms of on- and off-the-court expansion. The main goal is to keep more students enrolled and graduating.
“Some of these students are going to build relationships with their coach, and they’re also going to have to keep their grades up because the coach says you don’t get to play otherwise,” O’Brien says. “Athletics as a whole is going to be that retention tool.”
In time, Lewis and O’Brien say they envision moving beyond club-sports status and potentially into a college-level athletics association.
“Right now, you have students playing at home in front of friends and family,” Lewis says. “This changes the landscape. This gives our student-athletes another opportunity to live out their dreams of playing collegiate basketball, and what better place to do that than Ivy Tech?”
As the Titans basketball team wound down its debut season in early March, the College began exploring the possibility of adding both baseball and track to its club sports roster for either later this year or in 2016.