Managing the weekend warriors
UA Intramural Sports Program involves more than simply
It's late during an intramural softball playoff game between the High Rollers and CNS when the High Rollers' shortstop fields a routine ground ball and attempts to throw the runner out at first base. The ball and the runner arrive at the same time, and the umpire calls the runner safe, setting off protests from the High Rollers.
After the play, umpire Dan Williams, a systems engineering junior, listens to the High Rollers' captain and he calmly tells the player the rules and says from where he was standing, the runner was safe.
"Let's just say I'm a very patient person," Williams says about the protests. "A questionable call is part of the game. I just take it. You just have to understand, it's intramurals."
Such is the life of an intramural referee. Although dealing with upset students is one part of the job, the UA Intramural Sports Program is significantly more complicated.
More than 6,000 served
The program is a branch under the umbrella of the Department of Campus Recreation - which also manages club sports, a variety of fitness programs offered through the Student Recreation Center and the 'A' Camp, a certified child care program.
Under the guidance of assistant director Mirum W. White, the intramural program employs about 30 students and estimates 6,000 UA students participate in at least one activity each year.
The UA offers 45 different sports at a cost of $50 per team or $7 per person, ranging from football and soccer in the fall semester to basketball and softball in the spring semester.
"Seeing as we're a program under the Department of Campus Recreation, the nature of the program is not to make money," White says. "We're not revenue-driven, I can say that. For example, we're one of the few Pac-10 programs that doesn't get any help from revenue at all."
The program has an annual budget of less than $135,000, most of which covers the wages of its student employees - who make less than $7 an hour - and the costs of equipment and daily administration supplies. In comparison, UCLA gives its student programmers stipends of $2,000 per semester for their work, on top of their hourly salary, according to UCLA Intramurals.
The Arizona State intramurals program offers 35 activities and has 9,000 participants a year, says David Segal, the graduate assistant in charge of intramural programming.
Intramural sports at the UA offer a cheaper alternative to the City of Tucson Parks and Recreation Department, which runs leagues throughout the year. Aside from costing more than twice as much money - a city league team is charged anywhere from $125 to $175, depending on the sport - the Intramural Sports Program is a students-only organization and all of its sports are officiated.
"If we charged a lot, people wouldn't want to play," says Brenton 'B.J.' Frank, a sport coordinator and physical education junior. "They believe theirs is a bigger and better system, but ours is better geared for students because you're playing other students. People complain about us checking Cat Cards all the time, but that's just to make sure you're a student and you're eligible."
Frank is one of six sport coordinators who run a specific sport, from organizing leagues and schedules, to monitoring action on the field.
Three student assistants provide addition support to the sport coordinators, and all nine are overseen by the Student Program Coordinator, physical education junior Brian Jacoby.
In addition, the program employs 20 officials. Every employee is hired by White, who looks for officials with a strong sports background and people skills.
"Since I'm not an athlete here, the next best thing is to do this," says Frank, whose career goal is to become a sports psychiatrist at a university. "It's a great stepping stone to help me go into college athletics."
Up against the giants
While many of its employees strive to be a part of collegiate athletics after they graduate, the Intramural Sports Program and the Department of Campus Recreation does not get any support from the UA athletic department. Sponsors such as Nike give money and equipment to the athletic department, but only contribute T-shirts and other free products to the Intramural Sports Program.
The athletic department also does not assist with buildings, as the program controls Bear Down Gymnasium and the Rincon Vista Sports Complex, located at South Tucson Boulevard and East 15th Street. A new indoor office was built at Rincon Vista last summer, but the staff and participants would like to see more of the intramural facilities improve.
"The best thing we could do is expand," says White, who wants to see more facilities near the Rec Center. "Instead of having to go to Rincon Vista, kids in the dorms could cross the street and play their games."
Also in White's plans is the renovation of Bear Down Gym, the university's home to the basketball team and top athletic complex in the 1950s and '60s.
Aside from its worn exterior and boarded-up windows at the top of the building, the inside is primitive and lacks air-conditioning. Compared to the sparkling and modern Rec Center, which opened in 1990, Bear Down Gym is well outdated.
"Bear Down is in a prime location, right in the middle of campus," White says. "If we could come up with some dollars, then we could (improve it)."
Aside from providing students with better and more facilities, the Intramural Sports Program would eventually like to see teams being able to play more games. Currently, there are four teams in a division, meaning each team plays each other once for a total of three regular season games. Depending on the size of the entire league, the playoffs could add another two to four games to the league schedule.
Behind the scenes
While increased games is ideal for teams seeking more opportunities to play, it gives the intramural sports office additional scheduling headaches. Not only does the office have to schedule the games for hundreds of teams, they have to make sure there will be an official at each game and a monitor on the site at all times.
During the Easter holiday two weekends ago, a number of teams forfeited playoff games and much of the staff had to work overtime because many students had left town. There was confusion that teams thought they could reschedule games because of the holiday, but the program says it cannot do that because it would be showing preference for one religion over another.
"A lot of people think that what we do is laid-back and simple, so when things do go wrong, they use that as an excuse," Jacoby says. "And that's not true."
With all the work in the office, which also includes filing assumption of risk forms and checking CatCards, some members of the staff admit to spending more time in the office and on the fields than they do in class.
"There's a lot of gratitude in knowing we provide a service for over 6,000 people, and there's only a couple of us who do it," says student assistant Robert Taffe, a junior majoring in history and education. "It's the irate people who complain and criticize us, plus the teams who play in a lower division than they should, that's the worst part."
When the teams take the field and the game begins, it's almost the least important sequence of events, according to one member of the staff. When the schedules are made, the fields are painted and the players are checked in, the game is in the hands of the players and the official.
Trained heavily in each sport, the officials are normally students who are sports junkies out to have fun and make money. One official - psychology and Italian senior Thomas Golightly - referees high school basketball games and has worked as an intramurals official throughout his college career.
Despite his experience, Golightly says some student participants fail to show him, as well as other, officials respect during games.
"You work with a lot of great people, and sometimes you work with some bad people," Golightly says. "People think they know the game and the rules better than the umpire, and they really don't. Sometimes it's hard to understand that we're students, too, and some people have a hard time being officiated by their peers."
One mechanical engineering freshman, who wished to remain anonymous, enjoys playing intramurals, but was not very appreciative of the officials.
"The refs suck," the student says. "There aren't enough of them and they don't know what they're doing."
Bernie Velasco, an environmental science senior, disagrees, saying the officials are doing a decent job.
"I can't complain or get angry at the refs because they're amateurs like us," he says.
When students get angry at an official's call, Frank says he just takes a step back and takes in the big picture.
"I just remind everybody that they're out there to have fun," he says. "Remember, it's just a T-shirt (awarded to the league champions) that's going to shrink anyway."
Despite all the troubles and headaches, members of the staff say they would not trade the job or the experience for anything else. The hours are long and intense, but the rewards are worth all the work, as there's a great sense of teamwork and friendship on the intramural sports staff.
"I've met people from all different groups of people," says Brian Akins, an education graduate student. "I get paid for something I enjoy - sports."