When many hear of school clubs, their minds often go to after-school activities, such as glee or even theater. Step on a college campus, though, and these clubs become a lot more in depth.
Collegiate clubs are filled with bureaucracy and fueled by funding. This is particularly seen best with sports teams that don’t have varsity status. Students at many southern schools have created club hockey teams, as nearly none of the region’s institutions sponsor the sport at the NCAA level.
This has led to a boom in hockey’s growth in the South. Heck, the University of North Carolina and NC State University’s club teams just packed 25,000 fans into Carter-Finley Stadium to watch a game that took place on the ice leftover from this year’s NHL Winter Classic.
Figures like these may lead one to believe that there is money to burn for these teams, but this simply isn’t the case. Many of these clubs, particularly ones without an established foundation, struggle to stay afloat and have to fight for every dollar.
One example of students taking a risk with this can be found at the University of North Florida. Starting months ago in 2022, a small group of hockey lovers on campus – led by club president Joey Eichler – set out to make their dream a reality.
Flash forward to January 2023 and the team had done it: they played their first game. They may be starting out playing in a recreational league, but this doesn’t eliminate the financial troubles that come hand-in-hand with the sport.
This particular team doesn’t receive funding from the University, leading to the players themselves shouldering much of the price tag.
“To compensate for hockey’s inherent cost, we’re collecting dues from the players and also working with other local businesses to try and get fundraising,” club treasurer Zach Clemens explained.
Just practicing for an hour at their local rink sets them back $300. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been well worth it for the club’s leaders as they can now compete and optimistically look forward to joining College Hockey South, a competitive league of other collegiate clubs in the region.
“We’ve been putting a ton of work in all the time for the past eight months at this point,” Eichler said. “It’s really cool to finally start playing games.”
As the club continues to grow, picking up sponsorships and other sources of funding will come easier. However, it’s still no walk – or rather skate – in the park.
When added to the stress of being a full-time student, club sports can be an uphill climb for these visionaries. To help grow the sport they love, though, the hard work is merely the icing on the cake.
Number 70 out on the rink. Photo by Riley Platt
UNF Hockey club players. Photo by Riley Platt
Story by Riley Platt