Rachel Fischer and Vonni Spigai,
Willamette students who choose to participate in intramural sports, despite heavy academic workload, are surprisingly dedicated. The program sees many of the same students of various backgrounds and competitiveness come back season after season, becoming very invested in winning their league, getting a prize, t-shirt or simply having fun.
The Willamette student body is roughly 25 percent student-athlete, and that certainly contributes to the participation in the most popular leagues (soccer, 5v5 basketball and volleyball). However, there is also a sizable percentage of the participation that comes from non-student athletes with an interest in sports, socializing and getting out of the library. For some students, intramurals can be seen as a relatively low-commitment activity, while others do not see the value in it or are uninterested. Intramurals do experience fluctuations in the participation rates based on different classes interest. Participation is also contingent on the sports being offered and the weather. Freezing temperatures can keep some people from playing some of the outdoor sports, such as 6v6 soccer and 5v5 flag football.
Ty O’Donnell (‘19) is a fan of intramurals and began his intramural career during his first year of college. Each year O’Donnell has come back to play in multiple different intramural sports.
When asked what sparked his interest, O’Donnell said, “the people that attend this school and my love of sports. It is a great way to stay involved with the sport you love while playing with your friends.” The program draws people of all different interests from all three campuses at Willamette (College of Law, Willamette MBA, and CLA). It allows for students to make friends with people who wouldn’t normally interact with one another. It is a great way to meet friends and build a community that is enjoyable and safe.
In addition to the students from the three Willamette schools, study abroad students from Tokyo International University, who study at Willamette for two semesters, also enjoy intramurals. In recent years, ASP students and intramural organizers have worked together to facilitate Undoukai, which is a series of games and relays that many ASP students grew up playing. This mixed participation, of not only playing against students from different schools but also playing with them, facilitates a very different environment than students encounter on campus. The intermingling of the different sectors at Willamette helps to break the “Willamette Bubble” and get students into a new social and physical environment.
Despite the program’s best efforts to encourage all corners of Willamette’s population to participate, intramurals still experience periods of poor participation, which can only be expected on a campus like Willamette. The attempt to balance academic demands with endless club commitments and a feeble attempt to hold onto the semblance of a social life on top of all of this makes it more than understandable that some students can’t fit intramurals into the equation. Despite this reality, the program attempts to make the services easily accessible to those who are able to participate.
There are definitely groups at Willamette that are not interested in intramurals, but that is a hazard of working with sports—it is something that does not interest everyone. Aidan Smithvail (‘21), is not a fan of certain aspects of the intramural sports program at Willamette. Specifically, he highlights a different problem within the program, saying, “Sometimes people form teams that have really good, experienced players that dominate the league and beat all the other teams by a landslide. Sometimes teams will place themselves in the beginner league despite their abilities.” This problem could be another reason why students don’t participate—they feel that their team will not succeed because another team will surely “dominate” them if they are not experienced enough.
One change that could occur within the program is the assignemtn of players to teams. The program would organize teams and try to put people at various skill levels together to create a more even playing field. There could be a day of tryouts that would help the intramural program decide on appropriate teams. This would be a good way for students to meet new people and have a more intensive game.
Intramurals at Willamette are about more than just the t-shirt: it is a community that thrives off of the people that participate and the program hopes to keep this participation alive by accommodating its participants.