Offbeat Sports Attract Team Players but Not Fans

Croquet, Squash, Rugby, Racquetball and Other Sports Aren't Usually in the Campus Spotlight

Two or three times a year, the Harvard-Radcliffe croquet team throws together a practice session. After all, they do have a reputation to keep up; just a few years ago, they won the national collegiate championship.

Antonio F. Soler '98, a member of the Crimson croquet team, says Harvard gained an automatic nationals invitation in 1991, when two Harvard students who had never played croquet before in their lives won the national collegiate championship.

"We try to preserve that spirit now by doing very little practicing before-hand," says Soler, who helped the team place fourth in the nation last year. "We usually win because we have more athletic talent than other schools, who get course credit but who are playing croquet because they can't do anything else."

Those who think croquet is less than an academic exercise just don't appreciate the intricacies of the game, team members say.

"A lot of schools offer course credit because croquet teaches problem-solving abilities, because it's like pool in that you not only have to worry about how to get your ball into the hole, but also about where it will end up afterwards," Soler says.


But the croquet team isn't the only group of underappreciated athletes at the College. The squash, fencing, sailing, table tennis, equestrian and Radcliffe rugby teams mourn their lack of fans despite impressive national performances.

National Champs Seek Fans

The squash team may be the best known across the country, with repeated successes under its belts. The women's squash team is defending its fourth consecutive national title, and the men's team is working on its seventh this year, but they're accustomed to playing for crowds of 15.

"Dominance is a tradition for us," says Rachel L. Barenbaum '98. "But it's hard to get a following when no one knows about your sport."

"At home, maybe we'll get 15 spectators for a match, usually roommates, sometimes parents, and that's not many, not enough."

The fencing team expects to send four individuals to nationals this year, but their crowd is usually "one or two random people who wander in," says Mallory A. Stewart '97, the team captain.

The sailing team is ranked fifth nationally, but its spectators are usually two or three team members to cheer each person on, members said.

Among club sports, Radcliffe rugby and the table tennis, equestrian and croquet teams will be represented in national tournaments, often facing teams with far greater fan support and more substantial university backing.

No Respect at All

In many cases, team members say they make up the majority of their own cheering section. members say they make up the majority of their own cheering section.

"We've dragged a lot of folks along; friends, boyfriends, parents, but a lot of the time it's just us," equestrian team member Samantha L. Hetherington '98 says. "Even though there aren't that many of us, we can be pretty loud on our own."

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