The athletes here at Wisconsin receive a lot of positive attention. But they also face many obstacles. Among them is the immense time commitment required for a varsity sport.
And let's face it; among all the glitz, the glamour and the grind of collegiate athletics, the love of the game might get lost a little bit in terms of reasons why sports are played at this level.
That's why the gods of college sports invented club teams.
Think about it: You get to play your sport of choice in a semi-competitive environment, perhaps against other Big Ten schools in some cases, and still get to have some fun and hang out with good friends without having to worry about dedication. Doesn't get much better than that, I say.
But there had been a glaring omission on the UW club sports list. The Wisconsin recreational office, despite the fact that tennis really does represent the ideal club sport, had never sanctioned tennis, for a reason some of us may never understand.
Thankfully, due to the efforts of many, there is now a thriving coed tennis club, fresh off the approval of UW's club department in late February to sanction tennis.
The idea to start up a club squad was originally kick-started last year by Aaron Kurth.
"I set up tryouts, got a team together and mainly was trying to get people interested and get a club set up so that it could run on its own," Kurth said.
Kurth took a group of players who competed on an intramural squad and turned it into an organization that was called a "club," even though the school and its club department had not yet honored it as such.
"We wanted an intramural league to play in the Midwest Tournament with all these other club teams," Kurth said. "We were like, 'We can do that at UW,' so we decided to at least call ourselves a club team, even though we were just an intramural team."
This intramural squad went on to do great things in the spring of 2005. After winning its league, the team went on to capture the Midwest Tournament, which includes teams all over the central United States, such as fellow Big Ten programs Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern, among others. Wisconsin's players accepted an invitation to the National Tournament in Austin, Texas, where they placed an outstanding fifth out of 48 teams.
With the success, Kurth made sure the program continued onto this new school year.
"Even though I was graduating, I really wanted to keep the club going, so this year I made sure trials got going," Kurth said. "Then halfway through last semester, I was able to find somebody who wanted to take out a large [commitment], being president of the tennis club."
That somebody is Andy Rebhun, a UW sophomore who currently holds that mentioned post. As an incoming freshman, Rebhun shared Kurth's sentiments in being shocked to see no formal tennis organization beyond the Badgers' varsity team.
"I just want to be able to extend the sport of tennis to anyone who wants to play, create a fun atmosphere for everyone involved and field a competitive team within the Big Ten and the country," Rebhun said.
These outlined goals do an efficient job of summing up the two main goals of the UW tennis club: to compete at a higher level with neighboring Big Ten and other schools, but also offer an enjoyable, recreational experience on the tennis court where Wisconsin students can get to know fellow players on a deeper level.
Rebhun also referred to that second level behind the varsity team in telling how these students can get their fill of athletics without all the time and effort constraints.
"Going to the other schools [for matches] is great, [it] just allows team members to have the competitive atmosphere and get the feel of a Division I sports team without experiencing the level of commitment that those athletes have to," he explained.
The team holds matches and practices at Nielsen Tennis Stadium, located just by the University of Wisconsin hospital, a locale that has been "very cooperative," offering the club lower practice rates and preferred hitting times.
"Nielsen has been a great place to play," Rebhun said. "They've given us very competitive rates, they've been very flexible in letting us play, they're very courteous, and it's really been a pleasure dealing with them."
Nielsen, which also plays host to the UW men's and women's varsity tennis squads, is considered one of the finest indoor facilities in the Midwestern United States. Appropriately, the 2006 Midwest Tournament will be conducted right here in Madison, at NTS, this upcoming weekend (Mar. 10-12).
After reaching an astonishing national ranking of No. 9 — in a pool of over 300 teams across the country — the club players will be looking to transfer efforts from their strong season into the tourney and move on to the national event in Austin once again.
"It's a good chance to see how we compare with all the schools in the Midwest," Rebhun said. "I think we have a competitive team that has a good shot of taking it all. We all hope we can do as well in this tournament as we've done over this season."
To learn more about the program, please visit UWtennisclub.com. You can contact Aaron at firstname.lastname@example.org. Aaron wishes everybody a safe and relaxing Spring Break.