Vassar has an established athletics department, with many students participating in Liberty League sports team. However, there are many more students who don’t have the time or the background to participate at the varsity level. With this in mind, Vassar offers an extensive intramural program that incorporates many different sports from the popular choices of soccer, basketball and volleyball to roller hockey and a rather obscure game known as pickleball. These vastly differing sports offer students a great range of opportunity to get involved in some facet of athletic activity.
The two most popular sports are, unsurprisingly, soccer and basketball. With at least seven teams competing in the soccer seven-a-side league this semester, and ten in the three-vs-three basketball league, it’s set to be a competitive season for all those involved. For some, one sport isn’t enough, as is the case with senior Ahmed Sanda, who plays in both the soccer and basketball leagues. Sanda does favor basketball; he said in an interview, “I prefer basketball because there’s more ball movement. You don’t need as many people to play so it’s easier to organize. I also just prefer it as a sport. It gets my blood flowing.” Sanda said that, though both sports are casual, the basketball court could get heated at times; “Players can be a little too competitive and push people’s buttons.” Though it never escalates much farther than that, “[There is] a little trash talk and some people getting a little physical.”
Senior Elliot Randolph added a different perspective to intramurals. Randolph used to be on the track team but quit after getting in trouble numerous times with his coach for playing basketball. After quitting track, Randolph needed an outlet to blow off steam and found solace in basketball: “Some of my friends were on the team so I just joined in.” He agrees with Sanda, “It can get too competitive. There have been times, I didn’t know these guys, but apparently they didn’t like each other and they went after each other really aggressively and words were exchanged.”
Though Randolph did say that there were plenty of friendly rivalries, and, more often than not, the play reflects a high standard at a friendly level. While Sanda finds a higher level of competition in basketball, he really enjoyed soccer’s atmosphere. “I played soccer mostly so I could hang out with friends. It’s definitely more of a social event for me. We all get together and joke around but the standard is high and people definitely play to win.”
Sophomore Grace Gregory also plays soccer and agrees with Sanda about the atmosphere on the field, “It’s fun. It’s really casual but at the same time it’s competitive, which is good and pushes me to play harder. The quality is really high since a lot of the people played on varsity or in high school, so the standard of the games is very high.” Gregory also played in high school and was very appreciative of the fact that she could keep playing soccer in college. “I don’t want to play on the varsity team but I still wanted to play a sport I really love and have played most of my life. It’s a great way for me to relieve some stress and get exercise.”
There are also players who play on a Vassar team but have been able to enjoy intramurals even so. Junior John Winton, an ‘A’-side rugby starter, also plays in the softball intramural league. Winton, like Gregory, is very happy to be able to keep playing a sport he loves, “It gives me a chance to play a sport that I like playing with good friends and without too much of a time commitment.” He accentuated the claims already made by Randolph, Sanda and Gregory, “It’s almost like we’re hanging out but we’re playing a sport. You’re not worried about your performance or the score line.” Though he hastened to add that this was his team’s mindset, “It’s what you make of it. Our team just messed around but other teams played to win.”
Since most people already know the rules of soccer, basketball and softball, that leaves the aforementioned pickleball. The name itself has pickleballers at odds with one another. Some maintain that it comes from state representative Joel Pritchard’s dog Pickles, while others state that this claim is false and say it was actually named after “pickle boats,” since the paddle apparently reminded Joel Pritchard’s wife, Joan, of a pickle boat. A pickle boat is when oarsmen are chosen to make up a new crew from the remainder of other boats.
The resemblance was most likely brought on by the fact that the racquets used in the first game of pickleball were pieces of plywood found in the Pritchards’ garage. The game was invented by the Pritchards, who, on a dull summer afternoon in 1965, tried to get a game of badminton going. Fortunately for us, they lacked a shuttlecock, and were forced to use a whiffle ball and, as has already been stated, use plywood as racquets. Nowadays, pickleball racquets look more like enlarged ping-pong paddles. The game itself can be played either in doubles or in singles. The court has lines that look like an upside down tennis court’s but without alleys. Play is much like tennis, but the front 7 feet is a no volley zone and players must wait 2 shots before they can volley. Though most of the shots resemble those you would play in tennis, there is one known as “the dink” whose name refers to the soft touch that is needed to lift the ball just over the net and into the no volley zone, where a return shot is nigh on impossible.
The mix of casualness and competitiveness is characteristic of Vassar’s intramural program. For many students who formerly played sports in high school but didn’t wish to carry them forward into college, having the chance to play for fun yet still enjoy a competitive match is invaluable.