By now you’ve surely seen them: students in small pods on Blanchard Lawn or around the Smith-Traber dorms, flailing and falling in an effort to bounce a yellow, baseball-sized ball off of a small, black and yellow net. They’re playing spikeball, a new intramural team sport that, more than any other outdoor game on campus, has seen a surge in popularity during this semester of cancelled athletic and social events.
Intramural (IM) sports, which take place each quad, are run by David Walford, who also serves as the head coach of Cross Country. The leagues differ from Varsity and Club athletics in that they do not compete against other schools, but rather teams within the Wheaton community made up of undergraduate and graduate students.
With the implementation of COVID-19 precautions, 2020 – 2021 IM seasons weren’t certain, some were canceled altogether. “Normally our intramural seasons are filled with big team sports,” said senior IM staff member Abram Erickson. “Normally we don’t have to think about how much space we need, how many people can we have in one area, how many spectators are allowed, but those are all things we had to consider now in trying to be as safe as possible.”
Fall A-Quad intramural sports typically consist of soccer, ultimate frisbee, sand volleyball and flag football. All were canceled this year, with the exception of sand volleyball and replaced with spikeball and pickleball leagues.
IMs represent a component of extracurricular on-campus life for some students. Junior history major Blake Chaput, who has participated in IMs since coming to Wheaton, expressed his concerns. “When I heard Intramurals might not happen, I was really bummed because they were a way I was able to meet a lot of people,” Chaput said. But the challenge presented an opportunity for IM participants to be inventive. “We have to be more intentional about how we’re getting together this semester,” Chaput said.
In response to the indoor limitations and spacing guidelines, Intramural Activities promoted a surge of outdoor activities, including the addition of a spikeball league. Spikeball follows the concept of volleyball but with a round net on the ground. It is played with two teams of two players, making socially distant in-game play easier than other sports.
Spikeball, originally called ‘roundnet,’ was created in 1989 but didn’t rise in popularity until 2015 after appearing on the hit show “Shark Tank.” The sport now has a Pro Division within the Spikeball Roundnet Association.
The Wheaton spikeball league had 24 different teams who met at McCully Stadium every Tuesday and Thursday night, playing two games per night on six different nets. Ultimately, teams played four weeks of regular season games and two weeks of tournament games from Sept. 15 to Oct. 22.
On Oct. 22, the Middlesbury Spikers defeated the BikeSpallers to be named the 2020 champions of the intramural spikeball league, led by sophomore mathematics major David Houlihan and freshman history major Eli Odell.
The Spikers began playing Spikeball together in high school and now credit that history for their victory in the tournament. “We’ve been playing together for a couple years now, we put a lot of work in this summer [on improving] our serves and that came up big.” Beyond athleticism, community also played a role in Odell’s experience. “It’s always nice to be in a competition with a friend and fellow brother in Christ,” said Odell.
Houlihan was also thankful for the community and the opportunity to meet students from every class. “We got some people’s numbers, and we’re gonna continue to play together even after the season,” he said.
“It was inspiring to watch people come out and play, not being discouraged or disgruntled by the new rules and regulations and to just really taking advantage of the opportunity to play,” Erickson said. “It’s fun to see how sports can still bring a lot of people joy.”
As students look forward to intramural competition upon their return from Winter break, Intramural staff is working to create a schedule that will abide by the guidelines. Winter IM sports like basketball are typically indoors, but Erickson says that the staff will work to create ideas despite challenges and “provide students with a chance to play.”
Wheaton College, IL