Jordan Amanda Holden arrived at Syracuse University hoping to find her own niche on campus. The freshman international relations major never dreamed she would join a group that performed a South Asian dance called the Bhangra. Yet, at a fair showcasing club sports, Holden saw the Syracuse Orange Bhangra dancers and was hooked.
"I had never seen it before, but I saw them do the dance, and I knew I wanted in," Holden says. She tried out and made the team, joining two girls of Pakistani descent, two of Indian, one from Bangladesh and another from Singapore. Her new teammates were different from Holden's friends in her hometown of Charlotte, N.C., but being part of such a diverse group was exciting, she says.
There are countless stories like Holden's. At colleges nationwide, students from diverse racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds meet and befriend each other under the auspices of club sports. Adam Pruett, the recreational sports coordinator at the University of California, Los Angeles, says any cultural uneasiness is overcome by the students' shared passion for the particular activity.
"The students rally around the sport that they love," he says. "It's when they are playing, and then afterwards when they are spending time together, that they discover their similarities."
Ben McPolin, a student at the University of Southern California and a member of the school's marathon club, agrees. "On the team, we have students who hail from every continent, and kids from all over the United States. But we're all like-minded individuals," says the Cleveland native. "You have to be a certain level of crazy" to run a marathon.
Every Sunday, the team goes on a run of up to 22 miles. These excursions are a perfect time for bonding, McPolin says. "You get really bored if you just stay in your world for three hours. Without music and a running partner, I'd probably go nuts. We also sponsor Saturday night carbo-loading dinners, where we get together and eat massive amounts of pasta."
Like members of almost any team sport, the students involved in nontraditional club sports often say the camaraderie they develop extends beyond the playing field. Nicola Mootoo, a native of Trinidad and Tobago and a member of the Dartmouth College Cricket Club, says he's developed an interest in other countries because of his interaction with the other foreign students in the club. "We're all following the international cricket scene. So when the West Indies is playing South Africa, I'm always in touch with Chris [Scholtz, a teammate originally from South Africa]. You get to be more interested in other countries and their states of affairs."
And in the cases of cricket, Bhangra and other club sports, participation often means learning about the cultures behind the sports. Although cricket is played around the world, there is a huge British influence on the game, which Scholtz says is quickly apparent to new club members. …