Flag football is a popular IM sport and is played at different levels, allowing both beginners and former high school star athletes the chance to compete. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

Our Sunday Best

IM sports let students get out and play

By From page A1 | November 24, 2013

In 2011, 450,000 people played college sports, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. In contrast, 7.6 million kids played high school sports in 2011, as reported in a US News article. For 7 million athletes, college sports are not an available outlet to pursue their passions.

That poses a question: What do those athletes do in order to keep playing sports?

For 8,600 people at UC Davis, intramural sports are the answer.

Intramurals are university-sponsored sports in which anyone, from undergraduates to faculty, can participate. Thirty-one activities are offered at UCD, ranging from the typical — like flag football and basketball— to the unusual, such as inner tube water polo, ultimate Frisbee and Quidditch.

Sports vary with the seasons. In fall, flag football is the most popular sport, and ultimate Frisbee, volleyball and soccer are also played this time of the year.

UCD’s Campus Recreation and Unions branch organizes each sport. The organizers get great feedback from the participants, according to Ben Dao, interim assistant director of competitive sports.

“Many students really love our program,” he said via email. “They love how many different sports we offer, but also the chance to play with their friends and socialize.”

One of those students is junior Brandon Hassid, a Davis High School alum known as the “Blue Man” for the color of paint he slathers over his upper body in support of the Aggies at sporting events. When he’s not coated in body paint and cheering himself hoarse, Hassid majors in exercise biology and plays IM flag football in the fall and spring, with basketball providing a break from the pigskin in winter.

Hassid played basketball and football and ran track while with the Blue Devils. Coming out of high school, intercollegiate sports were not an option for him; as it turned out, intramurals were a great alternative.

“It’s perfect,” Hassid said. “(Although) you could go play pickup basketball at the ARC … you’re not going to be able to play flag football, which is tough to organize. But here somebody else is organizing it, and it’s really easy to get into.”

Hassid has certainly gotten into it, along with many of his fellow students. His team, Doc’s Clinic, is one of 12 flag football teams in the A division, which is made up of advanced-level players. With a record of 4-1, Doc’s Clinic has secured a trip to the playoffs, the winner of which earns championship shirts, and a spot on the ARC’s wall of fame.

Although some of the rules are different from regular football, the flag football games allow students to go out and play like NFL players. Although no contact is allowed in the contests, many IM games are as hard-fought as a Sunday night 49ers-Seahawks clash.

Many players in the A division flag football games are former high school athletes, a majority of whom had no opportunity to play collegiately. Those players, although they were no longer on a team, found themselves missing sports in an organized setting. The intramural program fills that gap for the athletes.

“It’s a way for students to get together and compete,” UCD student Bobby Phan said. “If we didn’t have this, it would be a lot harder to get together and play.”

Two other sports offered by the intramural program are the popular year-round soccer — a distinction singular to the sport — and volleyball. The league set-ups are similar to flag football — ascending levels of competitiveness, with A as the most competitive division. There is also an entirely separate league for CoRec teams in most sports, where the teams are coed.

Just like football, the sports are peppered with former high school athletes who now attend UCD. Grace Emery is one such athlete. In her time at UCD, Emery has played volleyball, soccer, ultimate Frisbee and inner tube water polo. The sophomore plays volleyball, her favorite sport, at the moment.

“I would say that (I prefer) volleyball (over other sports),” Emery said. “It’s been one of my favorite sports my entire life, and it’s a little more competitive for me.”

Her current team is in the CoRec league, which provides more of a relaxed setting. But after she graduated from high school, Emery feared her volleyball days were over.

“It was hard to leave playing sports in high school,” she said. “So this was a good opportunity to keep playing. … It’s a lot more laid-back, but it gave me an opportunity to keep playing sports.”

Soccer, which Emery no longer plays, also has given many players the chance to continue their athletic careers, as well as to stay in shape. While the ARC is open for UCD students to work out, many find intramural sports a better way to exercise.

“If you’re used to being active, at practice and stuff like that, then (intramurals) are great,” sophomore Brett Fergusson said. “It’s a good outlet to release some energy.”

Kristen Sicke, a 2007 UCD grad, feels the same way. In high school, Sicke played soccer, volleyball and ran, but she had no intercollegiate opportunities.

Through a Christian-based organization called Athletes in Action, Sicke found other athletes with whom she formed various teams and friendships. In her four years participating in IMs, Sicke always felt included because of the teams that she played and bonded with.

“It was a way to still feel like a part of a sports team,” Sicke said. She appreciated “that feeling of meeting people and having camaraderie without the pressure of having to go through real college sports.”

For those who are looking for a sport that is a bit off the beaten path, there are plenty of IM options, including floor hockey, ultimate Frisbee, futsal (a variation of soccer) and inner tube water polo. Many of the participants are new to the sports that they are playing, which gives the action a more relaxed vibe.

Inner tube water polo definitely fits that relaxed-vibe mold, as every player is a beginner, and everyone is just out there to have fun. The game is played the same way as water polo, except the players are sitting in inner tubes.

“I had never even played water polo before,” said Emery, who played the sport last spring. “It’s actually really hard. Once you learn how to play, though, it’s a lot of fun.”

Only played in the spring, inner tube water polo doesn’t have as many participants as a popular sport like soccer. Those who do play, however, find it physically and mentally challenging.

According to Emery, the game also has a quick learning curve. And once a player has mastered the art of staying in their tube, which is no small task, the game can be one of a student’s best experiences on campus.

“That was one of my favorite intramural experiences,” Emery said. “Getting in a pool and having no idea what I’m doing, but really getting the hang of it,” was a lot of fun.

For many students, intramurals represent just the latest in a long line of athletic endeavors, a line that for many would have been severed if not for the program. Hassid summed it up this way:

“I would be disappointed if I didn’t have (intramurals). I don’t know if I would play as much if I didn’t have it. … I think it’s a good system overall.”

— Reach Spencer Ault at [email protected]

Spencer Ault

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