Not everyone at Washington State University Tri-Cities' new student orientation Friday stopped to ask the school's men's and women's rugby coach about the team.
But whenever someone showed interest in Nolan Manzano's table, he leaped at the opportunity. He asked the students if they played sports and wanted to sign up. A few said maybe they would try out, others took a flier.
"We are building everything from the bottom up," Manzano said, noting the work needed to get the program off the ground. "I want to create something positive."
Rugby and soccer teams will practice this fall, but regular competition won't start until spring. Initial plans to start a volleyball club are on hold for at least a year because the university couldn't find an available gym.
But the programs are creating a buzz on campus, officials and students said, and fit into a larger plan to make the university more of a community for students.
"I hope that having a team will give us someone to root for," said Adrian DeLeon, 26, of Prosser, an incoming student and rugby player.
University officials announced the club sports initiative last fall. While not the same as NCAA-level teams representing the WSU system, club teams do have paid coaches, represent the university, play against club teams from other schools and compete in a post-season.
The school hired Manzano, women's soccer coach Dan Ollero, and men's soccer coach Brian Gochoel in recent months. Manzano is the only recent transplant, having just finished his graduate work at the University of North Colorado. Ollero was the girl's soccer coach at Hanford in the early 1990s, while Gochoel, who also will be club sports coordinator, was recently the boy's coach at Kennewick High School.
The teams will practice and hold matches at fields at nearby Hanford High. Manzano and Gochoel said they are planning some friendlies this fall with other schools.
A lot of work remains, though. A lot of students have shown interest but that doesn't necessarily mean they will show up to practice, coaches said. Between 25 and 26 men have shown interest in soccer but only five men and one woman have signed up for rugby.
Student government leaders gave the club sports program an initial injection of $65,000, but after this year, the clubs are expected to provide at least 60 percent of their overall budgets, which will pay for uniforms and travel. Membership fees are possible, and coaches said there will need to be fundraising. But the benefits of an athletic program are worth the effort, they said.
"Ultimately, the college experience isn't just attending classes and passing exams," Gochoel said. "It's also forging relationships and pushing yourself to the maximum."
More sports are possible in the future, such as cross country and tennis, said Chris Meiers, vice chancellor of enrollment management and student services.
Additionally, a campus weight room will open to benefit the club teams but also to support new physical education courses taught by Manzano. Students will vote on whether to build a student union in September, which university officials said they expect to pass.
The new services and activities are necessary as the campus' student body begins to resemble a typical four-year university, Meiers said. Enrollment numbers for the fall aren't available yet but officials said the freshman class will eclipse last year's record-breaking 135 students. And most of last year's freshmen are returning as sophomores.
"Students are hungry for this, they want the interaction," Meiers said.
DeLeon is a nontraditional student; he's worked as a firefighter for the past seven years and decided to go for a degree this fall with his girlfriend. They chose WSU Tri-Cities because it would allow them to live in Prosser and still work part time.
He said they were pleasantly surprised when they saw a flier for the rugby team. They signed up online and have already been to a few training sessions.
"It's been a blast," he said. "It's been pretty cool to get to know people."
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; email@example.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald