Inside Events: NIRSA-Leaders In Collegiate Recreation
23 Sep, 2015By: Valerie McCutchan
An Interview with Valerie McCutchan, National Sports Program Director
NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation- Formerly known as the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association, NIRSA is the association of leaders in collegiate recreation. As college and university students develop into future leaders, NIRSA members support their learning and growth by fostering lifelong habits of wellbeing. Leadership, teamwork, dedication, and respect are among the many skills exercised by inclusive competition, fitness, and recreation.
NIRSA is a leader in higher education and an advocate for the advancement of recreation, sport, and wellness by providing educational and developmental opportunities, generating and sharing knowledge, and promoting networking and growth for its members. Since its foundation in 1950, NIRSA membership has grown to comprise nearly 4,500 dedicated professionals, students, and businesses, serving an estimated 8.1 million students. Supported by the Team at NIRSA Headquarters, based in Corvallis, Oregon, NIRSA is governed by volunteers from across North America. The NIRSA Championship Series organizes and promotes championship tournaments in four sports, with regional and national events in soccer, basketball, flag football and tennis; the tennis championship series is organized in conjunction with the USTA’s Tennis On Campus program.
Additionally, expects to release information soon on its work with the Special Olympics to help participating colleges form partnerships with on-campus programs that develop unified intramural sports teams. (A unified sports team is defined as a team that combines college students and Special Olympics students in order to espouse the values of teamwork and good sportsmanship and to teach the importance of lifetime fitness.)
Sports Destination Management: NIRSA Championship Series has championships in four sports. How are those four sports organized?
Valerie McCutchan: The current sport championships are basketball (which is organized into men’s teams and women’s teams), soccer (also organized into men’s teams and women’s teams), flag football (which is organized into men’s teams, women’s teams and co-ed teams) and tennis (which is a co-ed, team-based program). We have both national and regional championships for basketball and flag football. Tennis and soccer have qualifying tournament and we work with the USTA and soccer leagues on these tournaments.
SDM: Are you seeing growth in those sports?
McCutchan: Yes, the numbers are really good. For the 2014-15 school year, we had 11,103 participants, 633 student officials, 60 certified officials and 898 volunteer staff. We are seeing growth in both men’s and women’s participation. It’s great to see the higher numbers. It’s good to know we offer that quality product that makes people want to participate. For soccer and basketball, we invite 96 teams each to participate. In tennis, there are 64 teams. In flag football, there are 84 teams.
SDM: NIRSA trains students to referee games during their championships?
McCutchan: Yes – we offer training for student officials who want to work during the regional/national basketball and flag football Championship. We hold clinics for them on rules, working with a crew, penalties, field/court mechanics, etc., and provide evaluators during the event. As well, there are film reviews of their officiating they can take with them on CD with notes from evaluators. On campus, there are all type of intramurals games going on, and for that, schools will need officials. Our members send student officials to NIRSA event for training in hopes they bring back what they learned to share with others. Then we will also have “train-the-trainer” programs, where there is mentoring and training for the ‘Student Official Evaluators’ to hone their skills and take back various programming and techniques to their campus.
SDM: What are the Championship Series events like?
McCutchan: Our tagline for the Series is “It’s more than competition.” While the series crowns a “national champion” in four sports, our athletes do not receive scholarships, they do not travel to games via luxurious buses, and they do not get suited up in extravagant locker rooms. Our athletes continue to play for the love of the game. Their hard work and collaborations, both on and off the field, foster the growth of productive citizens. Students have to fundraise to pay their way, they have to figure out transportation and lodging, some have to find coaches or self-coach, they set up play schedule and tournaments. The students do a lot of planning to get to a tournament so we set it up so that they play in round robin or pool play, followed by bracket play. That way, they get more than one game; they’re not just one and done. They have a lot of opportunities to play the sport and to enjoy their time at the championships.
SDM: It’s obvious schools host a number of their own championships and other events in sports outside the Championship Series, but when it comes to the national Championship Series, how many events has NIRSA sponsored?
McCutchan: In soccer, we’ll host the 22nd event this November. In tennis, we hit our 16th in April, also in April, we held our 13th basketball championships. We had our 10th flag football championships in January.
SDM: When you are seeking a city to host the championship series, what are you looking for?
McCutchan: We need facilities – that is our main thing. We want a destination that is easy to get into and out of, and we want to give our students a good experience. We want them to remember it. There are other considerations, too – for example, with soccer, the championships are held in November, so we have to make sure we’re choosing a location with the right weather. For tennis, we work with the USTA on hosting, so we’ll go through the local Section.
SDM: If a destination is interested in hosting a national Championship Series, who do they call?
McCutchan: They can contact me. If they are thinking of a regional, though, those are usually hosted by one of our institutional members.
SDM: What do you think is the greatest benefit NIRSA provides?
McCutchan: I like to think the reason I am involved is to provide opportunities for players to have that college sport experience for the game they love.. The NIRSA Championship Series provides a quality event for them to remember, even after they leave the campus and at the same time, we have a platform for our members to have professional development opportunities.