September 25, 2014

O-Issue 2014: Club and Intramural Sports

Whether you’re an experienced player or just looking to make friends, UChicago’s diverse slate of intramural and club sports has all your bases covered.

Last year, according to Assistant Athletic Director Brian Bock, about 5,500 students, graduate and undergrad, participated in 32 different intramurals ranging from broomball to football to euchre. Another 1,000 students participated in 41 different club sports.

Broomball in particular is an important part of the UChicago brand. During winter quarter, so long as the weather is cold and the ice is firm, students head to the ice rink on the Midway to play a modified version of hockey, with sneakers subbed in for skates, brooms for sticks, and a tiny soccer ball for the puck.

And, in the last couple of years, enthusiastic students from the Harry Potter generation have popularized Quidditch, in which players run around with brooms between their legs. Scoring the Quaffle works roughly as it does in the magical variant, whereas Seekers chase a Snitch that’s actually a rubber ball in a sock tucked into a volunteer’s waistband.

Soccer, flag football, and basketball, though, are predictably the most popular intramurals, and soccer actually surpassed flag football last year as the most popular intramural. It’s not unusual to see intramural teams where the majority of players have high school experience.

The athletics department offers coed, men’s, and occasionally women’s leagues for both graduate and undergraduate students. The leagues come with the works: playoffs, referees, and trophies for league champions.

For students who like to keep their competition and their physical fitness separate, the University offers leagues in chess, backgammon, and other individual games.

“We use the term sports sometimes loosely,” Bock said. “So some people might not say backgammon, euchre, and spades are sports. But at the University of Chicago, they are.”

Another UChicago tradition is midnight soccer, which students organize outside the aegis of the athletics department. Starting first week, teams from different houses come out to play on the Midway at around 9 or 10 p.m., with as many players a side as they can handle. The results are a formality more than anything—and the season stretches until the ground freezes over.

Whereas intramural sports offer a way for houses to bond and for friends to stay in touch, club sports are social circles unto themselves. The University distinguishes between clubs focused on competition and clubs focused on instruction and recreation. Clubs, like varsity sports, travel to compete against other Midwest schools.

Badminton is the most popular club sport, with 56 participants in the 2013–2014 school year. But crew, archery, water polo, climbing, women’s rugby, and men’s ultimate aren’t far behind, all with about 50 participants.

Different club sports attract different sorts. The badminton club is full of international students, many of whom played badminton in their home countries. The men’s volleyball club, on the other hand, leans West Coast, and the triathlon club is full of science majors. Every club, though, has a mix of experienced players and curious newcomers, and most clubs actively seek out new members at the beginning of each year.

The slate of 41 club sports is a veritable smorgasbord: There’s squash, gymnastics, several varieties of martial arts, fencing, cheerleading, lacrosse, handball, and quite a bit more.

Club sports are categorically more demanding than intramurals, which, for some students, is a draw. The crew team, for example, meets before sunrise to practice on the Chicago River during fall and spring quarters. When the river’s frozen, they meet several times a week for indoor workouts instead.

Travel is also a major plus—the sailing team, for example, has spent a week in France each of the last two years in what its skipper called the “best week of [her] life.”

Clubs also have a strong social dimension, both within the University and without. Team members tend to become friends outside of just their sport, and several sports, like archery, encourage opposing teams to mingle at meets.

Sign-ups for intramurals usually happen through houses’ designated intramural rep, via the online registration website Club sports usually have Facebook pages or websites, and tend to advertise at RSO fairs.