Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 23, 1996

Non-Varsity Athletics:
Living The Active Life

Stacey Patton
Editorial Intern
As a tri-varsity athlete at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, I always looked down upon non-varsity sports as having second-class status. My view of the athletes who played intramural sports was that they were unskilled and uncoordinated people who had no real sense or understanding of sports.

Then I watched an actual non-varsity game here at Homewood. And I realized that those athletes, indeed, had a love for the sport, and most of all they had fun and a sense of satisfaction. Unlike myself, they had not lost the true meaning of activity, which tends to be overshadowed by the competitiveness often stirred up by varsity athletics.

Bill Harrington sits in his small cubicle of an office enclosed by a cage with two incandescent lightbulbs flickering above him. The atmosphere, though, does not dim his eager attitude about the intramural sports program and its possibilities. Harrington is director of recreational sports, which includes the casual frat house or dorm-based intramural sports--like ultimate frisbee--as well as the more competitive and structured club sports--like rugby. He praises non-varsity athletics at Hopkins for instilling wellness and physical, as well as mental, fitness while giving students a sense of satisfaction about themselves.

This past August the intramural sports program experienced a transformation that will affect the entire student body. Non-varsity athletics has been moved from Merryman Hall as a part of Student Activities to the Athletic Center, where it will be under the auspices of the Athletic Department.

Tom Calder, director of athletics, also praised the move, saying that non-varsity sports at Hopkins are beneficial and necessary to the community. He emphasized that the move would make activity scheduling more feasible, and it would also sharpen communication.

"I think it's very good. Up until four or five years ago, non-varsity sports were under the Department of Athletics. I think that moving the program back to the Athletic Center is a good move. Our students are highly competitive in the classroom. Students need a release from that atmosphere. Whether a student participates in varsity, club or intramural sports, the participation serves a purpose. It is very important and worthwhile."

The move itself was inspired by the soon-to-be-built recreation center. The motivation behind it was to develop a comprehensive program prior to opening that facility. And being within the walls of the Athletic Center makes activities more accessible to students and increases dedicated administrative oversight. As Harrington says, "Now we have sports for all."

Although now the non-varsity sports program at Hopkins is vibrant, this was not always the case. In 1933, university president Joseph Sweetman Ames expressed his concern about the increasing commercialization of intercollegiate sports as well as the lack of attention given to recreational sports for the total student body. He appointed a faculty committee to examine the situation at Johns Hopkins.

As is the case today, Hopkins required athletes to pass regular courses, which indicated that the university's academic priority was a first on the agenda. However, there had been a growing concern about the developing philosophy of recreation, the emphasis on big sports activity and the lack of recreation activity for a large part of the student body. During the summer of 1934, Ames had decided that a gymnasium of some kind would be necessary at Homewood if a new program of intramural sports was to be developed; and tight as finances were in the early '30s, he set aside $30,000 for its construction.

"The athletics-for-all program was developed and directed by G. Wilson Shaffer," Harrington says. "At that time, the intramural program was being organized within class teams, fraternity teams and individual competitions. Every available open space was being used. I think that Shaffer should be praised for his efforts and philosophy on activity. I am merely following in his shadow."

Since 1933, there has always been a positive attitude about the non-varsity program, and participation levels have been good. Today, the recreational sports program is expanding, designed to provide athletic recreation in the form desired by individual students.

Production of a show for either non-competitive students, alumni or the public is not even a secondary purpose. Instead of emphasizing the production of highly trained team athletes dedicated to winning, the intramural program encourages the students to select an activity, which will remain pleasing and useful throughout their adult life, and not completely dropped soon after graduation.

Hopkins' non-varsity sports selections fit the tastes and capacities of every student on lines so broad that more than 800 students--one-fourth of undergraduates--engage in some form of recreational activity. The results have been so satisfactory that there has been no thought of going back to the way things were before 1933, a time when there were competitive sports facilities for only a handful of students.

Jessi Crain, a junior, has enjoyed the fruits of recreational sports at Hopkins. She has played mud volleyball and has participated in the Outdoor Club, which includes hiking, canoeing, rock climbing and other activities.

"I played varsity soccer before coming to Hopkins," she says. "I didn't want to do varsity sports in college because it took up too much time and there was so much commitment involved. But when I started participating in recreational sports I had so much fun. I like the program because it relieves my stress, it's a positive thing, a getaway from campus, and it offers leadership opportunities," she says.

Non-varsity sports at Hopkins cannot be looked down upon as having a second-class status. There are 25 club and intramural activities (see sidebar) available for students. The most popular are mud volleyball and basketball, each of which attracts around 50 teams per year. All activities offer a laid-back atmosphere and are designed to emphasize participation rather than competition.

"We set unique trends here at Hopkins and we stay with them," Harrington says. "With our intramural program, which is run by students, everyone benefits. Students develop an understanding of the game and get personal satisfaction. We meet everybody's needs."

For information, contact the Recreational Sports Office in the Athletic Center at (410)516-5229 or the Recreation Sports Information Line at (410)516-8198.

Non-Varsity Sports

This list shows the recreational sports available to undergraduate students on the Homewood campus:

Club Sports Intramural Sports
Aikido Badminton
Cycling 2-on-2 Basketball
Golf 3-on-3 Basketball
Ice Hockey Flag Football
Karate Indoor Soccer
Kendo Outdoor Soccer
Kung Fu Pool
Lacrosse Sand Volleyball
Rugby Softball
Soccer Table Tennis
Tae Kwon Do Tennis
Tai Chi Ultimate Frisbee
Volleyball Volleyball

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