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Davis, California

Monday, September 27, 2021

Students play sports with cultural significance

Many Aggies have found ways to express their respective cultures or explore new ones while at Davis through club involvement. As sports often stem from different cultures, student-run clubs work to preserve, maintain and practice these traditions.

“I think its really important [to be involved in cultural clubs] because being in the U.S., we are in a melting pot,” said sixth-year environmental biology and German double major Sarah Kimpel. “If we are melting too much, we are going to lose our heritages. Cultural clubs are important for students to keep heritage important.”

Two organizations that partake in sports with a cultural significance are the Davis Culchies Hurling club and the Davis Racing Dragons.

The Davis Culchies Hurling club, started in 2010, practice and compete in the 3,000-year-old Irish Gaelic sport of hurling. This ancient field sport, still played competitively today in Ireland, is best described as a mix of several modern-day American sports.

“It’s like field hockey and lacrosse with baseball and soccer mixed in,” said Kimpel, the club captain. “It requires the skills of a lot of different things. You need to have a lot of agility and eye coordination because it’s considered the fastest field sport.”

A hurley, similar to a field-hockey stick but made of ash, is used to move the sliotar, or ball, in the game.

Played on a field as wide as a football field is and twice the length, hurling requires two H-shaped goals on either end of the playing ground. There is a net under the cross of the goals with a goalkeeper for each side, somewhat similar to today’s soccer. If a player scores in the net, they will receive three points and one point is received for any ball thrown over the net.

There are many ways the ball can move, including hand passes, kicks, pulls on the ground with the hurley, and in-air hits. Players can run with the sliotar in hand for a maximum of four steps, or run while bouncing or balancing it on the hurley. Goals cannot be scored by hand passes.

The club currently has seven members and is open to all UC Davis students and employees, not just people of Irish descent.

“We don’t have any formal process for joining,” Kimpel said. “Most of us are just ‘ir-ish.’ There is definitely no cultural heritage requirement. Right now we will just take anyone that can hold a stick.”

Since hurling season is in winter and spring, the team practices every Friday at 4 p.m. at Russell Field. The team generally plays anywhere from three to six games every year against UC Berkeley and Stanford University, among other occasional teams.

The game dates and locations are determined by the California Collegiate Gaelic Athletics Association (CCGAA), a location and age-specific organization under the umbrella program of the Gaelic Athletics Association.

Kimpel is part of the CCGAA board, a group of college students that help with hurling team development, community outreach and fundraising.

“We are helping other schools develop teams,” Kimpel said. “Over Memorial Day weekend, we are hoping to fly ourselves out to Purdue for nationals, where we can play against tons of teams on the East Coast.”

Apart from the competitive nature of the sport, Kimpel said there are many other positive aspects to being part of the team, like the influence of Irish culture on members.

“… Hurling is a nice way to get in touch with a cultural heritage. Even though it might not be your heritage, it is one to get involved with in general,” Kimpel said. “With hurling, you have the option to learn about a new culture, and maybe that will help you develop more of an identity.”

Another athletic club with a cultural influence is the Davis Racing Dragons, a group started in 2004 dedicated to the art of dragon boating.

“Dragon boating is a sport that originated in China over 2,000 years ago,” said third-year electrical engineering major and team head coach Ryan Chiang. “It’s essentially traveling in a large canoe that weighs about one ton, used in history for celebratory events. Over the years, it developed to be a more competitive sport, and people have been more dedicated to mastering the craft of paddling.”

A standard-sized dragon boat is designed to fit 20 people in 10 rows. Although seemingly similar to rowing, dragon boating requires competitors to paddle on both sides in the direction the boat is moving, as opposed to paddling in a backwards fashion.

Since the paddlers cannot see how far the finish is and are solely focused on paddling, there is a drummer in front of them to make calls for different types of strokes. In the back, a steersperson helps physically guide the boat with an oar, totalling the full boat capacity at 22 people.

The club currently has about 50 active members that compete against other dragon boat teams across the state.

“For our club, we don’t have tryouts,” Chiang said. “You just express your interest and we will show you the ropes. If you like it, you can join.”

The team attends about five competitions every season, from May through November. These competitions are also known as dragon boat festivals and are similar to swim meets, where many teams gather and race in heats.

“We usually do have two boats,” Chiang said. “[To decide who competes,] we evaluate every member based on their athletic experience and dedication to our practices. We have our primary boat and then a secondary boat, with the primary having more experienced members.”

In one specifically important race called the College Cup, the Davis Racing Dragons compete against all the other UCs, Stanford University, San Francisco State and San Jose State. Chiang said that the UC Berkeley dragon boat team is currently the team’s closest rival.

“The other races are very fun, but this college race specifically is very close to our hearts,” said Kristin Wong, third-year food science major. “Last season, we beat Berkeley. That sense of accomplishment that we did something with a specific group of people is something I will cherish a lot.”

All of the festivals are planned and held by the California Dragon Boat Association (CDBA), which is also responsible for opening up a racing facility in Alameda for four-hour Saturday practices. The CDBA makes sure that there are dragon boats, paddles and safety gear available to the team, and also takes care of boat maintenance and cleaning.

“We try to maximize our efforts [in Alameda] since there is no available body of water near us,” Chiang said. “We usually have conditioning sessions two to three days a week to maintain a high physical level.”

Along with water practices and conditioning, the team has weekly general meetings in Wellman Hall on Thursdays from 7:15 to 8 p.m. All club events are open to all UC Davis students.

Like any sport, dragon boat racing has a competitive side to it, but also acts as a social activity for students.

“Being apart of something bigger than yourself is what this sport really embodies,” Wong said. “This sport ties every kind of aspect of your life together because it connects to our emotional, relationship and physical levels. It embodies everything in my life and ties them together into this one group of people.”

Overall, whether it is the Davis Culchies Hurling club or the Davis Racing Dragons, diversity is everywhere on campus. For an athletically and culturally enriching experience, students are welcome to join one of the several international sporting clubs on campus.

“Whether it’s dragon boat or any other club, there is nothing to lose by joining,” Chiang said. “In any cultural club, there is usually a sense of strong community, not only bonding by what culture we are assimilating [toward], but just by being friends and going to the same college and sharing interests.”

RITIKA IYER can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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