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Yet another reason to love Notre Dame

Heather VanHoegarden | Thursday, August 19, 2004

Everyone knows about the football Saturdays, the green shirts and most of allthe student sections. But what happens to the 75 percent of the student population who played sports in high school? After all, not everyone can run out of the tunnel…or can they?At Notre Dame, anything is possible in the world of intramurals. The dorm league games may not earn the recognition of Notre Dame’s 24 Division-I sports. Participants won’t be contributing to a 24th national championship for the Irish. The dorm leagues might not be as prolific as the Big East and dorm teams won’t be renewing any contracts with NBC, but that doesn’t mean intramurals aren’t important. To students here, winning an intramural championship is a great achievement.Full-contact intramural football. This is where it begins. The only non-service academy university in the country with such a program, Notre Dame is home to a dorm league each fall. Men from each hall suit up just as they did under the Friday night lights for their high school team. But this time, it is different. More is at stake. A chance to play in the championship game at Notre Dame Stadium, the House that Rockne built, awaits those good enough. There may not be 80,000 screaming fans, but these athletes become a part of Notre Dame football, even if it’s just because they played on the same field as the likes of Joe Montana and Jerome Bettis. They run out of the tunnel, and it becomes their Stadium too. But they aren’t the only ones.Meanwhile, the women are busy competing for a shot in the Stadium as well, with their own interhall flag football league. It is the one chance they get to set foot on the legendary field. But don’t worry, Notre Dame isn’t just about football. There is basketball, volleyball, even horseshoes. And if those don’t suit your fancy, you can play racquetball or even bowl. And of course, don’t forget broomball and badminton. This variety of over 20 sports each year could be the reason that 80 percent of students participate in intramurals. Or it could be that the championship of both the men and women’s basketball leagues is played in the Joyce Center. And when these athletes play here, they can think of the great players who made the JACC their home – Matt Carroll, Troy Murphy, Ryan Humphrey and many others. Or they could remember what has happened on the same court. Just this year, the Irish women upset then-No. 4 Connecticut Jan. 13, giving the Huskies just their fourth loss in three seasons. And the Irish men did the same a month later, defeating then-No. 5 Connecticut Feb. 9. And don’t forget about 2001, when now-Olympian Ruth Riley led the Irish to a National Championship season. All of these games occurred on the same court as an intramural game. Ridiculous, don’t you think? There should really be some kind of rule against that. But at Notre Dame, there isn’t. Ivy Field, home to the Irish softball team, becomes home to the Pasquerilla West softball team, the Welsh Family softball team and every other women’s dorm team, for that matter, in the fall. Each fastpitch softball intramural game is played on the varsity field, from the first game to the championship game.Maybe that’s why Notre Dame was ranked No. 1 by the Princeton Review this year in the category of “Everyone plays intramural sports.” And Notre Dame was also the top dog in “Students pack the stadiums.” So you wonder how do they do it? One night it’s a bitter rivalry of Siegfried versus Knott and the next it’s a Big East matchup of Notre Dame versus Connecticut. But that is what makes this place special. Both of those games are important. Both will have fans, and both will have stars. After all, it is the same game. But then you say, intramural athletes don’t receive recognition like varsity athletes. Wait, they have that covered. The annual “RecSpys,” modeled after ESPN’s ESPYs, honor athletes of the year, a team of the year, fans of the year and a game of the year. There’s even a dinner reception for the winners and nominees.So just when you thought your athletic career was over, coming to Notre Dame as a “former” athlete isn’t so bad. Really, it’s just a way for you to have a fresh start. And besides, how many people can say they competed on the varsity field or arena at one of the greatest sports schools in the country? It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t pass it up.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.Contact Heather Van Hoegarden at hvanhoeg@nd.edu.