TRAVERSE CITY — Northwestern Michigan College is heading back into the field of team sports after a nearly 40-year hiatus.
NMC’s club soccer team already has played nine games this season.
The club team has been a quiet endeavor. It hasn’t attracted huge crowds or media buzz, but it’s providing a level of competition NMC missed, said J.J. Breithaupt, who captains the team.
Breithaupt was co-captain of the West Senior High School soccer team his senior year. He enrolled at NMC after he graduated in 2012 and wanted to continue playing competitive soccer. But he discovered NMC offered only intramural sports, a program adopted after men’s varsity sports teams and women’s cheerleading were disbanded in 1978 when Title IX was implemented.
“I’ve been playing year-round since I was five years old, and I couldn’t see myself not playing,” he said.
Breithaupt talked about the idea of starting a soccer club with Don Cunningham, director of NMC’s University Center and a lifelong soccer player who coached a Traverse Bay Area Youth soccer spring Under-18 team. Students transitioning from high school to NMC wanted something more, Cunningham said.
“We often hear from students there’s nothing athletically to do here,” Cunningham said. “Think about it. For years mom and dad took them in a van from game to game. Now they’re out of high school, and they still want to play competitively.”
Cunningham helped organize four games in fall 2012, and the Student Government Association agreed to help with expenses such as travel and jerseys — about $1,000 each year. Breithaupt is the team co-captain with Charley Needham.
NMC has no formal soccer practices — Cunningham handpicks the best students who drop in at the twice-a-week intramural practices, usually young men, sometimes a woman or two.
For matches, Cunningham calls colleges around the state, and there are a lot from which to choose. Nearly all four-year colleges have a club or junior varsity team and they’re looking for games to keep their players sharp. Twenty-one of 28 community colleges have varsity or club sports, while most Michigan’s four-year colleges and universities host varsity and/or club sports, and belong to the Midwest Soccer Alliance, the club-level conference.
The four-year schools typically take their club sports seriously; competition to play is stiff, fees are higher than NMC’s $5 per game, and practice times more structured. Some give out scholarships to players. NMC recently fell hard, 5-0, to the Grand Valley State University club team, which has qualified for the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association Regional Championship, Cunningham said.
Cunningham volunteers as a club adviser, coach and travel coordinator. He hopes to build an infrastructure at NMC for club sports, perhaps expanding the role of the person who runs the intramural and open recreation programs.
Cunningham extolls the benefits of club sports: stress relief for students and a marketing tool for NMC. The away games give NMC students a chance to check out universities and a chance to be checked out by their coaches.
“The Grand Valley state coach is trying to make contact with one of our players. He really likes how he plays,” he said.
If there’s a robust response to club sports, NMC could consider a step-up to varsity sports. But it would mean more rules; students must be enrolled for a minimum number of hours, for example, and compliance with Title IX, Cunningham said.
“It’s worth it,” Cunningham said. “If you put a requirement that a student has to take nine or 10 credits to play a sport, they’ll complete their degree instead of taking one class because they want to play. Ultimately, our role is to help students finish a degree.”