It’s 9 p.m. on a Wednesday and Andrew Swierenga, a junior economics major, is just leaving his apartment. While most students are settling down to study or hanging out with friends in the dorm, Swierenga is heading to the gym.
His intramural innertube water polo team has a game tonight.
Intramural (IM) sports have been part of Wheaton’s campus life for decades. Walking into Chrouser Sports Complex on a weeknight, one will likely find the basketball courts or the pool occupied by dozens of IM students. Intramurals also take place on the outdoor tennis courts, the soccer fields, and the sand volleyball courts.
Different intramural sports are offered each quad, giving students a variety of options to choose from. Options range from traditional sports such as basketball, soccer and volleyball, to newer activities such as spikeball, pickleball and even inner tube water polo. The IM staff sends out an email to all students every quad with sign-up papers for the sports being offered. Students create teams and select a captain to receive details about the IM season.
With no coaches, practices or intercollegiate competitions, intramurals create a more relaxed sports atmosphere that all students can enjoy. To join an intramural league, students do not need to try out; teams are usually created by friends looking to play a particular sport together.
Isaac Kim, a senior business economics major, is one of six paid intramural staff members. On staff since freshman year, Kim has played or organized nearly every intramural sport that Wheaton offers.
“Volleyball is probably my favorite sport to play, it’s very chill. Basketball is definitely the hardest, so it’s not up there for me,” said Kim, laughing. “But inner tube water polo is probably my favorite to organize. It’s so fun to just watch people and see how they get really into it, and it gets really intense.”
Swierenga has played many IM sports, but he shares Kim’s enthusiasm for inner tube water polo, which takes place in the Jonathan Lederhouse Natatorium.
“My favorite IM memory is actually [a recent] inner tube water polo game,” said Swierenga. “We’ve been trying to beat this team, the Guppies, for forever. Freshman year we lost to them in the championship, sophomore year we lost to them in the championship, but we beat them in the regular season [on March 23].”
Inner tube water polo isn’t the only crowd favorite. Basketball draws the most sign-ups. The sport is offered as 3-on-3 in the fall and 5-on-5 in the spring (with A, B, and C men’s leagues for 5-on-5). Anneke Van Gorp, a sophomore studying Christian formation and ministry, played both seasons this year.
“I joined basketball because I played in high school and it’s fun to play,” said Van Gorp. “I did 3-on-3 in the winter, and we won that one. That was a really fun highlight.”
While intramural games only last an hour and each season is done after a few weeks, students have found long-lasting community through intramural sports. Kim estimates that 550 teams are created each year. After four years of participating in intramurals, Kim is leaving Wheaton with a great network of friends.
“My favorite part about IMs is interacting with other students,” said Kim. “I feel like I make a lot of friends from intramurals. I’m not very athletic in anything, but being able to play various sports, not even at a serious level, is so fun.”
Kim believes that the unique, light-hearted competition of intramural sports is what brings students together.
“I think there’s such a strong community because it’s people being active and experiencing pain and victories together,” said Kim. “It’s a competition that’s not too serious but still somewhat serious. Yeah, there’s a championship T-shirt on the line, and people get really into it, but it creates a competitive atmosphere that’s still pretty chill and a community where everyone somewhat knows each other.”
Josh Choe, a freshman studying business and economics, has played basketball, volleyball and soccer this year. He agrees that community is the biggest highlight from all the IM games he’s played.
“I think the best part of IMs is the opportunity to interact with other people on campus that you normally would not have the chance to,” said Choe. “This allows the community on campus to become more interconnected. For example, there are people that I have only met through IMs that I now consider close friends.”
Nati Hamilton, a freshman studying sociology who played IM soccer in the fall, said he enjoyed spending time on the field with friends.
“I played IM soccer because I love playing soccer, and my friends wanted to create a team,” said Hamilton. “We had a pretty big team of my friend group, but it was really fun, and it was honestly more about hanging out and having fun than about winning.”
David Walford ‘02, the head cross country coach for Wheaton’s men’s and women’s teams, has also been the intramural sports director for 13 years. As director, Walford is responsible for leading the staff who coordinate, referee and set up IM sports. Leading this team has always been a highlight for him in his work.
“Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m. are my favorite part about being the IM director,” said Walford. “I meet with the IM staff every week during the school year during that time. I have loved the time that I have spent with all of them over the years.”
While Walford finds joy in the behind-the-scenes work leading his staff, he knows that the games are what leave an impact on students.
“I would say the purpose of IMs at Wheaton is to provide an organized athletic platform in which students that aren’t involved in varsity sports are able to have an athletic experience,” said Walford. “I believe that IMs can be a great place to forget about schoolwork and other stresses of life for a period of time and play.”
As his first year at Wheaton comes to a close, Choe is grateful for his IM experience. “IMs help make the Wheaton community closer and more connected,” he said.