Durham’s Crown Jewel: A Love Letter to College Sport

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There is a reason that Durham is consistently recognised as one of the best universities for sport in the country. Excellence often manifests itself in the form of league tables. Over the last five years, Durham have narrowly finished second behind Loughborough in the overall Championships. However, these impressive results do not even tell half of the story in explaining why Durham possesses such a formidable reputation when it comes to sport.

Rather than solely focusing on the elite athletes as is commonplace at other institutions, Durham is distinguished by its unrivalled college sport programme; a framework consisting of 500 teams competing in competitive leagues across 17 different sports, in which nearly 8000 students participate each year. That is a staggering participation rate of 70%. What other institution can boast such statistics and more importantly, how is this possible?

It is simple. The professionalism and efficiency with which the college sport programme is enacted by Team Durham staff and its diversity is second to none. Like clockwork each weekend, nearly two hundred sporting fixtures are contested on the university’s excellent facilities, ranging from grass, 3G pitches, asphalt and sports halls. Referees are dispatched and results are processed by a dedicated team and college sport coordinator. The commitment to maintaining these high standards is reflected by Team Durham’s sensible decision to appoint two College Sport Coordinators this year to split the workload; Jack Coates and Josh Males. In their very capable hands, Durham college sport is set to continue to do what it does best.

As for the sport itself, college teams are the lifeblood of the university. Whether it’s the thrilling fixtures which are played each weekend or the social side of college sports clubs, the benefits of college sport are abundantly apparent in Durham.

Just reflecting upon the drama of last season is enough to generate excitement about its return. Whether it was Stephenson A’s unlikely Floodlit Cup triumph in Men’s Football, Collingwood A’s domination in the outdoor T20 cricket series or Aidan’s A’s stunning Rugby Premiership winning campaign, college sport is rich in narratives which extend beyond the pitches and into Durham’s college bars and lecture halls.

Furthermore, the range of sports which Durham’s college sport programme offers is an added incentive for freshers to get involved. For those who do not want to play a conventional sport, why not try and emulate the Grey A team who won last season’s Ultimate Frisbee Premiership. For this writer, I had never encountered “Lacrosse” as a sport until I set foot in Maiden Castle. However, I soon discovered it to be an intense and demanding game and one of several mixed sports which Durham offers, along with badminton, rounders and tennis.

Durham also confounds national trends about women’s sport which are prevalent at other institutions, boasting excellent participation rates. Courtesy of the cooperation of neighbouring colleges, amalgamated teams such as Cuth-le and Mil-But compete in a fiercely competitive Women’s Rugby League. In Women’s Football and Hockey, each sport is able to operate two divisions, such is the participation rate. Yet it is not just about the numbers. To take one example from the Women’s Football Premiership, Collingwood A won the Quadruple last season. Again, this is evidence of the wonderful stories which college sport can conjure.

While this college sport system is rightfully acknowledged as superb, Team Durham have always sought to improve. From the improvement of communication between teams, the subsidising of costs for facilities and league fees, to the addition of new sports such as Men and Women’s Futsal to the rostra, this demonstrates why Durham’s college sport system is miles ahead of any of its competitors.

With 16 different colleges, sporting rivalries naturally flourish. From Bailey tension between Hatfield and Castle, Stockton derbies or local enmities like Mildert and Aidan’s, another layer of competitiveness is added to the already fiercely passionate world of college sport. Yet referring back to my previous point about imitators of the Durham college sport system, there are special occasions when these college rivalries are put aside and Durham’s college teams unite to represent the university against rivals York and Loughborough. Once again, the stakes will be high this year to reinforce Durham’s reputation as the undisputed kings of college sport.

At the end of the year, the College Festival of Sport provides the definitive opportunity for colleges to stake their claim to be the best in Durham. Last year, it was Collingwood who ran away with the coveted trophy. As this year commences, with departed graduates replaced by influx of new freshers across all college teams, how will this power balance shift in 2017 and who will be crowned winners next summer?

As a sports writer and an active participant, I am unashamedly biased in my praise of Durham’s College Sport system. Yet if you do not want to take my word for it, experience it for yourself. Join a team in any sport, regardless of your ability. There is a team for everyone in Durham and subsequently, a chance to enrich your student life. I eagerly hope that our latest cohort of freshers and those older students who have not yet experienced the joy of college sport at Durham, are encouraged to do so and provide this section with more exciting stories to write about in 2017.

 

Photograph: Jack Gibbon

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