Washington State University Tri-Cities students will have athletics teams to root for next fall at the Richland campus.
Administrators are searching for people to coach soccer, rugby and volleyball club teams for men and women.
Forty students have already signed up to play the sports in early but low-key promotions for the teams.
"I played football in high school so I figured I'd try (rugby) out," said junior John Snider of Kennewick.
Student leaders and university officials say club sports will go far in promoting school pride and student networking, making the campus experience that much better for students and the public at large.
"That's our No. 1 goal," said Lori Selby, vice chancellor for finance and administration.
Club sports aren't the same as NCAA-level teams representing the WSU system, where student athletes can qualify for scholarships and coaching staff work year-round. But club teams do have paid coaches, represent their university, play against club teams at other schools and compete in the postseason.
The Pullman campus offers club sports, but its higher-profile teams playing in the Pac-12 conference as part of the National Collegiate Athletics Association, or NCAA, are the most visible and identifiable. Students at Pullman and WSU Vancouver also play against each other on intramural teams.
The university is offering $7,000 stipends for each part-time coaching position in Richland. Coaches who have experience, possibly at the community college level, would be ideal, said Selby, herself a former high school and community college coach.
Team uniforms, transportation to competitions and initial facility and equipment costs will be covered by the university, Selby said. However, the expectation is that coaches will help players organize fundraising to support their activities.
WSU Tri-Cities club teams will play as independents for the first year or two, but Selby said the plan is join a league with other WSU club teams and the University of Washington, Gonzaga University and the University of Idaho. Students could form teams in other sports ranging from cross country to rowing.
Administrators began meeting with student government about club sports a few months ago, said Rigo Leon, a senior and student body vice president. That led to student leaders gauging student opinion, which he described as "eager."
"It seems turnout won't be a problem," Leon said.
Club sports are the latest effort by the university to offer more of the activities expected at a traditional four-year institution. Administrators signed an agreement with a Richland apartment complex earlier this year to establish a dormlike experience for interested students and student government is working to build a student union on campus.
There are many WSU Tri-Cities students who played sports in high school but for whatever reason weren't able to continue playing at the collegiate level, Selby said. Offering club sports gives those students an athletic outlet while keeping the focus on their education.
"It created a sense of disciple, purpose and community," said Chancellor H. Keith Moo-Young of his time as a collegiate cross country and track athlete. "I had three hours of practice Monday through Friday, competitions most Saturdays. It taught me how to compete and how to be a member of a team."
Club sports are another way for students to meet each other, either by attending games and rooting for the teams or playing on the field or court with them, said Snider, who was a defensive back for Southridge High School.
"Just like in high school, you meet a lot of friends through sports," he said.
Leon said he's struck by the fact that even though WSU Tri-Cities has half the students of WSU Vancouver, students at the Richland campus will enjoy a higher level of competition (club) than what its sister urban campus offers (intramural).
"This will further enhance the presence of our university," he said.
Student leaders still need to conduct signup drives to make sure students know about the teams and have the opportunity to try out, they said. The university is also still trying to determine where the teams will play, with Selby saying she's scheduling discussions with Richland city leaders and school administators about using their facilities.
Regardless, Snider said he's excited to get back out on the field, even if it will be in a new sport.
"The physical aspect is great," he said.
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; email@example.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: plus.google.com/+TyBeaverTCHerald