On a cold night in December, squeaks of rubber shoes against polished wood fill dry, indoor air. Between the sounds of late whistles are impassioned yells, bodies hitting the floor and heavy breathing inseparable the pursuit of victory. No, this is not a gym filled with our varsity team skilled at displaying all the beauties the game of basketball has to offer. This is a gym filled with their fans.
Three nights a week for most of the winter months, Skoglund is home to St. Olaf’s intramural basketball league. From 6 to 10 p.m., students make their way into the gym and gather amongst their teams, some for the first time, others far from it. Students grow accustomed to facing off against familiar faces from their sports teams or classes, as well as complete strangers who grow to become rivals in a league where team loyalty is commonplace. Connecting everyone on the court is a love for competition, and the pursuit of an achievement most only dream of: winning a championship t-shirt.
Of the sixteen teams that usually compete in the league over fall and interim, few campus groups are left without representation. Many are the students you’d expect to see, like football and baseball players who fill their offseasons with wild three point shots and full court passes, or the former high school varsity hoopers still itching for organized basketball beyond just pickup games in the Tostrud fieldhouse. Mixed in with the typical athletes are teams of choir and band members, pre-med students and first-year hall friend groups.
In fact, the winningest intramural basketball team in St. Olaf history featured a roster absent of a single former high school standout: the golf team, known as the Penetrating Passers. The Passers lost only a handful of games in their four years together, winning six championships by picking apart defenses with comically impressive ball movement and a prolific two three-zone defense.
While most colleges are home to a stage of amateurism that largely defines the experience of playing intramural sports, St. Olaf’s league exceeds such standards. Every week, power rankings are posted for all competing teams, hand created and reflective of not just record, but quality wins, strength of schedule and “the eye test.”
The most anticipated game of each week is announced priorly on social media, live-streamed and recapped. Games feature three referees and a clock manager, who without fail find themselves in the middle of conflicts brewed by aggressive students that enjoy taking the league a little too seriously. And as more and more students grow to enamor the theatre of basketball that uniquely exists on campus and in this gym, taking the league a little too seriously is expected in the best way possible.
For many, intramural sports serve as a break from the stress of daily life. When I wake up for class, I’m an English major, focused on writing essays and reading just enough of a novel to write that Moodle post due before midnight. After classes I’m a roommate, or a brother or a son, living a very normal life like most of St. Olaf students.
But on Sunday nights, I’m the shooting guard for the Hoodie Melos, the team with the worst playoff record in the league’s history. And in rare instances, in the time it takes for my shot to glide through the net while four of my closest friends fall back on defense, I am James Harden, one of the best shooting guards in the world. Those brief moments, more than anything, are what make the league worth playing in.