Believe it or not, Case Western Reserve University just might be a sports school. Not necessarily in terms of varsity athletics participation or the attendance rate of sporting events, but in regards to recreational sport participation in the form of intramural scrimmages and club events. The latest Undergraduate Student Activity Report for the year 2012-2013 showed that a shocking 23 percent of undergraduates are involved in the intramural sports program either as participants or fans.
This information may come as a surprise, but Assistant Director of intramurals and sport clubs Matt Lake is well aware that Case’s program is booming compared to other academic institutions. “We’re really lucky to have a high percentage of students at Case who participate. Our levels of participation at Case are really similar to what we’d see at a Division I school that’s extremely athletically focused. I mean, we had 60 basketball teams sign up. I talk to colleagues who have trouble getting eight to 10 teams. We’ve been fortunate to have students that are interested and the facilities to do them in.”
The intramural program sponsored by the university is organized by Lake and Director Pat Kennedy with the intent to increase healthy activity and competition among students as well as foster a sense of community through athletics. Many students begin their involvement in the program with a group of friends or their Greek organization. They may come for the free t-shirt that is awarded to an event’s champion, but they often stay on for the sense of community and healthy athletic competition. Lake is glad when students join the intramural system early. “If we can get them in the first year…we’ve got them hooked. Playing intramurals is a very addictive thing…in a good way.”
Students who are not involved in the varsity athletics activities often miss out on opportunities to be active and meet other students and faculty outside the familiar environment of a packed lecture hall or a sequestered classroom in the Peter B. Lewis building. Intramural participant Christina Buckoske is familiar with making acquaintances within the academic atmosphere as a senior pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering, but has enjoyed growing her social circle as a member of her intramural team.
Buckoske competed in her first intramural match back in her first year with several floormates. The sense of community and friendly competition is what keeps her coming back. “I’ve always played sports, but the camaraderie of intramurals here is really nice. You get to play with grad students and med students. You generally just get a chance to meet people who you never would get to otherwise. It shows that being here isn’t just about the school work and group projects.”
Lake agrees that the main draw of Case’s intramural program is the wide range of participants. Everyone who signs up for an event just wants to play and Lake, with his group of trained officials and student assistants, does his best to ensure that players have a good time. “Our goal is to play as many games possible because that’s what students want. There are exceptions to the rule but they don’t want to win; they want to play the game in the vast majority of cases. Most students would rather play and lose than not play the game and win. We really focus a lot on making sure people have fun.”
Senior Kevin Baxter reaffirmed the importance of the program’s focus on healthy competition. As a member of the Monstars, Baxter participated in most of the major intramural leagues since his freshman year. His initial plan to break up the monotony of studying with athletics has become a major part of his campus experience. “I’ve been playing sports my entire life. I wasn’t looking to be super competitive with the varsity stuff. A lot of people on the team aren’t the most athletic so we just have fun with it.”
That doesn’t mean that there’s no incentive to win. The intramural champion t-shirt is a highly coveted item within the department. “Our goal every year is to get at least one t-shirt,” said Baxter. “Some years we’ll get really close and come in second. Sophomore year we got to the finals in volleyball and lost, but then we came back in our junior year and won. So that was really fun for us.” Buckoske also knows about the draw of free swag. “It’s all about the t-shirt for us,” she joked.
The program is firmly planted within the realm of recreation. The events range from basketball and football to battleship and bowling. During the chilly February month, the teams also organized a snowman building competition. Lake is eager to include activities that obtain a wide variety of participants. “We teach students how to be healthy and have fun with it. Building snowmen, as funny as it sounds, is a way to do that. That’s been something kind of cool to watch…seeing people get excited about silly things. We’ve been going back a lot to ‘kid roots.’ Sledding, building snowmen, playing in the pool with battleship—it’s a lot of good memories that come back.”
Buckoske and her team participates in several sports together and most Greek organizations put a team for almost every possible division of play. So far this year, participants are evenly distributed between freshman, sophomores, juniors, seniors and graduate students with a few faculty and family measures thrown into the mix as well.
Athletic competition is a great way to relieve the stresses and anxieties of a rigorous study schedule. The department works to ensure that the informal and friendly environment doesn’t turn away anyone who wants to participate. With a lower number of female participants, it is more likely that some events won’t have enough teams to form the league. The department is currently working to encourage students who don’t want to enter a competitive game atmosphere to participate with the co-recreation leagues, which mandate that teams are comprised of both men and women. “We’ve really sort of embraced the co-rec culture in lieu of pressuring females to make teams. It’s more about the social atmosphere and getting out and playing something with your friends.”
Each department at Case claims that their primary objectives are both academic and community based. The athletics department is no different and the intramural mission is clear in every event they sponsor. “With intramurals, it’s about fostering a sense of pride in the whole campus. When you win a intra contest and you’re the champion of the entire league, you get an intramural champion t-shirt. They’re the same for every intramural contest. It’s more about being proud of Case and being the best player on campus than it is about being a part of one particular team.” This goal works to focus both the staff and participants of the program. With campus pride as the guiding principle, players put less focus on a trophy or award and more focus on just having fun engaging in the games and sense of teamwork.
Lake and Kennedy make it a habit to sit down with players in their senior year to discuss their intramural experiences. The skills and confidence the students gain by participating in these programs is sometimes difficult to quantify. “It’s sometimes hard for students to see what it adds to their educational experience,” said Lake, “but that’s what being a team leader is about. It’s rallying people together to go and accomplish a goal. There are a lot of really cool experiences that our students are able to have that can definitely help them in the future.”