The whistle blows, and the game commences. It’s colder than it should be, but that may be attributed to the various broken windows that cover the top half of the old gymnasium. Cheerleading mats and a roughly 60-foot high baseball hitting net encroach upon the “playing field,” but this doesn’t seem to stop the athletes.
Outdated pennants hang around the gym – names of colleges on them, both those that are still in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference and those that have moved to different conferences over the years. But the games taking place here are not part of the N.C.A.A.
On a typical weeknight, students take time out of their busy schedules to come and play intramural sports. In the few hours among homework, papers, deadlines and jobs, they manage to get together for some friendly competition.
Teams with humorous names fill the indoor soccer stands, such as “Happy Feet,” “The Jiminy Kickits” and “We Too Lit.”
Intramurals sports began in 1913 between two rival schools, Ohio State University and the University of Michigan (UM). Elmer Mitchell, a graduate student at UM came up with the idea and is considered the “father of intramural sports.” Mitchell took over the program in 1919 after a five-year hiatus due to World War I. He then led the intramural program for over 20 years and even authored a book on the topic.
James Rippey has been the intramurals coordinator at FSU for the past three years. A graduate of Boston College and Northeastern University, he taught high school mathematics for years before coming to FSU full time.
“It was a great opportunity. I was teaching high school at the time and coaching [lacrosse and football] here,” he said. “The position became available and this was something I was interested in. I certainly miss some aspects of teaching, but not grading or anything like that, so this worked out well.”
A former intramural player himself, Rippey also participated during college, playing mainly basketball and flag football.
“I think it is fun to be in a competitive, athletic environment. A lot of students come from the high school setting, having played high school sports, and maybe sports aren’t in the cards at the college level. But the opportunity to go out and play and compete [is important],” he said.
Although these sports are not part of varsity college athletics, Rippey still finds them exciting and fun to watch – both the good and the bad.
“It’s always nice when someone throws down a dunk in basketball. For every one that’s successful, you have five kids that tried and didn’t make it,” he said, laughing. “There are some epic games in terms of last-second shots, buzzer beaters and shoot-outs.”
With six seasons since 2013, indoor soccer is one of the most popular intramural sports at FSU, according to Rippey – despite the many hindrances in the back gym. He said these obstacles add a fun and different element to the game. “I think the setup we’ve got is great. You’ve got different obstacles and every once in a while, it goes off the backboard. There’s different elements to it that make it exciting and different than regular soccer.”
Other intramurals include floor hockey, five-on-five basketball and three-on-three basketball.
Rippey most values student feedback while scheduling different sports, as he is most concerned with getting a good number of students out and playing. There are roughly 100 students signed up on FSU’s intramural website.
“I’ve really just been trying to receive feedback from the students and tailor it to them. We’re running indoor soccer now in the fall and the spring because we’re getting the numbers for it.”
He said the focus is “getting more students to show up. The biggest change I made when I took over was scheduling everything on a weekly basis. I know you guys have different work schedules. … I tried to make a point of it, but again, you can’t please everyone.”
However, Rippey has noticed a bit of a decrease in student participation in the past few years and would love for more students to come out and play. Also, students often sign up for the league, but do not show up to the games, ruining the fun for their fellow athletes. “There is nothing more frustrating than having six teams on a schedule and a team no-shows.
“Everyone’s busy. I know people work and that type of thing, but it is also a changing culture. Everyone’s on their cell phone or playing too many video games and people are just not in the gym as much.”
Senior Cam Tougas said, “I played sports in high school and I enjoyed it a lot. I didn’t have time to play sports in college, so I play intramurals.”
He recalled his favorite moment from intramural basketball during his sophomore year. “Bleed Green” was his team’s name, referencing a common slogan used by diehard Boston Celtics fans.
The season didn’t start off well, as the team underperformed, but he believed they were better than that. “We weren’t great during the regular season because some of our guys had class, so they couldn’t play most games,” Tougas said.
“We went from 2-6, I think, then swept the floor with everyone in the playoffs to win the championship,” he said. “It was easily the best moment I’ve had during intramurals.”
Junior Steve Gronlund said, “I think intramural sports are fun because you’re playing sports you love with your friends. … Winning the [three-on-three] championship is my favorite memory.
“I play because I get to keep doing what I love even if it’s not at a collegiate level,” he added.
Junior Mike Chandra said, “It’s good competition. Even though it’s intramural soccer, it is really competitive. You feel good after a win and bad after a loss, but it’s all for fun.”
Senior Adam Volpe said, “Indoor soccer gets more intense than you would think. Kids are out here to win.”
He recalled last year’s intramural soccer finals, when his team lost to “Off in Church,” which went undefeated that season.
“We had to play two games in a row, and we were just dead by the second one. We had no business being in the finals anyways, we just got hot in the semis,” he said.
The champions of each intramural sport or tournament receive a T-shirt, emblazoned with “Intramural Champions” on the front.
Senior Marquis Sims said, “It’s all about the shirt. That’s all I play for.”