November 11, 2003

Combating Cornell's Varsity Blues

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Jansen Noyes never saw the hit coming. Four years ago, while playing outfield during a softball game, he went chasing after a fly ball hoping to make an easy out. One of his much larger teammates had the same idea, and the two ran into each other mid stride. Noyes crumpled to the grass in pain — the collision had broken his arm. Fortunately, his fighting spirit survived intact.

“We hit pretty hard,” he said, recalling the accident that sent him to the hospital. “I had to get carted off the field in an ambulance and everything, but I still play.”

You might expect to see contact like that on the turf at Schoellkopf or maybe even on the diamond at Hoy Field. But Noyes isn’t on the football team and he doesn’t play baseball. In fact, he doesn’t even work out. He’s an intramural athlete.

Therein lies the beauty of IM sports: students who, like Jansen, don’t have the finely chiseled abs of a wrestler, towering height of a basketball player, or flexibility of a gymnast, can still get out and play ball. Their bellies may be round, their height average, and their skills mediocre but beneath the layers of subcutaneous fat in all of them, you’ll find an athlete just waiting to get out.

“Send me your poor, your weak, your former high school stars,” beckons Jessup Field, the verdant North Campus Mecca of intramural sports. Any given Tuesday, you can find a few dozen guys and girls of all ages and varying skills playing soccer and football on its grass or inner tube water polo in Helen Newman pool or floor hockey in Barton Hall.

Uniforms? Don’t have ’em. Cleats? Who needs ’em. Practice? Only if you want to. You won’t find many decked-out teams here let alone post-game press conferences or sports reporters. These players come out just for love of the game and a desire to compete.

Yanni Hufnagel, for instance, played three sports in high school and varsity lacrosse for Penn State before transferring to Cornell as a sophomore. The former high school team captain doesn’t play lax for the Red, but he helps lead the defense on his fraternity’s flag football team.

“Playing for a top sports program is special because of all the facilities and benefits that go along with being a varsity athlete,” he said of his stint as a Nittany Lion. “I miss it a lot, but IM sports are certainly a way to keep playing and keep a competitive edge.”

Of course, the level of competition in even the most heated IM badminton match hardly compares to what you’d find in an ECAC track meet. Nonetheless, IM sports provide a handy outlet for those of us who suffer from the varsity blues.

Senior Justin Watzka, a former Cornell golfer, felt his days lacked something after he quit the team over a year ago. He soon discovered IM sports and got rolling.

“I’m the captain of the bowling team,” he remarked. “I take my job seriously.”

Watzka’s intensely competitive nature is the exception, however, as most IM-ers approach their sports with a much more relaxed attitude.

Junior Doug Ernst, a swimmer on the men’s varsity squad, sometimes feels envious. Several mornings a week, he and his teammates wake up around 5:30 for practice. They have another in the evening. By the end of the day, he’s whooped.

“Today we had four hours straight. We did abs for one of ’em,” he says wincing. “It stinks a lot to go to practice all the time, and I really wish I could play more IM sports.”

Who doesn’t? The intramural program at Cornell has something for almost everyone. If hockey’s your style, you can slip ‘n slide on Lynah Rink, or if you prefer more solid ground, try three-on-three basketball. Those of you who would rather use the muscle between your ears can also do sports trivia, which will test just how much time you’ve sat in front of the TV watching SportsCenter over the past few years.

Sometimes, though, you might just feel like doing nothing at all. In that case, grab a cold one, sit, back and watch from the grandstands. Cheering for your friends is just as much fun as being in the game.

“I personally don’t do any IM sports,” senior Shep Cynamon says from the bleachers, beer in hand. “I’m just not a good athlete.”

Cheers to you, Shep, and to all the other die-hard IM fans and athletes out there. Play on players.

Archived article by Everett Hullverson