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‘It’s incredibly disheartening’: Club rowing boathouse set for demolition, unclear future

Clemson Sailing Club // Courtesy
Due to logistical facility complications, club sailing and club waterski are no longer included in the new rowing facility being built this semester.

Imagine returning to your home, a place that has been filled with character, love and family for the past 30 years, and being told it is set to be demolished in a manner of months and you are going to be homeless — left with no support and nowhere to go. 

That is what Clemson told Ashley Wilkins, president of the club rowing team, and the rest of her squad earlier this year.

Clemson’s club rowing team is being displaced due to the construction of a new women’s athletics complex. Its boathouse, which has been standing longer than the varsity facility adjacent to it, is becoming a patch of grass.  

“It’s incredibly disheartening. Former members of our team put a lot of time and energy into this boathouse,” Wilkins said about its demolition. “It’s not boathouse, it’s boat home.” 

Wilkins and the club rowing team found out about the plans to demolish their “boat home” via Twitter last January when Clemson Athletics announced the construction of the women’s sports complex. The most updated architectural renderings do not include the club’s facility. 

Following the announcement, Wilkins could not reach the University until December 2022, and when she did, they informed her that the club rowing team had six months till their eviction date in May 2023. 

In her meeting with the University, Wilkins also learned that athletics allocated about $150,000 in their construction budget for club rowing relocation and assistance, but the money was given to Student Affairs, who refuses to transfer the funds to the club team.

Student Affairs cited the independent student organization policy as justification for not transferring the funds to the club program, Wilkins said, but the team needs that money to relocate and rebuild off campus. 

The University did not respond to The Tiger regarding the allocation of the club’s funds, but said it is hoping to support the group’s move off campus.

“​​In terms of the club rowing, Student Affairs is exploring all options to help these students successfully relocate in order to minimize disruptions to their activities,” Philip Sikes, Clemson spokesperson, said.

Wilkins also believes the club rowing team having a facility on campus creates a branding issue for athletics and the University. 

“We just don’t fit the brand, frankly, of Clemson athletics,” Wilkins said. “If you look at all of the terminology that they’re using around this project, it’s the women’s sports facility, it’s the Clemson Tigers and it’s athletics.”

Club rowing’s sentiment shared by other leaders

Club rowing is not the only club program that has experienced a lack of university support.

“It’s not like they are rooting against us, but we definitely do not feel support,” Kelsey Stieby, president of the club volleyball team, said. “Not having access to athletic trainers when on university grounds has definitely been a hindrance.”

The club gymnastics team has not had a meet since 2019 and will not be able to soon due to a lack of funding, Olivia Towey, president of the club gymnastics team, said.

“It is still a common feeling for club sports leadership to feel stuck out on an island with no ideas on how to make events that support your organization’s mission possible,” Jackie Hanna, club sailing’s student executive advisor, told The Tiger.

Following a revision to Clemson’s independent student organization policy in 2019, the support from the University and Campus Recreation allocated to club sports significantly decreased after being redefined as independent organizations without a faculty advisor.

“There’s no advising, there’s no support. There’s nobody to help develop these student leaders,” Walker Mullin, the president of Clemson Club Sports Association, said. 

With a faculty advisor advocating for them, club sport leaders agree that Clemson may listen to their needs more and offer more support.

Despite the sentiments expressed by numerous club sports, the University said that they provide sufficient advising resources, Sikes said.

Mullin hopes to remedy club sports’ current situation by getting the Club Sports Association up to independent council status.

The independent council status would provide CSA with a full-time faculty advisor, like other Greek councils on campus that are registered as such.

Gaining independent council status would enable Mullin to enact safety measures and provide guidance to each individual club sports team, which he currently does not have the authority to do. 

The University did not respond to The Tiger about hiring a full-time faculty member to advise club sports or CSA’s desire to become an independent council.

For club student-athletes, their teams are a true embodiment of the Clemson Family and serve as an integral part of their Clemson experience. 

“It (the club rugby team) means family to me,” Zy Walker, a member of the club rugby team told The Tiger. “We all work hard to do well on and off the pitch. Playing rugby has made Clemson way better because I get to be a part of a community who loves the sport just as much as me.”

“Being a member of the club gymnastics team has been one of the best parts of my time at Clemson,” Towey said. “I have met some of my best friends through the team. It has given me the chance to be part of a smaller community within Clemson.” 

“Being a member of club volleyball has been a highlight of my Clemson experience,” Stieby stated. “I have made great friends and been able to continue in a sport.”

However, Mullin is weary about his ability to keep CSA up and running without the support of the University. 

“Without support, something’s going to happen. It’s not if something’s going to happen; it’s when something happens within a club sport that’s catastrophic enough that club sports are not going to be a thing anymore,” Mullin said. “If something happened, the University has left them utterly unprotected and unsupported.

“If the University doesn’t start to put some weight behind things like club sports and other opportunities for student experiences on campus, I’m really, really scared for the future,” Mullin said. 

Club sports bolster community engagement

Besides benefiting the students involved, club sports make up one part of the Clemson community.

“I love it when students come out and hang out on the Clemson sailing docks even when they’re not in Clemson sailing. I love it when they come out and use our hammock or our rope swing. And I love it when they come out and sit by the lake with us. I love being able to provide that space and it’s something I don’t want to go away,” Mullin said. 

As for the rowing team, their current location offers three docks that students use to relax and have picnics on in the warmer months. Wilkins enjoys when other students share that space with the rowing team and is sad to see the docks be removed, but hopes to pursue further community involvement at their new location.

Lately, the team has been working on a partnership with the city of Clemson to relocate to the Twelve Mile Recreation Area. The club still wishes to be affiliated with the University, register as an ISO and compete against other collegiate teams.

Wilkins also hopes to expand community involvement by adding an adult master’s program or a youth program, remaining optimistic about their move.

“The way I see it is if the expansion of women’s athletics coincides with our period of growth, and we have the opportunity to move off campus and build a bigger, better boathouse elsewhere and then grow as a team, I am very happy and very excited to do that,” she said.

The rowing team plans to honor club rowing alumnus and founding member Jon Chudwell Morgan who passed away earlier this year and name the new “boat home” in his memory.

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Blake Mauro
Blake Mauro, Editor-in-Chief
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