The MSUM intramural department has been a staple on campus for decades, providing sports leagues and recreational activities for students. While their methods have remained roughly the same throughout their history, the past year has brought many changes with more to come, including efforts to hire a full-time director.
Graduate assistant Natasha Smith was promoted to her position over the summer after working as a sports coordinator since 2007 in order to help director Todd Peters – the Dragon swimming and diving coach, the Nemzek pool supervisor, the director of the Dragon Swim School and physical education teacher – with the administrative side of intramurals.
“The biggest thing (I ask of the staff) is to be self-sufficient,” Peters said. “Because of the demands of my job and how much I travel, I am not always around to take care of things. Having Natasha at that elevated position has changed things tremendously.”
Smith said this was a year of transition, but change is not coming fast enough.
“I think we’re in a position where we want to make progress but are unable to because of limited facility space and a lack of community between the Wellness Center, the Rec & Outing Center and intramurals,” Smith said. “It’s limiting how we access students. We’re trying to branch into the Wellness Center with our wellness activities (weekly activities that do not require registration), but they’re not promoting our activities, and we’re not promoting theirs. If we were working as more a team instead of two separate entities, it would make both organizations more popular.”
From 2006 to 2009, intramurals averaged at least 2,000 participants per year. Since then, however, their numbers have dropped to just under 1,000 participants last year. Smith blames the department’s lack of promotion, among other things.
“We’re serving a limited number of students,” Smith said. “I don’t think we are promoting (intramurals) enough and I don’t think participants are promoting it enough. We need to make our participants advocates for this program and that’s just not happening right now.”
Junior Mara Wessel, the intramural volleyball coordinator, simply blames the transition for the decline in participants.
“I look at this year as a rebuilding year,” Wessel said. “Our rules are stricter, and we make captains sign a waiver. I think those are positive things for intramurals, but with that, you are always going to lose some people that were used to the other way.”
Another change was introduced last year, when the department switched from paper schedules to online schedules with the use of Athleague, a networking website for intramurals. Participants must register on Athleague to participate, but can do so via their Facebook accounts. With Athleague, participants can view schedules online and receive text messages when changes occur or announcements are made.
“As a staff member, it’s a lot easier for us,” Smith said. “We don’t have to hand-make schedules. It is lot easier in terms of rankings and keeping win/loss ratios straight. For students, online access and being able to know everything within a second of us posting it is a great feature. Team registration can be tricky, but it shouldn’t be a deterrent.”
The biggest change is yet to come for intramurals. The department hopes to hire a full-time director within the next two months.
“Our program has grown out of one that was fully run by students,” Peters said. “With a full-time director, they can guide where the program will go, and having that day-to-day oversight will really allow the program to grow.”
Dragon intramurals is one of the few programs in the nation that does not charge students to participate (with the exception of hockey, which costs student $35 to cover ice time). However, that will most likely change by next year.
“It (intramural fees) was part of the whole plan to pay for this new (full-time director) position,” Peters said. “More than likely, the person we hire will already have experience with that. They are going to know how to deal with that.”
Despite all the changes, the department believes they will come out of this transition period better than before.
“Intramurals is an important part of campus,” Wessel said. “It’s a big thing for some students to play in the ‘big gym’ where the varsity team plays.”
Students active in intramurals are able to overlook the changes and see the benefits of participating.
“I’m not a college athlete, but intramurals still allows organized sports play as if we were all college athletes,” said junior Abby Furth, an intramural basketball and volleyball player. “It’s just a great way to stay active and involved for people that like competing or miss their high school sports days.”
Senior Alisha Bettin, who has played intramural volleyball for three years, believes that intramurals would be advantageous for any student willing to participate.
“It’s a great social interaction,” Bettin said. “Everyone should play intramurals, period.”
BY DANNY DETERMAN