Freshman year at college holds a lot of big changes and new experiences for people. Students finally get to enjoy the freedom of college life and the vast opportunities that come with it. But for the student athletes who weren’t able to make the transition to collegiate athletics, it can feel like a part of them is missing.
Fortunately for students who attend Michigan State University and other Big Ten schools, there are structured competitive intramural (IM) sports that offer an outlet to those who want to play sports at a competitive but fun level in their spare time.
“It took me about a month into college before I realized I needed some sort of athletic activity in my life,” said Michael Branch, an MSU student who participates in and officiated intramural sports. “There was just this gap, you know?”
Acting as an alternate form of club sports, IM sports are meant to bridge the gap for students who want competition but at a more relaxed level. MSU offers 25 to 30 IM sports during the fall, spring, and summer semesters.
“To be honest, I had no idea that there was going to be so many sports offered,” Branch said. “When I started signing up for sports with my friends at Sparticipation, I thought it would just be the basics like flag football, soccer, basketball and volleyball. But I guess that’s one of the perks of being a Spartan.”
According to Ross Winter, assistant director for IM Sports, 19,940 students and faculty were involved in the 2016-2017 school year, including 3,671 members of the freshman class. And after three new sports (battleship, badminton and table tennis) are added in during the winter break, Winter expects to see those numbers grow.
But IM sports give students more than just a way to keep playing the sports they love.
“In my opinion, intramural sports are a recreational activity that is an extension of the classroom,” Winter said. “It allows students to engage in university activities, to relieve a little bit of stress, to meet some new people as well. Students learn transferable skills that help them in the classroom and help them in their future jobs.”
Studies by Michigan State show that students who are physically active generally perform better in the classroom. That case holds true for student Masen Pieters, who is a part-time coach and part-time referee.
Pieters has played intramural sports at MSU since his freshman year, while coaching basketball and officiating on the side for youth leagues around the state. Pieters, an accounting junior, spends anywhere from 20 to 25 hours a week in the gym.
“It’s tough to keep up a schedule like that while also maintaining a social life,” said Pieters. “I would say, a different dynamic than what you get in most of life.”