At the University of Louisville, intramural sports can play an integral part in many students’ college experience. Indeed, there are a number of opportunities here to fit a variety of interests, from Ultimate Frisbee and tug-o-war to bubbleball and dodgeball. There are also more traditional sports, such as track, tennis and basketball.
That is intentional. According to John Smith, assistant director of the Department of Intramural and Recreational Sports, while many universities are trimming their intramurals programs to include just traditional sports like basketball and volleyball, UofL offers 34 different leagues, tournaments and special events comprised of 26 different sports.
“We take a lot of pride in our offerings, like sand volleyball, putt putt golf and a swim meet. Not many other intramural departments offer a track meet to their students. We are only aware of one other department in the nation that has a day similar to our Canoe Regatta. Our calendar of intramural activities is much more diverse than most other universities,” Smith said. “We have started offering online activities like NCAA Bowl Pick ‘Em and NCAA March Madness bracket contests.”
The Department of Intramural and Recreational Sports has a long and colorful history on campus. The first homecoming event of the intramural program was a mile and a half inter-fraternity cross-country race, named by Ellis Mendelsohn after he became the head of intramural sports in 1953. Participants literally ran for birds — first, second and third place finishers won a live turkey, a goose and a chicken, respectively. The last place finisher received a goose egg. In 1970, a women’s race, the Hen Waggle, was added.
This race, now called the Turkey Trot, is the oldest, consecutively run road race in the state.
Although there are no longer livestock prizes for intramurals winners, the department continues to provide a fun outlet for students. According to its website, its goal is “to improve the quality of life and sense of belonging for all members of the University of Louisville community” through community via sports and fitness activities.
Few have such a deep perspective as Smith, who has been at UofL for 32-plus years. He breaks the department down into two parts: Intramural Sports and group fitness/club sports/recreation.
“Most people know our department as the Intramural Department but within our profession, the word Intramurals refers specifically to the structured leagues, tournaments and special events like Flag Football, Soccer, Racquetball etc.,” he said.
The Intramural Sports program included 8,140 students participating in the past year.
The department also includes group fitness, club sports and recreation where facilities like the Student Recreation Center and HSC Fitness Center are made available for people to use on their own schedules. About 15,000 people participate in these opportunities. The SRC and HSC Fitness Center combined average around 550,000 hours of use from those participants, according to Smith.
To meet demand, the department is one of the largest student employers on campus, something Smith takes quite a bit of pride in. Staffing levels depend on the time of year, but typically there are between 110 to 120 students employed at any time. Their roles range from checking people in to providing instruction on equipment use.
There are also students who serve as event assistants during intramural games. EAs get teams signed in, keep score and time, and assist the supervisor on duty in any way needed. Those supervisors are also students who have typically come up through being an EA or who have been involved with the program in another way. They have the responsibility to administer the intramural activities throughout the year, Smith explains.
“Plus, we have sports officials in every sport. We provide that as well as ongoing instruction/training for anyone interested in becoming an official. Becoming involved as an official can open the doors to a considerable amount of opportunities around the city as other agencies come to us regularly for help in that area,” he said.
Another critical component of the department is the Intramural Council, which is made up of a representative from every team/organization in the program and acts as an advisory group or focus group. The council meets every month and makes recommendations about adding sports, or taking some sports off the calendar that aren’t popular. The list of events is continually being modified.
“We’re happy to provide so many different opportunities for our students,” Smith said. “We hope that anyone that participates in our program, whether on an intramural team or in any other program area, develops a sense of belonging between themselves and the University of Louisville. Being involved with something you enjoy is maybe the best way to cultivate that sense of belonging. We know many lifetime friendships come from being on intramural teams together.”
More information about the department and its programs is available online.