Intramurals under new management because ‘There’s always a game to be played’

Patterson Field at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. Audrey Rudolph/The Occidental

A tradition spanning over 80 years, Occidental’s intramural sports program (IM) allows students to engage in friendly competition without committing to varsity-level athletics. Although IMs are not meant to be as serious as varsity sports, some participants speculated that a combination of the easygoing atmosphere and managerial restructuring the past two years has created program gaps.

Ben Smith (senior) was introduced to IMs when a friend’s basketball team was short one player his sophomore year. After that game, Smith officially joined and has played every year since.

“I love the friendly competition and I love that it’s an opportunity to play seriously, but also have fun and be with friends,” Smith said.

Recent alumnus Ciaran Gilligan ’19 has played soccer since he was young. Seeking a low-commitment outlet, Gilligan played IM soccer for four years and worked as an IM referee for three years.

“It was one of my favorite parts of my Oxy experience,” Gilligan said. “When I started playing, there were tons of teams and it was a great way to run off the Sunday hangover, and a bunch of people would show up to games.”

After a few years, Gilligan said the IMs’ sails lost their wind. Teams from campus organizations, including Greek life and clubs, stopped playing, according to Gilligan.

“Around my junior year the second semester, IMs started to diminish quite a bit,” Gilligan said. “I think the main factors were just the dissolution of core groups that were more organized and the switch of management. Those were the two biggest factors in the downfall.”

Men’s soccer head coach Rod Lafaurie began his position as the IM management head this fall. According to Lafaurie, previous management heads for IMs included Isabelle Dunn ’18 and Jonathon Padron ’14, who ran IMs jointly between 2018–2019, and Jordan Sanchez, who ran IMs during the 2017–2018 academic year. There has been a new management head every year for the past three years, according to Gilligan.

According to Lafaurie, coaches at Occidental typically have a secondary job in addition to coaching. Lafaurie said he was in charge of the front desk at the athletic facilities last year and this year he was reassigned to oversee IMs.

“It’s an opportunity to give back, and it’s also an opportunity to help other sports or other students,” Lafaurie said.

Gilligan said that the new management his senior year often left the players to figure out what to do on game days, an example of the general disorganization of IMs that was characteristic of his last year.

“It turned into just scraping together however many players you could get from a bunch of different places, which is less serious and less organized,” Gilligan said.

Smith said regardless of the situation, they would always find a way to play.

“No matter what, you’re playing a game,” Smith said. “The times I’ve shown up and the team hasn’t been there or the full team hasn’t been there, we’ve always been able to play a game, even if we shuffle around the teams or we play with people who were just there playing pickup. There’s always a game to be played.”

Each team plays an average of one game per week on Sundays for about an hour. Smith said his team tries to practice routinely during the week as well.

In the past, Occidental has offered an array of intramural sports, ranging from whiffle ball to inner tube water polo. According to the admissions department, over half the student body participates in either intramural or club athletics. This semester, soccer and basketball will be offered and competitions will run Oct. 6–Nov. 27, according to Lafaurie.

“There have been semesters where other sports have been offered, but they are canceled due to lack of interest,” Lafaurie said. “There seems to be more interest in basketball and soccer since most people play those.”

Lafaurie said he would be open to adding more leagues in the future if there is enough interest.

For the past two semesters, IMs concluded without hosting playoffs — a part of the season most participants cherish, according to Gilligan.

“It was a bummer [not having playoffs]. We were excited about it,” Gilligan said. “For the teams taking it seriously, deciding not to have playoffs at all, it felt like the nail in the coffin.”

Smith also said the abrupt season ending was disheartening and may have been a byproduct of the program’s inconsistent structure.

“It was disappointing,” Smith said. “I think it’s because it started a little later in the semester and it was a little disorganized.”

Lafaurie, although not personally involved during that time, said it was most likely a result of timing.

“It’s a scenario where we need to find that balance of maybe starting a little bit earlier and a function of timing towards the end of the semester,” Lafaurie said.

Smith said reincorporating playoffs is paramount.

“I just wish there was a little bit more structure and organization so that it didn’t leave us wanting more at the end of the year,” Smith said.

Heading into the first weekend of IMs, Lafaurie is looking forward to seeing the turnout and scheduling the semester.

“I’m excited to see where numbers are and if we can grow it,” Lafaurie said.