Why I Love/Hate College Intramurals

Beware the -ides of mid-September! to what -ides am I referring? Well, there’s “weakside,” “homicide,” and the big one, “pride.” And, apart from being -ides, what do these terms have in common? Intramural sports – particularly, intramural basketball.

Anyone who’s read my take on being a high school benchwarmer understands my lifelong love affair with the basketball lifestyle. The game contributed significantly to my childhood development, and I would go even so far as to say it has helped shape who I am as an adult. I’m certainly not the best at it, nor would I claim to be the most passionate, but it means a great deal to me. After high school, I wanted to continue taking the game seriously, but even before I got out of high school, I learned a valuable lesson about taking it too seriously.

Church ball: a phrase that will live in infamy for every Mormon whose ever stepped foot in a cultural center (that’s Mormon for “basketball gym”). In order to fill the roster requirements, our small Darrington branch had joined forces with the neighboring ward in Arlington. Our coach was a man whose mannerisms and facial hair resembled this fellow:

imgresAs did his love for high school sports. Here was a guy who was constantly living in the past, reliving the glory days when he too could probably throw a pigskin a quarter-mile. 

“Call your own fouls,” he said during one of our pickup games. Under the guise of toughening us up, our coach turned a friendly game of 21 into some kind of free-for-all: hacking, shoving, traveling, you name it, he did it. I’ve always told myself, “maybe it was an accident,” but in retrospect, perhaps there was a part of me that just wanted to play basketball, and was tired of this guy ruining it . . .

He was guarding me too close, and, in an effort to clear some space, I pivoted into him, keeping my elbows high. Whack! A stray elbow caught him right across the face, and down he went. We all just stood there while our coach clamped both hands over his eye. And that’s when the blood came out. Like. A lot. He went to the hospital with a concussion, and came out with five or six stitches just above his eyelid. My elbow was fine. It was a scary experience because in addition to the actual head trauma my carelessness had caused, there was still a part of me that didn’t feel that bad for what had happened. That was the scary part. I decided from then on that I never wanted to be the guy that lost his cool during a game, no matter how important, because no game is more important than a person’s health.

Thankfully, I never became that guy after high school, but no man is an island. And when it comes to basketball, everyone has their demons.

My first post-high school experience with basketball was in the form of college intramurals, back in September of 2007. After having ridden the bench much of my senior year, you can imagine how eager I was to get back on the hardwood and continue my pursuit of the perfect jumpshot, and I was happy to see that there were so many others who felt the same. How freeing it felt to be able to redefine myself, take on a starter’s mentality, and actually be considered a threat on offense. On the surface, everything looked very similar to my experiences during summer league play of 2006: cheap mesh jerseys, volunteer referees, 20-minute running halves, and incredibly unpolished play.

The game provided us with an incentive to stay in shape and practice, but when tournament play came along in late fall, the stakes got higher, and the intensity adjusted accordingly. Those cheap mesh jerseys became spotted with blood produced from the connection of elbow-to-nose; the volunteer refs and administrators (who were our peers) became targets of enough aggression – “the nerve of these people, thinking they can be allowed to officiate an important game with only a couple months’ worth of reffing experience” – to rival the NFL volunteer ref fiasco of 2013; the 20-minute running halves outran us; and that “incredibly unpolished play”? Well, understatement doesn’t seem to do that justice.

And that was just men’s intramural basketball. Don’t get me started on coed . . . 

Now I can’t stop myself. Coed intramural basketball was originally designed (or so we’re told) to level the playing field between the female and male players. What developed, however, is some kind of hybrid sport that resembles a three-on-three girl’s game (full court) while four guys (who appear to have some terribly contagious disease) walk around aimlessly trying desperately to not come into contact with any of the female players. (Speaking of the female players, I’m all for a competitive game, but some of you are just as crazy and reckless as we are, so, playing field leveled, I guess, but you know who you are).

But why engage in either of these sports if they are so detestable, you might ask. Why share the court with players who obviously have some unresolved high school trauma or some unrequited state championship dreams; why handcuff yourself to the rules of coed play, while the girls run themselves ragged doing 90% of the work; why risk being officiated by some college freshman majoring in PE (no offense PE majors); why, why, why?

Because of that damned intramural champion t-shirt.

I don’t know what it is, but we college students go crazy for free stuff, particularly t-shirts. Anyone who has done the Blazin’ Challenge at Buffalo Wild Wings knows what I’m talking about (I looked for a video that showcased just how idiotic this challenge is, but they all just made me hungry). I have one such t-shirt (DII Coed Volleyball Dream Team, what?), and I don’t know why, but putting it on makes me feel incredibly proud, and a little bit silly all at the same time. It’s like saying you did theatre in high school or something.

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That’s really what we’re all fighting for, though. A shirt. It becomes our trophy, and makes several of us feel as though we’re actually intercollegiate athletes. I suppose that’s why many intramural teams begin to resemble actual college teams: they have practices and coaches, employ questionable recruiting techniques, and from what I’ve seen, probably go so far as to use PEDs. We spend so much time and money (intramural schedules are NOT cheap, let me tell you. You’d think they’d give us less crappy jerseys.) that we probably could make our own intramural champion t-shirts.

If you plan on having a successful intramural season this year (and success can be defined in many different ways) this is what you should take away from this post:

1) Stretch: We don’t need a bunch of pulled hammys out there. Most of us aren’t as limber as we once were in high school (and some of the ones who are still act like they are in high school).

2) Go Easy on the Refs: And they’ll be more likely to go easy on you. They are bound to blow some important and potentially game-costing calls out there. If you’re feeling particularly heated during or after a rough game, go watch Frozen, and Elsa will walk you through how to get over it (I hate myself for the reference).

3) Smile Every Now and Then: Seriously. Even if you are losing, you can still look for ways to enjoy yourself. I’ve played against people whose lack of basketball sense has almost ruined the game for me, but they sure were having a helluva time.

4) Don’t Lose Your Cool: You’re not helping your teammates, you’re not helping anyone. Also, you’re embarrassing yourself. Also, you could get arrested. A friend of mine used to date a seasoned intramural referee, and one of her horror stories included a guy who, after having been ejected from an intramural basketball game, came back with a knife (this is BYU). In other words, just go away. 

5) and most importantly, Get that Shirt, No Matter the Cost: Nuf said.

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