Intramurals Require Ambition, Accessibility


Courtesy of Isabel Hulkower

Fifth-year Olivia Salas lobs a pitch to her teammate last spring. Weather permitting, intramural spring sports are scheduled to start in fewer than two weeks.

Sarena Malsin, Sports Editor

Organized sports definitely have their allure. Beside the stress release of physical activity, you get the community of a team, the drive and mo­tivation of a coach and the adrenaline from an organized competition. However, this all comes at the cost of pressure, extensive time commit­ment and often physical strain, all of which can sour the pure joy of running around outside and playing sports for some who prefer a more re­laxed environment.

For those people, there are intramural sports. Intramural leagues whittle away the obligation and stress that comes from com­mitting to a sports team leaving only the time spent outdoors and the camaraderie of a group activity. At the cost of some organization, that is. At Oberlin, as the varsity teams are beginning their regular match schedules following inten­sive preseasons, intramural soccer and softball captains are gathering motley crews together to start their own seasons.

While there used to be more official intramu­ral options available to Oberlin students, such as squash, racquetball and table tennis, the program has narrowed its focus to cover sports that garner enough interest to sustain sufficient numbers for leagues to form, leaving soccer and softball as the two heavy hitters to carry the pro­gram in the spring.

Betsy Bruce, director of recreation and club sports, has been trying to get a volleyball league going for years, but no dice.

“Over the years, this school has definitely tended to be a soccer school,” she said.

Bruce acts as the faculty liaison for the intra­mural program, though she stresses it is entirely student-run and organized. One of her main goals for the program is that its low stakes help it to serve as a launch pad for first-year involve­ment in athletics.

“It’s a great way, particularly in the fall, for first-years to meet each other in the dorms,” she said. “We’re really trying to encourage people to be the ones to stand up in that first meeting and go, ‘Hey, I want to play soccer! Who’s in with me?’”

One of the core aims of the intramural pro­gram is to be as accessible in terms of physical­ity, ability and athletic identity as possible. The leagues are open to all genders, and varsity play­ers are allowed to participate as well, though they must wait one year before participating in club and intramural leagues if they plan to play the sport that they once played at the var­sity level at Oberlin. This is intended to prevent more experienced players from dominating the casual environment. However, balance is also required within the leagues themselves to ac­count for different levels of intensity.

“Some teams are really gung ho and some are really just out there to have fun,” Bruce said.

In softball, this is mediated by some in-league rules, which require that teams pitch to themselves instead of their opponents. That way, each squad has to account for its own stacking of talent while still enjoying external competition.

“It really equalizes teams, especially a team that’s out-of-season jocks compared to newcom­ers,” Bruce said.

But after their year of athletic time-out, intra­mural is beneficial to the ex-jocks as well.

“The intramural program has allowed me to continue playing the sport I love without the add­ed time commitments and pressure that comes with playing for the varsity team,” said senior Owen Diana, a former varsity soccer player and fall intramural soccer captain. “Intramural soc­cer allows one to express themselves more on the field than in a varsity environment.”

Stefan Lund, a senior intramural softball play­er planning on starting a team for the spring, said he appreciates the fact that the intramural soft­ball league creates a less competitive level where one didn’t exist before.

“I mean I think softball in particular is an im­portant program because we don’t have a club team, and baseball and softball require a relative­ly large number of people as far as pick up sports go, which means it’s more difficult to organize games on your own,” he said. “You get a good mix of people, and it provides a league in an area of sports that otherwise doesn’t have a lot of options below the varsity level.”

Varying levels of ability aren’t the worst thing in the world for intramurals, as they contribute to the diversity of an informal atmosphere.

“Everyone’s busy, but IM offers a low-com­mitment, high-reward environment,” said senior Claire Ciraolo, a former intramural soccer cap­tain. “Different people bring different styles of play, and this challenges you to get creative.”

But with great expression comes great respon­sibility, and the onus of responsibility for intramu­ral leagues falls on the student captains entirely. Captains have to galvanize people to participate, try to keep track of ever-fluctuating numbers between competitions and schedule games with other Oberlin teams. It’s not an easy job, especial­ly blocking out convenient times to play outside in the busy lives Oberlin students lead.

Diana acknowledged that, with all the ben­efits of an informal and welcoming atmosphere, it creates a number of issues with scheduling and numbers.

“As members of the team are not required to attend any practices or games, it’s much harder for the organizers to gauge how many people will attend any specific event,” Diana said. “Also, the informality often means that there are many more players attending games than can play at any one time. The organizers of the intramural teams have to preoccupy themselves with trying to get everyone equal playing time.”

Based on his prior experience on a team his first year at Oberlin, Lund also anticipates struggles managing the commitment levels of his team members.

“Definitely getting people to show up [will be a challenge],” Lund said. “The casualness of it is great because it means people who don’t have a background in the sport, or who just aren’t the best at it feel a lot more comfortable, but it also means it’s harder to make sure everyone comes.”

Bruce believes the lack of official organiza­tion is fodder for important interpersonal les­sons for students. In particular, she said she thinks that the absence of any officials to monitor games provides opportunities to practice conflict resolution.

“People have had [officials] since they started playing [American Youth Soccer Organization] soccer,” she said. “I think college students re­ally need to learn how to mediate. There won’t be someone out there in zebra stripes all the time.”

She said that this lesson even extends to Ober­lin staff, who are also welcome to join intramural leagues. She described an instance when some­one on a staff team had to ask one of their team­mates to leave the game because of their negative attitude, much to the surprise of their student op­ponents on the field.

“If someone’s belligerent, arrogant, got out of the [wrong side of] the bed — send [them] away,” she said.

In a few weeks, when the weather warms up, you can find the softball and soccer intramural leagues battling it out (but not too hard) on the practice fields beyond the Knowlton Athletic Complex. Or maybe you’ll be that person in the first meeting to jump up and say “Who’s with me?”