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Michigan State club sports give students relief from online school life

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MSU Club Volleyball Team
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Urvil Patel (10) and his teammates lineup in the front row before the serve during the 2021 Hardwood Classic.

We’re all sick of being on Zoom for work and school. Some MSU students have found the perfect escape from pandemic life - participating in club sports.

Students attend a place like Michigan State to get the college experience of meeting new people and finding their place in the world. But the COVID-19 pandemic took away a lot of that in-person experience.

Spring semester classes started online, due the surge in the virus, but now have returned to in-person. Club sports became a vessel of socialization for its athletes when students were not in the classroom.

There are 27 total club sports teams at MSU, and 25 have been practicing since the beginning of this semester. WKAR Current Sports reached out five of them for an interview, with men’s club volleyball and dodgeball responding. The club volleyball team practices three times per week, while dodgeball is twice per week plus tournaments on the weekends.

While classes were held on Zoom, some of the athletes were happy to have the mental outlet of their sport. Without practices or games with the club, Quin Strasbaugh, libero on the club volleyball team, said he would have no form of in person socialization.

“If I didn’t have volleyball right now, I wouldn’t be meeting in person with anyone. It's my main form of socialization that is in person. I'm a very social person. So when I don't have that outlet, I find myself paying less attention in class and struggle more with homework,” Strasbaugh said.

Sports have been important for Urvil Patel, junior outside hitter on the men’s club volleyball team, to get exercise and take his mind away from the classroom.

“It's a good thing that we have IM facilities, dining halls and everything open because it's a huge thing for students mentally and physically that they can go out and be active and spend time with their friends instead of just staying in their dorms all day,” said Patel.

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MSU Club Volleyball team
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Patel and his teammates meet in the huddle between sets.

The teams follow the safety protocols while practicing, and players get tested when exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Neither the dodgeball or volleyball teams have experienced an outbreak, but dodgeball had an isolated case during the fall semester.

Ethan Roahrig, president of the club dodgeball team, said one player tested positive before a tournament in Cincinnati, so they could not travel with the team. The player was on the set roster, so he was dropped and replaced. Roahrig said the exposure was handled well, because of the club sports protocols and open communication any time a player might be exposed.

The MSU club and recreational sports departments spent many hours preparing to safely bring students back to the facilities on campus.

“We spent literally two years preparing to practice safely. I was very, very cautious in the beginning and now that we've had a successful fall, and even in the spring, I'm not concerned about it,” said Angela Michael, the director of club sports and associate director of recreational sports at MSU.

Michael said the club sport and IM activities are not mandatory like classes, and only students who are interested in them participate, so it felt safe to keep the facilities open to students.

Students can use the IM facilities to workout, play sports and participate in intramural leagues. Seven intramural sports hosted events or began leagues during the last week of online classes, but the student body has to make sure to follow COVID guidelines to keep these sports running.

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MSU Club Volleyball Team
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The club volleyball team celebrates a win against the University of Louisville during the Hardwood Classic.

“We did have a club meeting with the directors. They were talking about a bunch of people who are going to the IM’s and not wearing masks properly and that could potentially close down buildings, which would be very, very problematic for us clubs,” Roahrig said.

Students have been seen taking their masks off in the gym or actively participating in a sport, causing concerns for facility management. Michael said the director of MSU recreational sports and fitness services, Rick McNeil, had students argue with him at the IM facilities when asked to put their masks above their nose and mouth before a club sports meeting with her and the other associate directors.

Michael said McNeil was upset about this interaction and during the meeting, he said if mask wearing continues to be a problem for students, they will lock the facilities and not let students in.

“That will only happen if we have students who refuse to wear masks… I've directed my staff [at IM Circle] that they will need to turn the lights off and walk out if you can't do that,” Michael said.

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