From courts to pools, how these students
found community somewhere in between
Words by Amanda Levine | Photos by Xiaoru Wang
The atmosphere in the game is loud and energetic. Bystanders stop to watch, but the players aren’t worried about them; they’re focused on each other and the other team. Teammates point to each other on where to stand while dribbling the ball, calling the shots. The players on the bench are fixated on the game, calling out students who are open. Whenever their team scores, they cheer. Some jump up yelling words of encouragement, while others remain seated. The bench shouts at their team to pass the ball, calling the plays when they think their teammates don’t see it.
Intramural sports are a relaxed activity where students compete in teams or individually in a wide range of sports. Going to these games is a lot different than going to your average college game. College games are passionate with high stakes. There’s an emphasis on winning and losing. There are rival teams and universities where the students care more about taking down a certain school than they care about winning a game. Intramural sports take that competitive aspect of college and professional sports but take away a high-stress environment. Intramural sports are about playing for fun with a bunch of friends, but in an organized way with the goal of a championship.
At Kent State, the most popular intramural sports are softball and basketball. Turner Goa, the youth program intramural sport graduate student, credits the interest in those sports to how successful Cleveland’s baseball and basketball teams are. In the fall, basketball has the highest enrollment, with soccer falling in at second, and in the spring, softball is the biggest sport, with basketball following close behind.
This past spring, Kent State added a new intramural sport: Innertube water polo. Goa says they added innertube water polo because Kent State didn’t previously offer any intramural water sports, and from Goa’s undergrad experience, he saw that water polo was a popular sport.
Anna Honerlaw, a junior studying fashion design; Clay Troyer, a senior studying integrated health studies; and Hanna Duncan, a senior studying fashion merchandising were on a five-person co-ed innertube water polo team where they competed in a four-week season. Honerlaw and Troyer were part of the sport’s inaugural season, and they were the first to win it all too.
After the announcement of innertube was made, Honerlaw had the idea of creating a team. She had played water polo back in high school and loved the idea of being part of a team in college with friends. “I don’t play soccer, so it was cool that I could finally do something that I had done and do it with my friends,” Honerlaw says. Honerlaw was the only one of her friends who had played the sport before, but she says “even though they didn’t know how to do it, it caught on pretty quickly.”
During games, friends of the team would show up to support them. Their peers would cheer from the sidelines and sometimes even get dressed up to show their support. “My freshman year for one of our tournament games, some of our fans would paint up,” Duncan says. “It’s always nice because you can always hear them cheering on.”
The trio’s team won the first championship. Earlier in the season, they faced a team that had been one of their only losses of the season. In the final round of the championship, they faced the same team, a group of seven guys, to win it all. With a focused mindset, the team of five were able to stay in the game to win the championship, winning free shirts and the first-ever title. “I think they [our friends] enjoyed it because we kind of looked like idiots, but we were victorious champions,” Honerlaw says.
“In a lot of sports, you can get caught up in the competition, but — innertube water polo — it’s so fun, you don’t care if you win or lose,” Duncan says.
Being part of intramural sports has given students like Honerlaw, Troyer and Duncan a community on campus. Duncan first joined intramural sports during her freshman year to meet new people. “Freshman year it was a really good way for me to get involved because I didn’t know anybody,” Duncan says. In intramurals, students get associated with the other teams and the referees for their sport, as well as their fellow teammates. Kent State is home to over 23,000 undergraduate students. Goa says, “I think it builds this sense of community within Kent State, with all the students coming together for a single interest and being able to bond.”
“I’ve gotten a lot of friends and met new people,” Duncan says, “[I’ve] formed better relationships and have a better perspective on doing things for fun because I know it’s completely different for intramurals. … We’re all out here to have fun.”
Kent State offers two diferent programs: league sports and tournament games. League sports are games played in teams and have a month-long season. Students can sign up with friends to create their own team or as a “free agent.” Tournaments are games that are one-day events. Students can participate in a wide range of sports, competing against numerous teams.
Although there are players like Troyer, who played four sports over the course of eight semesters — softball, soccer, volleyball and innertube water polo — the enrollment in intramural sports has decreased. With the addition of innertube water polo, Goa believes more students will join intramural sports. Goa says there were more than 200 teams for all of the leagues and over 2,000 participants.
Intramural sports are also a less expensive and time-consuming option than club sports. Troyer opted for intramural not only for the laid-back community but for the more financially reasonable option. For club sports, the players have to pay to be on the team, for travel costs, uniforms and gear and anything else the team would need.
Troyer sees intramural sports as less of a time commitment than club sports. Because there’s a more relaxed atmosphere, there’s less stress on someone’s athletic ability. Intramural is able to combine the organized and competitive aspect while still having a stress-free zone. “For soccer in particular, it’s very difcult to play a pickup game of good competitive soccer, and so having an intramural as that catalyst, I was able to pull them together and say, ‘Hey, we’re playing soccer,’” Troyer says.
As a whole, the team had to learn how to play innertube water polo. Although Honerlaw played in high school, the team had to adjust to the modification of the sport. “I think because the sport was new, we all had to learn how to play, so that was fun,” Honerlaw says. “I actually enjoyed playing around after practice. We didn’t [have to] follow the rules.”
Intramural sports have the ability to teach individual lessons too. Still maintaining that competitive atmosphere, Troyer says his teammates would hold him accountable if he started to take things too seriously. “I’ve always been super competitive, and so being able to balance that, we’re still here to have fun,” Troyer says. “All you get out of it is a free T-shirt. If you lose, all you lose is a free t-shirt.”
The program allows students to take a break from learning and school work, while still being challenged and involved. “I do it to get away from the education,” Troyer says. Goa adds that intramural sports also help students stay motivated with school work. “I think it really helps [students] out,” Goa says. “It kind of gives them that outlet, that stress relief. It gives them that social aspect as well, and it helps when refocusing on going to class and helping with homework.”
Intramural sports don’t distract from studies, but give students a break from their work. The activity also helps develop friendships between teammates, allowing students to get to know not only their friends, but also the other teams as well. “I think it just brings a bunch of people together, having fun and doing what they love,” Duncan says. “I’m passionate about sports and having fun. I think that’s pretty much what everybody out there is coming together to do.”