Walking into the Kardatzke Wellness Center Fieldhouse on a Wednesday night in the middle of February, one may expect to find a gym devoid of people, students scared off by the howling winds and bitter cold.
Instead, they are likely to stumble upon, for lack of better wording, organized chaos. Corn hole bags flying through the air, sneakers squeaking on the wood court, soccer balls being rifled off the nets and a student running about in a Jar Jar Binks mask are all common sights to be seen on a February night in the Fieldhouse during season three of Anderson University’s esteemed intramural (IM) program.
There are exactly 90 teams participating in season three. Three men’s basketball divisions exist: “Wooden,” “Knight” and “Handy,” named after three Indiana coaching legends, with a total of 25 teams competing across the three divisions. Nine teams compete in the indoor soccer and women’s basketball leagues, while eight teams dive into Bennett Natatorium for pool volleyball. Thirty-nine teams compete for the cornhole championship, one of the highest drawing sports offered by the IM program in terms of sheer number of teams.
With so many teams packed into the fieldhouse to compete for an IM championship t-shirt, season three is undoubtedly the most hectic of the four IM seasons.
“I can find myself overwhelmed at times,” explained Casey Back, the Outreach Coordinator for the IM staff. “With so many teams and scheduling conflicts, it quickly becomes a giant puzzle.”
Trent Palmer, AU’s director of student engagement, explained that multiple factors lend themselves to the craziness of season three: the anticipation and the hype for basketball, the typically miserable weather and lack of sunshine during Indiana winters, the vast array of participants, the fan support and the late night contests all combine to create a sense of anxiety and sometimes even animosity.
“Basketball in Indiana reigns supreme,” Palmer said. “You can’t beat it. Even though we’re working with people that aren’t destined to be in the NBA or collegiate stars, I feel like there’s a part of each and every one of us that knows and loves the game. We get into basketball season and people are ready to go, even with it coinciding with the heat of the NBA and college basketball.”
While irritability and tensions can be at an all-time IM high, the excitement and entertainment factor of season three remain unmatched during other seasons.
“Season three stands out to me more than the others because it gathers everyone in the Fieldhouse around the same time each night of the week,” explained Kathy Gutierrez Eberly, a participant in cornhole, indoor soccer and pool volleyball. It provides a great way to see friends, meet new people and fellowship.”
Zach Whitehead is partial to season three because basketball is offered. “I love being able to play competitive basketball after playing in high school,” he said.
“It gives me something to look forward to in the middle of the cold Indiana weather.”
Back touched on the excitement that season three provides, saying, “It is equally overwhelming to experience the excitement of the season, witnessing so many people come out to play or simply to cheer on friends.”
Many students do come out for no reason other than to cheer on friends. Season three of intramurals is unrivaled in terms of spectators and general interest from non-participants. “Wooden” league basketball games can draw in excess of 100 fans to their games, especially when two good teams meet in a prime time slot.
“Whose Ball Is It Anyway?,” a team in the Handy division known predominately for its humor and on-court antics, drew over ten percent of the student body to their season finale in the 2016 IM basketball season, an unprecedented number.
Some of their antics have included players playing with their hands tied behind their backs, competing in “jorts,” wearing a blindfold, or donning a Jar Jar Binks mask while playing. While they aren’t racking up highlight reel worthy dunks, the allure of humor draws many spectators out to watch the team.
“Whose Ball is entertainment in every sense of the word,” explained Wes Davidson, a member of the AU men’s basketball team who is partial to watching Whose Ball Is It Anyway? compete. “They have a great cast of characters on their team that are great at what they do.”
With the massive number of games to be played and the competitive fire that flows throughout the season, it is necessary for the IM program to hire even more referees just to officiate season three games. With three basketball games, one soccer game, and one pool volleyball game all happening simultaneously, it would be impossible for the IM staff and full-time referees to officiate all of the contests during the assigned time slots.
Palmer explained that in bringing on these new officials, the criteria includes students who love sports, love the intramural program, have “thick-skin” and are leaders on campus.
Jack Stanton, a season three official, has enjoyed his experience officiating so far. “Being an IM referee has been a ton of fun,” he said. “I enjoy being a part of the AU community, especially when it involves sports. There are definitely times of stress, especially when people want to argue calls. It’s a lot of hard work.”
The officials for season three likely have one of the most unenviable jobs on campus. The officiating is done by students, none of whom are licensed officials, and in the case of basketball, are tasked with two man officiating crews rather than three. Luke Calvert, the IM staff’s co-referee manager, explained some of the verbal abuse officials take, specifically during basketball, stems from the desire to see the program improve even more. “I believe the tension that sometimes can exist between players and referees can be traced back to a desire to see the IM program become the greatest it can be.”
In the midst of the tension and long nights, Palmer has been pleased with the first half of season three. “It’s off to a great start,” he said. “We have a staff that cares so deeply and takes great ownership of the program as a whole.”
He explained that the staff has done a great job of getting games started on time, transporting the necessary scoreboards and equipment to courts where needed, and inputting all of the scores to IMLeagues, a website used by the IM program to record scores and track league standings.
“All of that makes a huge difference in the quality of our program and how it’s perceived by our student participants,” Palmer continued. He is also pleased that in the midst of the intense competition, tensions have not boiled over and resulted in unnecessary physicality or disciplinary repercussions.
For Back, season three gives so much back to her in exchange for the stress it can cause. “It is encouraging and rewarding to get to be a part of something like this,” she said. “Something that creates opportunities for others to find belonging and community on campus.