NEWS-Contract controversy: Is Social Club paternalistic?

We're a sporty bunch here in Charlottesville, and if you need proof, just look at the success of two outdoor social clubs: the Outdoor Adventure Social Club, which after nearly three years has approximately 200 members, and the Charlottesville Sports and Social Club, which launched this fall and has already gathered nearly 200 members who play kickball each weekend. The latter will expand to include dodgeball and wiffleball games this winter.

While no one argues that meeting new friends and engaging in healthy activities is a bad thing, the Outdoor Adventure Social Club has raised some eyebrows with its strict contract that forbids members from getting together for any type of outdoor activity that is not club-sponsored.

"From time to time, members may also organize their own social events," reads the contract, "but never any activity involving physical exertion other than walking (hiking not permitted)." Also verboten: activities that involve an "overnight stay."

In addition, the contract has a broad no-compete clause that prohibits OASC members from using Yahoo or Google groups to contact other members and from starting any sort of outdoor social club anywhere in Virginia– or West Virginia.

If anyone might see those rules as paternalistic or overreaching, OASC founder Matt Rosefsky says the contract is designed to protect members and to help keep the club in business.

"The bottom line is we do live in a legalistic society," says the 33-year-old Rosefsky, a 2003 Darden grad. "Anybody who creates anything in this legalistic society is going to have to put protection in place."

Well, maybe not anybody. Though he acknowledges that someone could start a competing club, Charlottesville Sports and Social Club founder Chad Day says he does not require members to sign such a document. 

"We encourage people to get outside and do whatever they want," says Day, who adds that he has invested time and thousands of dollars of his own money into the club.

But Rosefsky says preventing people from undertaking their own outings is necessary because of the greater danger in the wilderness than on a kickball field. "Being out there in the woods is not safe if you don't know what you're doing," says Rosefsky, pointing out that he is "deeply devoted to ensuring the safest outdoor experiences possible."

That includes making sure all leaders are CPR and first-aid certified. But that's not all. "The majority of our safety measures are behind the scenes," says Rosefsky, "with emergency situation management training and continuous learning among all club leaders." On one recent trip, says Rosefsky, the group came upon a poisonous copperhead snake in the middle of the trail. In that situation, Rosefsky asks rhetorically of neophyte hikers, "Do they know what to do?"

As for the non-compete clause, Rosefsky says that's just the way it has to be.

"I put this club together," he says. "It took me six months of 100 hours a week, busting myself for no reward. I have not paid myself back yet for the money I invested to get this going." 

And it's not just his own investment he worries about. Rosefsky's work has created such intense loyalty among members that several wrote to the Hook to express support for the club and disdain for anyone who would criticize the contract.

"While I can see how such a policy might rub some the wrong way, it's important to keep in mind that any organization must meet the 'bottom line' if it wants to continue to function and offer its services," writes OASC member Mike Schutz, who teaches at Longwood University in Farmville. "Should the club suffer from competing organizations taking advantage of Matt's hard work laying the groundwork, founding, and building up OASC, current and future members would suffer along with the club."

More than a dozen other members also touted positive experiences. "If there was no OASC, I would have moved out of Charlottesville a long time ago," wrote Brian Eisenhower, who says the events vary from "fun to the most fun imaginable. He says, "After the last hike, I was smiling for days. We were sitting around on a sunny rock in the woods, talking like we had known each other for years, and I had just met these people!"

"This club is probably the best thing that has happened to me since I graduated from UVA in '04," writes Ellen Alford, who adds that she gladly signed the membership agreement. "In the five months that I've been in the club," she says, "I've found myself participating in activities I would never have imagined doing or have the capability to do on my own."

Rosefsky points out that he has never needed to enforce any portion of the contract, and does not intend it to limit the relationships. And while he stresses that the club is not intended to be a singles club, there have been several marriages among members, Rosefsky says, and one couple who met in the Club will soon welcome the first Outdoor Adventure Social Club baby. Rosefsky says he's also never heard anyone complain about the contract, and worries that if people focus only on the contract, they'll get the wrong idea about the club, which offers an average of two activities every day.

Member Rich DiStefano offers a succinct opinion on the critics of the contract. "If someone doesn't like the rules, they can politely not join the club," he says. "We have several hundred members who have no problem with any of the agreements for membership."

Copperhead = Need for contract?