By Michael Davis (B.A. ’03)
By Michael Davis (B.A. ’03)
When Jordan Starks (B.S. ’24) stepped onto a court in Atlanta for the first time in the fall of 2021, he wasn’t sure what to expect.
“Rusty” is how he describes his volleyball game that day. “I hadn’t played in so long I knew it was going to be rough.”
Now a senior majoring in psychology, Starks had attended an international high school in London and taken up court volleyball there after a friend joined their school team and urged him to give it a try.
“Surprisingly, I was better than I thought I was going to be,” Starks says.
He made his high school’s junior varsity team, and played varsity volleyball his junior and senior years before heading to Atlanta to enroll at Georgia State.
Looking to get more involved in the campus community and for a way to make new friends, Starks found Georgia State’s Men’s Volleyball Club through the Panther Involvement Network (PIN), an online resource for student activities and events. When he visited a practice in fall 2021, it took only a few minutes to reacquaint himself with the nuances of the game.
“It was a piece of something that was familiar from moving across the world,” says Starks, a North Carolina native from a military family. “And when I got to the Student Recreation Center, it was the sense of community that made me want to stay. It was an easy way to make friends.”
Volleyball, clockwise from top left, golf, wrestling and swim clubs are a few of the 19 sport clubs available to students at Georgia State.
Starks is now the president of the Men’s Volleyball Club, one of 19 sport clubs overseen by Georgia State’s Department of Recreational Services. While not associated with the university’s NCAA Division I Athletics program, sport clubs compete in regional and national tournaments all the same, taking on similar clubs at colleges and universities across the country.
Supported by Recreational Services with a budget from the department and the clubs’ own fundraising efforts, athletes also compete in Georgia State uniforms and often as the university’s representatives to NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation (formerly the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association).
For Starks, the Men’s Volleyball Club has led to opportunities to travel the country and to develop friendships and leadership skills. In 2022, the club won the Copper Flight of the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation’s Club Volleyball Championships in Phoenix, Ariz.
As a sport club president, Starks and students like him are responsible for the day-to-day operation of the club, from budgeting to setting practice times to deciding which competitions to enter during their sport’s season. They get experience in organizing, managing and delegating.
“These are transferable skills that make students more career-ready,” says Timber Hines, interim assistant vice president for wellness and director of Recreational Services. “It’s a great way to meet people and participate in competitions if students want to, but without having to be on a varsity team.”
And because sport clubs are driven by student interest, the number of clubs on the roster changes year to year, with some clubs losing their critical mass of students and others starting up to take their place.
Alayah Washington, a Recreational Services graduate assistant and MBA student, is organizing Georgia State’s first basketball club in recent memory. Noting the high traffic on the courts at the Student Recreation Center for intramural and pickup games, she expects the club to be popular among students and competitive among other NIRSA teams.
After an organizing semester this fall, Washington says the club will begin competing in regional tournaments next spring. She’s hoping to help build the club into a long-lasting program.
“There’s no reason this shouldn’t be here when I come back 20 years from now,” she says.
Capoeira, clockwise from top left, rock climbing, volleyball and badminton are among the popular sport clubs offered by Recreational Services at Georgia State.
Another new group on campus gaining momentum is the Golf Club, which began in fall 2022 and now counts its membership at around 30 golfers, some of whom are almost entirely new to the game, like Evan Owens (B.A. ’14).
After receiving a set of clubs from his step-father as a graduation gift when he earned his public relations degree, Owens says he was able to put them to use less than 10 times.
That is, until last fall.
These days, Owens finds himself and his clubs on the course just about every Sunday afternoon for a nine-hole round — sometimes a full 18 holes.
“I’m still a beginner,” says Owens, a master’s student studying communication who is also the club’s co-founder and vice president. “I’ve still got a lot of work to do on my game, like a lot of other people.”
Members of the club hope to break down the barriers to entry often associated with the game, from the pricey equipment to the fees needed to access driving ranges and courses. Owens even got permitted to drive a Recreational Services van so he could shuttle club members to and from Atlanta’s Candler Park, where they have a standing tee time.
Though the club does not yet have any official coaches, more experienced players do step in to offer tips and pointers to those with less advanced swings. Club members say it’s all part of opening the sport to everyone and anyone interested in taking part and building a community of golfers at Georgia State.
“Not only is the sport expensive, you just don’t come into it knowing how to play,” Owens says.
Sonny Patel, the club’s president and a Ph.D. student in the Department of Communication, says the group even has clubs available for those who don’t have their own set, with efforts underway to raise money to buy more.
“We’re able to make it affordable — or no cost in some cases — for people to come and play,” Patel says. “Golf is a hard sport. But we have a good time and cheer each other on. Even though you might have a bad day on the course, you’re not going to leave without a smile on your face.”
For more information about Georgia State Sport Clubs, visit Recreational Services.
Photos by Steven Thackston and Carolyn Richardson
Men's Volleyball team photo courtesy of Jordan Starks
Videos by William Davis (B.A. '11)