April 24, 2023

For the love of the game: Competitive clubs thrive at UCalgary

Competitive club sports offer student-athletes another route to playing at a high level while pursuing education. Giving Day helps ease the financial burden
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith. Michael Boyles

March signals the end of many sports seasons at the University of Calgary. Basketball, hockey and volleyball all come to a close as spring begins; however, some athletes on campus are just gearing up for the beginning of their seasons. While most students are holed away in the depths of their dorms studying for finals, members of the Dinos baseball team are on the road each weekend, playing four and sometimes five games over two days.

The Dinos baseball team is one of many competitive club sports offered at UCalgary, a list that is constantly growing and also includes artistic swimming, fastball, rowing, skiing, ringette, rugby, and tennis.

What is the difference between a varsity sport and a competitive club sport?

All varsity student-athletes at UCalgary compete in Canada West, one of four conferences within U SPORTS, the national governing body of university sport in Canada. U SPORTS ensures certain standards and regulations are maintained across the country in 12 different sports, but university athletic programs have the autonomy to offer opportunities for student-athletes to compete in other sports.

Competitive clubs allow student-athletes to continue to play their sport at a high level while they pursue their education. Some competitive club teams compete against rival universities in leagues outside of Canada West, while others are part of city circuits and challenge local community teams.

The benefits of playing on a competitive club team are the same as a varsity team. Dinos student-athletes develop essential life skills by balancing busy practice and competition schedules with their commitments in the classroom. Along with building lifelong friendships with teammates, they establish strong networks that set them up for success once they graduate.

Not all are UCalgary students

“It has been an awesome experience,” says fifth-year infielder Marcus Coddere. “It’s been a great way to make new friends and it’s a great way to continue playing the sport I love.”

This sentiment is echoed by others on the team, including second-year all-star pitcher Ethan Webster.

It is a really good environment, not only do you build friendships, but you also build lifelong bonds with those around you.

“It’s an honour to represent the university and go out to play hard for my friends and the coaching staff.”

Another interesting dynamic with competitive clubs is that not all student-athletes attend UCalgary. While they must attend a college or university, a student-athlete from another institution could compete on a Dinos club team.

The Canadian College Baseball Conference (CCBC) allows players attending institutions in Calgary — including Mount Royal University (MRU), the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), and even Athabasca University — to represent the Dinos. It is a unique situation that allows student-athletes to pursue their program of choice without sacrificing their love for the game.

“It’s a weird dynamic on campus. Especially because our schools are such big rivals in other sports, but it’s pretty cool having the opportunity to represent both schools,” says third-year relief pitcher Wyatt Rogi, who attends Mount Royal University.

“Right now, there are about nine of us at MRU and most of us take classes together and work out together on campus. I’m proud to represent the Dinos as a part of this team and be a part of this great group we have here.”

“We’re a family here, we got a really tight knit group,” adds senior outfielder Kalli Einarson. “The coaching staff is committed to us, they’re here for us whenever we need it and it is a very professional environment, much like a varsity program.”

Common barrier: finances

The most common barrier that stops student-athletes from continuing their sport in university is financial constraints. The cost to play a sport like baseball, for example, can run from $3,500 to $4,000 annually, but fundraising campaigns like UCalgary Giving Day — on now until April 27 — can help ease the burden.

“Some people don’t know that club athletics are player funded,” explains Dinos baseball head coach Cam Williams. “We try to differentiate between player funded and pay-to-play. It’s still a competitive program and that’s one of the biggest things I wanted to establish.”

Williams was a student-athlete on the Dinos baseball team for four seasons before taking over as the head coach in 2020. Last season, he led the Dinos to a program-best 17-win season and a third-place finish in the CCBC. His experience as a club student-athlete has allowed Williams to relate to his players and develop strong relationships with recruits.

You’re paying to be a part of the program, everything else still must be earned and I communicate that to the players during the recruiting process.

Leadership within the Dinos baseball program continues to grow thanks to the Player Leadership Group. Made up of veteran student-athletes, voted in by their peers, this group is elected each year to communicate with both the coaching staff and university and represent the team’s interests.

Jordan Smith is a recent alumnus of the program and has graduated into a role on the team’s coaching staff. Including seasons interrupted by COVID-19, Smith spent parts of seven seasons pitching for the Dinos and understands the value of competitive clubs at UCalgary on the student experience.

“It was my best baseball experience. For the past three, or four years it's been a true family. I can get pretty emotional talking about it.

“The Dinos are the most important program I’ve ever been a part of and I’m excited to be a part of the future.”

UCalgary Giving Day is April 27. Whether you support student awards, critical research or any one of UCalgary’s innovative funds, your gift will help change lives and shape the future. All eligible gifts made from April 1-27 will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $2,500 per gift — but only while matching funds last. Make your gift today at ucalgary.ca/givingday.