Interesting article in this week’s Williams Record on the virtual disapperance and possible extinction of JV sports at Williams.

Currently, only three JV teams remain: men’s JV soccer, men’s JV basketball and women’s JV basketball. This fall, the longstanding women’s JV soccer program was converted into a physical education class, after years of difficulties with participation and finding other teams to compete against. The women’s JV lacrosse team underwent the same transition last spring, but was ultimately cancelled after receiving no sign-ups. There are no plans to bring back the program this spring, [Athletic Director Lisa] Melendy said.

While I doubt many students get excited about going to see JV sporting events, I still think its a little sad for those students who would like to compete and be on a team, but cannot participate because they are not good enough for the varsity team.  There apparently are a number of causes for the decline in JV sports.  Happily, from my perspective, budgetary concerns are not among those reasons.  First, there are fewer students interested in playing on the JV team.  According to AD Melendy:

This decrease is, in part, a result of the change in student population that has occurred on campuses in recent decades, Melendy said. “We recruit more broadly now, for diversity of all kinds and for diversity of experience,” she explained. “The student body looks different than it did. I think we have fewer students for whom that was a central part of their high school experience. They did a lot of other things.”

I am guessing that there was never much recruiting for JV sports, but those spots were filled by students who enjoyed those sports and who could play at a high enough level.  One of my best friends at Williams was such a student.  He was a high school soccer player who played a season or two of JV soccer at Williams before deciding (correctly in my opinion!) to come play rugby instead.  According to Melendy, there are fewer athletically inclined students arriving on campus, making it harder to field enough athletes to make up a JV team.  I’m mildly surprised that the change in the applicant/admittee pool is so profound that it affects the ability to field JV teams, but I suppose it may be additional evidence that many youth sports today are dominiated by (relatively) wealthy kids, whose families have the money to become invested in the Youth Industrial Sports Complex.  (For the record, for good or for ill, I am definitely a part of the YISC).

In addition, according to the article, increased athletic specialization has reduced the number of students who, in the past, might have played on a JV team because fewer kids want to play a second sport.

Another reason given in the article for the demise of JV sports is the difficulty of finding opponents.  The teams have been forced to schedule games against prep school teams.  But those teams, in many cases, are too talented for the JV teams:

Difficulties in finding other teams to compete against have also hindered the College’s JV program in recent years. Until the early 2000s, JV teams competed against other teams in the NESCAC, often travelling with their varsity counterparts. More recently, they have competed against nearby private high schools. As more and more of high school athletes become highly competitive, it has become challenging for JV teams to compete against opponents who will soon be playing at the varsity level.

In order to maintain some options for JV-level players, the College has instituted PE classes which mimic the JV experience.  One of the problems with this is that those classes don’t have access to all of the resources of the athletic department, particularly trainers.  This, I think, is a problem which can be solved with money, by simply budgeting for the athletic department to be able to service non-varsity athletes.

Ultimately, the demise of JV sports seems to be a function of long-standing trends over which the College has little influence.  Like AD Melendy, I think this is too bad:

As JV teams become rarer, fewer students will have access to the experience of playing on a team at the College. “The lessons that you get from being on an athletic team, which I think are valuable and worthwhile, fewer students get to have,” Melendy said.

I agree with the AD here.  I think participating on an athletic team provides great memories and lessons to all participants, regardless of the skill/talent involved.  When I started with the Williams Rugby Football Club in the fall of 1986, I played on the D, E, and F-sides.  We weren’t good, but it was fun.  Over my four years I gradually moved up the ladder, eventually playing regularly on the B-side, with a few appearances on the A-side.  I had fun playing broomball with Bryant House in the intramural sports program (I still use the name of our team “The Killer Aardvarks” as the name of my rotisserie baseball team), as well as IM ice hockey.  But I recognize that perhaps much of this stemmed from my high school experience, where I played baseball, hockey, and soccer at relatively low levels.  Its too bad, in my view, that the JV option appears to be disappearing from the Williams campus.  Hopefully club and intramural sports can fill in the gaps.


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