UM Intramurals get creative by offering new sports to students

Eben Butler, left, sends the ball back to his opponent at the UM tennis courts on March 31.
Eben Butler, left, sends the ball back to his opponent at the UM tennis courts on March 31. Photo credit: Derryl Barnes Jr

Even when ignoring the facemasks and the other pandemic-instigated safety precautions, UM Intramurals look different this past spring semester than ever before: Participants are playing new sports that some students did not know existed prior to the spring semester.

Soccer tennis – a version of volleyball played on a tennis court using only one’s head and feet – is underway, and participants said they are excited to even have another opportunity to play an organized sport.

“I look forward to it,” said Eben Butler, a junior participant from Boston. “It’s nice to get back out here and compete.”

Soccer tennis is just one of three brand-new sports leagues (including human foosball and the team relay challenge) that IMs rolled out in the spring semester to keep students active while adhering to the university’s safety protocols. These new sports may not garner the same intrigue as typical intramural staples like soccer or flag football, but there may not have been an extensive intramural season had the department not pivoted towards these unorthodox alternatives.

“It would have been extremely difficult to have a well-rounded season if we didn’t get creative with these sports,” said Zachary Bemmel, the coordinator of recreational sports in the Department of Wellness and Recreation.

Bemmel said the season would have been limited to cornhole and tennis – the only pre-existing intramural sports that adhered to the university’s pandemic safety protocols.

After a fall semester of singles tennis and remote intramural leagues (including Rocket League, Fantasy Football and a 5K Challenge), IMs realized there was a demand for more in-person events.

“The Covid fatigue is setting in and people are ready to get back to normal,” said Ben Ezzy, an intramurals supervisor.

Ezzy, who is pursuing an MFA in interactive media, said offering team sports – even if only socially distanced – is IM’s opportunity to provide students more normalcy.

While there was not necessarily a demand for these exact sports, Ezzy, a Caribou, Maine, native, said that he and his colleagues saw activities like soccer tennis as fun ways to provide the interactive team sports students desired while still being mindful of COVID safety protocols.

Intramurals participants kick off a game of Human Foosball at the Intramurals Fields on Feb. 16.
Intramurals participants kick off a game of Human Foosball at the Intramurals Fields on Feb. 16. Photo credit: Ben Ezzy

Amid all the trial and error, Ezzy said a lot of participants have received the new sports positively.

“I’m glad they still have intramural sports and made up different games,” said Pablo Ramos, a sophomore soccer tennis player. “This is a fun way of still getting to play.”

Aliyah Beverly, a health science major, said the participant limit can make it more difficult to meet a lot of new people, but “It’s fun stuff to do – especially with COVID,” said Beverly, a sophomore team relay challenge participant. “To be able to compete, have fun and make friends while doing it, that’s all you can ask for,” she said.

“I think that it has been organized well,” said Tyler Walsh, a senior on the relay team, Treadwell’s Trophies. “This is a really good outlet for me to put my competitive nature to use.”

Bemmel said the biggest challenge has been getting students to register for sports they have never heard of or played. However, Bemmel said that once students saw how the sports were played, they would start gaining interest, and students would ask if there was still availability to sign up.

Consequently, registration for soccer tennis reopened after the first week of play. Games were held Monday through Thursday at 8 and 9 p.m. on the tennis courts near the IM fields. There were 11 teams of two registered, and students can join as a free agent if they do not have a partner.

IM participant Tyler Walsh navigates the ‘Soccer Showdown’ obstacle course at the Intramural Field as part of the Intramural Team Challenge on March 16.
IM participant Tyler Walsh navigates the ‘Soccer Showdown’ obstacle course at the Intramural Field as part of the Intramural Team Challenge on March 16. Photo credit: Ben Ezzy

“Luckily for us, the university has allowed us to offer a few more sports that we couldn’t do before,” Bemmel said.

The department hosted a three-on-three basketball tournament on April 22.

For more information on UM Intramurals, including registration, schedules and standings, visit IMLeagues.com/Miami or follow @umintramurals on Instagram.