Readers of The Post were likely surprised to pick up the newspaper in late May and stumble upon a story about the men’s Ultimate Frisbee team.
As one of Ohio University’s more than 30 club sports teams, the men’s Ultimate squad doesn’t often enjoy much press from the different media outlets around Athens and on campus. In this instance, the team was the beneficiary of some recognition for its participation in a prestigious postseason tournament in Boulder, Colo.
The Post, a student-run newspaper that operates in Baker Center, covers university sports more intensely than any other local news organization, but even it generally overlooks the wide-ranging world of club sports, something that doesn’t always sit well with the athletes involved.
“Our primary focus is on varsity sports,” said Michael Stainbrook, the paper’s sports editor. “It’s most relevant, I think, to the student experience here. … A lot of it has to do with school spirit, and just general interest.
“I would say that club sports is probably a half-step to a step below varsity sports, just because you might not necessarily be as much of a representative of the university. You’re not on scholarship. You try out for the team. You practice on your own time. There’s just sort of a different culture around it, and that requires a bit of a different coverage.”
In addition, because varsity athletes are more likely to promote the school on television and benefit from General Fee money — which every OU student pays into as part of tuition — their actions both on the field and off deserve a heightened level of scrutiny, Stainbrook said.
That’s part of why varsity sports such as field hockey in the fall and baseball in the spring are the subjects of individual beats at The Post, and club sports such as fencing and gymnastics are not.
What about hockey?
The exception to Stainbrook’s general philosophy of sports coverage is men’s ice hockey. It is not a varsity sport, but it is handled as such inside The Post’s newsroom.
The sports editor said that a poll was conducted earlier this year, the results of which indicated that hockey is one of the more popular sports on campus — trailing favorites such as varsity sports football and men’s basketball — regardless of its stature as a non-varsity sport.
“Our hockey squad is, consistently, the most exciting athletic program at OU,” said Wesley Lowery, editor-in-chief of The Post. “Our coverage is reflective of that.”
The hockey team has won four ACHA national championships, and its games at Bird Arena regularly sell out during the winter. This despite the fact that every other university sporting event is free to OU students.
And while it might seem that members of other club teams would begrudge the hockey squad for receiving so much attention from The Post, the opposite is true.
“The hockey team is definitely further along than we are,” said Harrison Hess, a captain on the men’s lacrosse team. “That’s kind of where we hope to get.”
What about high school sports coverage?
Hess doesn’t harbor any hard feelings regarding The Post’s decision in 2010 to cover high school sports, either. He understands how the paper fits into the community and even compared it to his own local paper back home.
But just because he isn’t bothered by The Post’s coverage of high school sports doesn’t mean the same goes for other club sports athletes, many of whom think the student-run newspaper has no business forgoing reporting on university-affiliated events and organizations to focus on Athens preps.
“The Post is the independent voice for students, but it’s not a student newspaper. It is a professional newspaper staffed by students,” Lowery said. “Our goal is to be the go-to source for news in Athens County.
“If you’re asking me to say what’s more newsworthy, the Nelsonville-Athens football game this fall — which some would argue was the biggest sporting event Athens County has seen in years — or the club fencing team’s weekend match at Bowling Green, it’s a really easy choice.”
Speaking of faraway club sports events, Stainbrook pointed to that as a reason the different club teams don’t receive more coverage. It’s difficult for writers to report on events they didn’t attend, but Stainbrook feels the extra effort is more worth it when it comes to varsity sports at OU.
In discussing his staff’s local high school coverage, Stainbrook spoke at length about its value to the community and its usefulness to his writers from an experience standpoint.
“It makes more sense to cover high school sports than club sports,” the sports editor said. “When you get a job at a larger newspaper, you’re going to be covering high school sports, you’re going to be covering college sports — varsity college sports — and you’re going to be covering pro sports. Those are pretty much your three main levels of coverage there.”
What do other club sports athletes think?
In talking to other OU students involved with club sports about the way their teams and games are covered by The Post, it becomes clear that what they want is simply more attention.
“Because it’s a club sport, people kind of downplay it as a bunch of people who weren’t good enough to make it to the next level,” Hess said. “But in reality, a lot of people are good enough, and were being recruited.”
Hess thinks club sports deserve more recognition, as does Kevin Kretz of the club wrestling team and Mara Optiz of the club women’s volleyball team.
Even Michael Bendokaitis, whose club rugby squad was the subject of several articles by The Post in the fall, said he’d like to see his team’s scores listed in the paper each week. And Tim Smoot, of the fencing unit, offered two more suggestions for improved club sports coverage by the paper.
“First, I would have someone specifically assigned to club sports,” Smoot said. “Perhaps a dedicated weekly column?
“Second, and arguably more important, is fact checking. This is not just an issue with The Post — it is an issue with nearly every student publication I’ve seen come out of the journalism school. Every time a group I am involved with or know at least something about is mentioned in an article, there is a misunderstanding between the interviewer and the interviewee.”
Of course, student reporters are bound to make mistakes, especially those with less experience, who Stainbrook said are more likely to cover club sports.
He also emphasized how finite the resources of the paper are. If there were unlimited space on the pages, unlimited hours in the day and unlimited writers on the staff, he and his fellow student journalists could do a lot more.
“Club sports is worth covering. We’re not purposefully ignoring club sports,” Stainbrook said. “If we ran out of options for our writers to write about, we would have them write about club sports.
“We’d cover ant races going down Court Street if we had the time.”