Athlete alums resume their journey with opportunities provided at respective schools
As Ali Sparrow ’21 wakes up in her freshman dorm at the University of Texas at Austin, she can’t help but feel like something is missing in her life. Her mind wanders back to her high school years at ESD, filled with sports, practice after practice, game after game, win after win. Having played soccer since the age of four, Sparrow misses one of the most formative parts of her adolescence: sports. While many high school athletes figure their days of games and teams are over once they graduate — unless they commit to a university’s varsity level team — athletes have the opportunity to participate in their university’s sport at either a club or intramural level. Club sports are more competitive, requiring tryouts and playing against other university’s club teams. On the other hand, intramural sports, organized by students, are generally less competitive and only play against other intramural teams.
“Going into college, I knew I was going to have a hard time not playing sports anymore or being a part of a team,” Sparrow said. “So I decided to join the UT club lacrosse team and the intramural soccer team through my sorority.”
Playing sports at an intramural and club level offers athletes the opportunity to continue playing the sports they love, but it doesn’t restrict what they do with their free time.
“The intramural teams are laid back, with the lacrosse team having two optional practices a week,” Sparrow said. “The soccer team [has] no practices and only games every Sunday night.”
Intramural sports also offer athletes the opportunity to put aside their high school rivalries and come together as teammates to play the sports they love.
“Many of the women on my intramural soccer team are people I had played against in high school,” Sparrow said. “So it has been a lot of fun getting to now play with them and get to know them better outside of our regular sorority activities.”
Sparrow spent the majority of her high school and middle school years playing sports through the school, as well as on club teams. The casual aspects of intramural sports allow for her to rekindle her love for the game.
“The intensity of the college level intramural teams is nowhere near as intense as it was in my past,” Sparrow said. “I have enjoyed it this way because now I really love the sports for what they are.”
However, one of the main aspects of intramural sports is that one doesn’t need to have previous experience in that sport to be on a team. For Scott Neuhoff ‘19, a senior at the University of Richmond, intramural sports gave him the chance to hang out with his friends, as well as play sports he’d never tried before.
“I actually didn’t want to play [intramural basketball] at first and wasn’t on the team [at ESD],” Neuhoff said. “Then I went to [a] game and saw all my friends having fun on the court and joined the team because they were having such a great time.”
Compared to varsity level or club sports, intramural sports offer other sports to choose from. Some schools even offer flag football and a modified version of Quidditch, the cherished sport at the forefront of the “Harry Potter” series, at an intramural level. Neuhoff and his friends have played intramural softball, soccer and kickball; however, basketball remains their favorite sport.
“We’ve never practiced for soccer, softball or kickball,” Neuhoff said. “We practiced for basketball twice, but I think we were the exception in the league. We really just enjoy playing basketball, so it was mainly just for fun.”
Through intramural sports, Neuhoff and his friends connect with different groups of students across campus.
“Our team was mostly organized through a ministry group/Bible study that I’m a part of,” Neuhoff said. “We had a huge group of fans that would come to our games which was super fun. Everyone [from the ministry group] who wasn’t on the team would be in the stands.”
And experience is not necessary. For Neuhoff’s team, having played basketball in the past is not the main priority when it comes to forming a team.
“We had four guys out of the nine on our team play in high school,” Neuhoff said. “League wide I think a lot of people didn’t play in high school. It was a fairly level playing field, and if you were generally athletic, you could be a good player. We had a few guys who played in high school, so they kinda coached us and made sure everyone knew what their role on the court was.”
However, some students, like Sparrow, find they enjoy intramural sports better than club sports, as it allows for more flexibility in their schedule.
“The lacrosse team grew to be a little too much for my schedule due to the fact that not many universities in Texas have any sort of lacrosse program,” Sparrow said. “[This caused] the majority of our games and tournaments to take place far away and out of the state.”
But intramural sports are not a new addition to college life. In 1916, Berry M. Whitaker went to the University of Texas to establish one of the country’s first organized intramural programs in the country. Since then, the tradition of intramural sports has continued for over a century. Lesly Mathurin, one of ESD’s athletic trainers, participated in intramural sports throughout his college career in the nineties.
“I played flag football, basketball, softball, soccer and volleyball throughout my seven-year college experience,” Mathurin said. “Every sport I played I liked equally. [We] didn’t really spend time practicing for them. [We] just showed up and played. I had no [previous] experience playing competitively, but most of my teammates played the sport in high school or at the collegiate level as an undergraduate.”
Both Sparrow and Neuhoff can agree that participating in both intramural and club level sports has enhanced their college experience for the better.
“I didn’t play any of these sports in high school, and honestly, it makes me wish that I did,” Neuhoff said. “It’s also fun to get to play different sports and challenge your body in a different way. It’s also really fun to play in an organized sport with referees and a scoreboard. That sounds small, but you really miss that once you leave high school and don’t have it anymore.”
They also advocate for the joining of either club or intramural sports, no matter one’s level.
“Being able to compete and stay in touch with the sport every Sunday is always a great end to my weekend,” Sparrow said. “And a great motivation to continue staying active for the rest of the school week. With all that, both the experiences have been great, and I would definitely recommend signing up for the intramural sport you love at the college you choose to attend.”