Sports Clubs Make HLS a Smooth Ride
For many students, athletics provide refuge from the pressures of law school
By Jonas Blank '04
While Harvard Law School launched several new initiatives this year to improve the quality of life on campus, many students still get their kicks the old-fashioned way—by playing games.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that a law school with its own social club, wine society, newspaper, drama society, and a cappella group would also offer competitive sports. But the opportunities available for players of all skill levels make sports teams at HLS something more than mere after-school activities.
“When I applied to law schools, I knew Harvard had a crew team,” said men’s crew captain John Hess, a 3L. “In fact, it was a major selling point for me. I had heard that the major drawback [at HLS] was its quality of life. Knowing that there was a crew team here helped dispel that rumor for me. I couldn’t see how a school where students had time for rowing could be all that miserable.”
The law school’s competitive sports teams include men’s and women’s soccer, crew, softball, squash, and tennis. Unlike the many intramural leagues, these squads travel to tournaments at other law schools, as well as battle in local graduate school leagues. Though the level of competition varies widely among the different teams, the opportunity to enjoy activities outside the daily rigors of the classroom is something students appreciate.
“The leagues and tournaments we participate in are very competitive,” said 2L Matt Hoffman, captain of the men’s soccer team. The HLS team competes in an outdoor league in the fall and an indoor league in the spring that pit HLS against opponents from graduate schools like arch rival Harvard Business School as well as others such as Tufts, Brandeis, Babson, and MIT. The team also competes in yearly tournaments at Yale, Texas, and Dartmouth. It took top honors in Texas last year and won the Dartmouth tournament two years ago.
The men’s crew team, the oldest and most established team at HLS, is fortunate to have one of rowing’s premier events—the Head of the Charles Regatta—hosted right in its backyard. For the past several years, the team has fielded a competitive boat in the men’s club eights event, where it takes on 80 teams such as powerhouses Harvard University and Ohio State. The team also competes in the World Graduate School Rowing Championships, hosted by Harvard Business School, in the spring.
Though they are competitive, most HLS sports teams offer a chance for different kinds of players to play different sports.
“We had a converted field hockey player last season who had never kicked a soccer ball in her life,” said women’s soccer team captain 3L Sarah Whittington. “There are no tryouts—anyone who wants to play is welcome to join.”
Matt Davis, a 1L member of the co-ed softball team, said his team has a similar philosophy. “Whoever wants to come and play, can,” said Davis, who played baseball in high school. “Whoever wants to go to the tournament can go.” In fact, the team just returned from the University of Virginia Law School’s annual tournament, where more than 80 schools competed.
“It was pretty cool to spend a weekend at a tournament playing against other teams instead of just pickup games against each other,” Davis said. “I feel like we bonded as a team.” The softball team also competes in the Boston University tournament in the fall.
Although many teams allow inexperienced players, that doesn’t mean they don’t include standout athletes as well. Most teams have several college players; the men’s soccer team includes one student who played professionally in Europe. Because of the men’s crew team’s limited resources—the team fields only one eight-man boat—it requires high school or college experience, though the women’s team is willing to train new rowers.
Athletes agree that playing sports at HLS isn’t always easy, from problems with scheduling games and finding facilities to recruiting players and juggling heavy course loads.
“With so much going on at HLS, people are always going to have conflicts,” Hoffman said. “Another challenge for the soccer team is field constraints. There are no full-size soccer fields at HLS for us to practice on, and Harvard College won’t let us use the fields across the river.”
Both Hess and Whittington cited recruitment as one of their major challenges. Due to the law school’s small size relative to most undergraduate colleges, and the challenging reputation of the 1L year, finding interested players early on can be difficult. “Another challenge is convincing people to row, especially their first year,” Hess said, “because they are often afraid that they will overextend themselves to the detriment of their schoolwork.”
Most athletes agreed that HLS would benefit from involving 1Ls in more nonlegal activities. “I feel an activity like rowing adds balance to one’s first year and helps to prevent students from becoming too one-dimensional,” said Whittington. “So I think that the law school should really do more to encourage involvement in non–law related activities early in law school.”
She added that HLS might benefit from developing a centralized way of letting students know about sporting events, such as an online or traditional bulletin board. While some of the groups have their own Web sites, there is no central location to find out about HLS sporting events, and publicity is an ongoing challenge multiplied by already tight student schedules.
Nonetheless, HLS athletes are still thankful for the chance to do something different with their time.
“I play [soccer] because I love the game, enjoy the exercise, and use the time as a stress release, forgetting any school stress for the few hours of physical activity,” Whittington said. “I also really like the women I play with—they all have a good sense of humor and have fun playing.”
With all the athletic activities available, those who complain that law school can be hazardous to your health are obviously not looking hard enough for solutions.
(Photo: Gustav Freedman)