Collegiate Spotlight with Eastern Collegiate Racquetball Conference

Jan. 23, 2018, 3:03 p.m. (ET)

ECRC

This month’s Collegiate Spotlight focuses on one of the longest running conferences in the country, the ECRC, Eastern Collegiate Racquetball Conference.  If you are interested in starting a team at your College or University, please contact Nick Irvine at nirvine@usaracquetball.com for help in getting started.  Thank you to ECRC Commissioner, Rob VanSchalkwyk, for giving us a glimpse into the ECRC!

How did the ECRC Start?

The ECRC first hit the courts in the late 1970’s, when students at various schools in the Albany NY decided that they wanted to play each other in a team format.  Credit to the official ECRC forming can be traced to one of the creators of Collegiate Racquetball, Neil Shapiro.  Throughout the 80’s and 90’s the ECRC was comprised of 5 to 7 teams at any one time and no more than 60 players.  Starting in 2002, the ECRC changed dramatically under Commissioner Shane Wood, growing to 15 to 20 teams and over 180 college players at events in 2008.  Today the ECRC continues to attract over 120 College players from 15+ schools at each event.

 How is the ECRC oversee collegiate racquetball in your area?

The ECRC has adapted in the support that we provide to the teams over the years.  Today there are two classes of programs within the ECRC and depending on which type of program a school has, dictates the support from the ECRC.  The two classes are the 1) Established Programs & 2) 1st Generation Programs.  The Established programs have been around for 4 or more years, have established their own team leadership program, have succession plans, have finance/budgeting system, have a base of Alumni support and require less ECRC support and more guidance.  Established teams really take the ball and run with it themselves, while we provide assistance and give input to the way they adapt to changes.  Let’s focus on the 1st Generation Programs, as those are the most important teams out there and if you are thinking about starting a program, you’re going to want to read this and are welcome to reach out to the ECRC for advise/assistance regardless of where you are in the U.S.  A 1st generation program is one that has been in existence for four years or less.  These programs have not turned the team leadership over to a new group of students after the creators have graduated and have little to no Alumni support.  Recruiting, retention and succession plans/programs are relatively new and may not have been truly tested yet.  The ECRC considers these programs the most susceptible to collapsing after those who created the program graduated.  In order to support them, the ECRC frequently stays in touch over the phone, actively seeks out local volunteer(s) & Coaches to cultivate the program and provide stability after graduations and ECRC Alumni & Staff will visit the campus each year if feasible to offer in person support for all team members.  The ECRC also makes every effort to get these programs into ECRC events.  We start 10AM Friday, but not all students can make that.  For these programs, we make every effort to give them the chance to play even if it means starting their matches at 6P and playing 4 or 5 matches by the end of Friday night.  We also provide support on how to grow your program from scratch on campus, from dealing with finances to constructing your team/club documents required by the school.  For more info, please contact ECRC Commissioner Rob VanSchalkwyk (vanschalkwykr@hotmail.com).

What is the best part of your 5 collegiate events and why do the kids like them so much?

Wow!  I cannot really narrow it down to just one thing.  There’s way too many reasons that the kids like them and Alumni keep coming back.  Let me some this up in a couple things: 1) FUN 2) Life-long friendships (including numerous marriages), 3) Family

We asked Matthew Saleh, Associate Director of Admissions at Villanova University: What is the best part of the ECRC events and why do you keep coming back and choosing to give back as you have in various ways since graduating?

Without a doubt, the best part of ECRC events is the interplay between student-athletes both on and off the court. The ECRC is a family, and as such, there is genuine love and respect for one another as well as good-natured rivalries and ribbings. Athletes will joke with one another throughout tournaments and hang out in each other’s hotel rooms, but the moment two opposing teams step onto the court, it is all business: separate cheering sections form and the intensity kicks up a few notches. It’s an atmosphere unlike anything you will see at local tournaments, pro stops, or even intercollegiate nationals. There are long, glass-smacking cheers during seemingly inconsequential points to playfully innocent taunts during big skips and lucky bounces. No matter the significance of the match in terms of team/point standings or how close the match was, you will more than likely find these competitors having a great time together later that night. This is what drew me into the ECRC initially and it’s what keeps me coming back seven years and counting since graduating.

During my collegiate years and now playing in the alumni draws at tournaments, I have been and continue to be the recipient of the generosity of others. From the free racquetball advice, I receive from players and rival team coaches to the volunteer referees who officiate my matches, I would not be the player and person I am today without the unselfish and kind nature of those in the league. The ECRC, and racquetball , cannot survive without others selflessly volunteering their time. I am just playing my part in ensuring that this new generation of players is afforded the same opportunities and experiences that were awarded to me when I played in the conference. 

ECRC

How does someone start a program like yours?

There’s a lot to do to start a Collegiate Conference.  I’m not going to say it’s easy.  It’s definitely a passion play, but when you are packing up each weekend and the kids rally to help you pack, thank you and then turn any award presentation around and acknowledge your time and efforts while smiling and growing as people, it becomes very much worth it.  To get one of these programs going, there are a few things you need:

  • Teams/Schools - USA Racquetball already has a good list of teams out there, but there is no better way to find the programs than to ask local players/State organizations and to call around to the schools
  • 501(c)3/Non Profit Status - I recommend forming a 501(c)3 N/P rather than running the Conference out of your own pocket.  There are many reasons for, but you can do either.
  • Lock down a format for play and scoring system - The ECRC uses Olympic format over 3 days. This works in the Northeast, but may not work in your region.  Ask the teams (in fact “ask the teams” should be used a lot when developing the Conference)
  • Facilities - Not sure where to play?  On campus is usually the way to go.  You don’t need show courts for the College players and there are schools across the country with 5+ courts and over the top viewing.  Many of the schools will donate the facilities, especially if they have a team on campus that books the event.  Be open with the schools if they ask to charge and show them what your budget is!
  • Budget - Reach out and I’ll share our budget with you and how we structure it in full.  For a full season, we charge a team up to $500 for four events and $25 per person if they are a smaller team.  A team is made up of 8 men and/or 8 women.  So if they bring 16 people for four events, it’s something like $8 per person at each event.
  • Leadership - Commissioners who are committed to run events each season and give the children direction as they grow as students into the leaders of tomorrow.  These students are going to have questions about how they should form their team, how to create their own budget and if they should attend an exam or play in a tournament (really it happens).  Do you want to make a difference?  For me, it is greatly fulfilling for past students to return and tell of how I made a difference in their life.

Please reach out to the ECRC if you have any questions about starting a team or a Conference!  I’ll gladly give you more detail and input and answer all of your questions.  The ECRC was the first Collegiate Racquetball Conference and we have been a model for the other Conferences across the country.  I have been personally involved in developing countless teams and many of the Collegiate Conferences across the U.S.  Thanks for reading this and I hope you choose to take the next step in starting your team or leading a Conference!